Let me clarify from the outset what I mean by each of the two key concepts. By Christian youth, I mean any individual who is ‘born again’ in the sense that Jesus meant it in John 3 verse 3 and who is between the ages of 15 and 29. However, I also recognize that there are certain social factors which may affect an individual’s development, and mean that such an individual may be over 29 but yet to attain full transition to adulthood, may still be in education and may still be dependent financially and otherwise on his/her family. Thus, I use this chronological definition in a fluid rather than rigid sense.
Secondly, by political participation, or rather youth political participation, I mean the range of activities in which young people could be involved, which are potentially directed at the individuals who get into political office and the kinds of decisions they make. Such activities may include: voting, voter education, taking part in protests and membership of political parties. The ends which these efforts seek are varied, but the global goal is to achieve social change and development. Political participation typically takes various forms and I do not claim that the definition provided here captures all the various dimensions of the concept, especially because I will also be speaking on aspects that deal with youth civic engagement – that is young people’s involvement in addressing the social issues, which are also of public concern. More specifically, I will try to answer the question which you have posed: is there a role for Christian youth in politics?
Any role for Christians in politics?
The question that you have asked me to answer can be interpreted in a sense as: should Christians be interested in social change and national development? The place of Christianity (and perhaps religion in general) in our society has received considerable attention in recent times. In terms of religion broadly, it is owing to continued violence by one religious group against the other in the north. In specific relation to Christianity, there have been questions regarding the affluence of key leaders within the faith, in the face of impoverished memberships. The key question that’s emerging from the debate regarding Christianity appears to be: should Christian leaders and Christians in general be interested in improving the lives of others, and by extension the development of the nation, rather than enriching themselves?
There are varying answers to this question, two of which I discuss here. The first school of thought is that Christians have no business in discussions regarding social change and development. This school draws its inspiration from passages like the first book of John chapter 2 verse 5 which essentially refers to the love of the world in the broader sense and to the extent that it interferes with commitment to Christian ideals. The second school appears to believe that in fact Christians should be integrally involved in the nations’ political processes. This group also draws its inspiration from the bible, drawing on the experiences of key individuals who were in political positions in bible times, and key scriptural injunctions which enjoin Christians to pay attention to the state of their nations’ affairs, for example Psalm 122 verse 6 ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem.’ Also, reference is made to ‘when the righteous are in authority the people rejoice, but when the wicked rules the people mourn.’
What many contemporary Christians fail to recognize is that much of the political evolution globally have important religious undertones. In certain bible times, the appointment and anointing of the Kings was solely the responsibility of the prophets and priests: Saul and David being key examples. In contemporary times, religion still has an important place in many countries. In some countries, religious codes serve the basis of national laws, and in this country, we have created two separate criminal laws: the criminal code and the penal code, in order to accommodate certain religious peculiarities relating to Islam. In the United Kingdom, the Queen has the title of ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.’ In this role, the Queen appoints Archbishops and Bishops on the advice of the prime minister. In addition, these spiritual leaders sit in the House of Lords – one of the two chambers comprising the British parliament.
What I am saying in essence is that there is certainly a place for Christians, and Christian youth in particular, in the political space and discourse, the entrenching of social change and the attainment of development. I say this because this is in fact the essence of the Christian faith – to make the world a better place. At the fore of this is the message of Salvation. Saving the world from deeds that are likely to destroy it. From lifestyles likely to promote disease, as well as threaten social cohesion and erode social capital. Social good was in fact the essence of the gospel which Jesus Christ preached.
One of the central tenets of the Lord’s Prayer is for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We know from the bible that in heaven the perfect conditions of life are present. The streets are not just paved, they are paved with Gold. We also know that there is stable uninterrupted electricity in heaven – because Jesus is the light and he never dies. In heaven also, people are rewarded according to their labour – the ‘crown of gold’ is awarded using a criteria of work done here on earth. What this means is that there is no ‘man-know-man’ and you pretty much get the reward for however hard you work. Thus, if there were to be a University in heaven, students would not have to worry about the personal disposition of their lecturers because the reward system cannot be compromised. And finally, apart from meeting all needs, people are happy forever and live ‘the good life’ in heaven. In this regard, the health system is functional so much so that being there in heaven immunes an individual from all illnesses and guarantees life everlasting.
So when we pray for the will of God to be done here on earth as it is in heaven, we are consciously or unconsciously aspiring to achieve a world which is perfect, in which the conditions that exist are based on the best possible model of development are present – that is the heavenly model of development. If we have such a vision for our world, then who is better placed than us to create the conditions which we envisage? My answer is that it is us and only us. This is why I think that Christian youth should play integral roles in the political processes. But there is a caveat, just being Christian and young does not qualify one to this kind of role. There are preparations that need to be made and criteria to be met.
Preparation and criteria for Christian youth participation
First one needs to be educated, not just in terms of primary, secondary or higher education, but also in having a clear and in-depth understanding of the issues being canvassed. In this regard, there is need to clearly understand the context, the history, the causes, the alternatives and the solutions. The bible is very clear about this in Proverbs chapter 4 verse 7 where it says ‘Wisdom is the principal thing…and in all thy getting get understanding.’ The quality of analysis that often features in the youth sector shows that many of us involved in the ‘movement’ have a lot more to learn before we can effectively engage. So the first preparation to be made is to get an education.
Secondly and along the lines of the first, you must pay close attention to the political events and policies being made. Read the annual appropriations (budgets) of the State and federal government – the good thing is that both the Rivers State and Federal governments publish their budgets on the internet; read about laws that have been previously made and those being currently discussed; read about the views of the members of the state house of assembly on particular issues and read about the issues that are of importance to your constituency (either other youth or women or your community). Paying close attention in this way keeps you abreast with current political events and enables you to contribute meaningfully and in an informed manner. To take this forward, you need to pay close attention to how differently things are done in other contexts – other LGAs, states or countries, in order to compare and contrast and make suggestions based on available evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Too many a political official simply make policy commitments without looking at the evidence. This is possibly why we approach change and development using the same approaches across administrations. Obviously, the result is that we will remain where we are. So for you, the second key preparation to be made is to be informed about the issues, lessons and alternatives. There are complex tools such as cost benefit analysis, for those of you familiar with economics, that you can use in gaining an idea of what works. Use them wherever possible.
Thirdly, and on a more personal level, you must resolve to be a reflection of the changes you want to see. Mahatma Gandhi who is the author of the famous ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ also said ‘as human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world… as in being able to remake ourselves.’ The place of one’s self in society’s transformation cannot be overstated. One must first change from one’s self before attempting to change family, community, the nation and the world. Two scriptures also support this. In Romans chapter 12 verse 2, the bible says ‘and be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.’ The second is Matthew chapter 5 verses 13 and 16 where it says ‘ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste wherewith shall it be salted? …let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works…’ In this society therefore where the general view is that certain basic values cannot be successfully upheld, such exemplary living is not only needed but a key aspect of Christian youth preparation for political engagement. We must seek always to uphold a high degree of integrity, seek to do things the ‘right’ way, no short cuts, no sorting, no attempt to bribe our way through. We must be honest in our personal dealings, be it in our business, academics or romantic relationships. This is the way, and only way through which we can gain the moral right to critique others and demonstrate that we are indeed different.
My fourth and perhaps final point is that we should not wait for political power. We should take actions wherever we can, and at whatever level that we are opportune to. The efforts we make at our individual levels may be small, but when you aggregate our individual efforts, it could be significant, and could in fact bring big changes across the State. Perhaps the popular quote ‘little drops of water make an ocean’ is relevant here. So do what you can. Don’t worry about the size of it really. Just ensure that you are living and doing right. Our small drops across Rivers State could yield big results: maybe several gallons, tanks, rivers, seas, oceans or even too much to quantify. Let me emphasise that political power will not be given to you. You have to work for it. You have to present yourself; and you have to go out of your way to demonstrate that you deserve a space at the table.
Why should politics interest us?
I raise three reasons here why politics should interest Christians and specifically Christian youth. The first is because the future created as a result of policies that are made today will be inherited by us and our children after us. When bad economic policies are made today, the effects could take several years or even decades to correct. As a classical example, Nigeria still suffers from bad economic and political decisions made during the 1970s and 1980s. So, it should be your business what kinds of policies and decisions are being made. Whenever possible, you should be in a position to contribute to or be the one making those policy decisions. What you want to do is to safeguard the future for everyone.
The second is because for many of us, either by choice or circumstance, the only place we will ever know as home is this country. Thus, we must do our best to add our voice in order to create the conditions that will make this country liveable for us and our offspring. We must add our voices to ensure that the education system does not decline further. That the health system does not decline further. For some of us, this will mean speaking-up against harassment by University or even college teachers. In many of our schools, the mechanisms have been put in place for such cases to be pursued and some students before us have successfully used these mechanisms. So, if a lecturer harasses you for sex or for a bribe, you have the avenues, use them, and do not be afraid. Remember the narrative about small drops? The only reason oppression works is because too few people are speaking-up. So if all of you in this room start speaking, and your friends join you, and their friends join them, you will be surprised how big the army we create will be. For some of you, it will mean volunteering your skills at hospitals and other places where they may be needed. Let me reiterate: for some of us, this country is the only one we will ever know. For all our dreams about travelling abroad, this country is the only one we will ever know. So we must lay our beds in a way that sleep is sweet, not impeded.
My third point here is that politics should interest us because this country belongs to all of us and we have as much stake and say as everyone else. There appears to be a general attitude in Rivers where people feel ‘na their turn, our own dey come.’ But in governance there is no turn-by-turn. We have to bring our voices to the table, whether we like the LGA chairman or governor or we don’t. Never assume that the next government will be better than the previous. You have to set the stakes early enough to serve as a warning sign. An elected official is really an employee of the people rather than the oga. So it’s no body’s turn. Every administration is an employee of the people and we must make those in government keep that in mind. At the end of the day, either you or your parents pay a tax, which makes you shareholders in the company of ‘Rivers State Incorporated.’ Make sure you’re exercising your rights as a shareholder. Don’t ‘siddon look’ because I promise you that your company will lose money and run out of business. Like I said before, this country, and state, belongs to all of us.
So what do I think?
You asked my opinion: should Christian youth be involved in politics? My answer is a resounding yes, based on all the reasons I have given. I believe that all young people, regardless their religious leaning need to be actively engaged in politics, but more so for Christian youth, because your religion expects you to be honest and ethical – values that we so badly need in our polity. My answer is yes because I believe you should and I believe that you can. Yes, because all over the world, young people your age are raising the stakes, taking a chance, making a difference, and I don’t see why you shouldn’t. Yes because I believe that given the chance, many of you will make a difference in your respective domains be it as advisors or as substantive political heads. Yes, because historically, it is people your age that have always brought about new ideas and innovations that transform society. So I think that despite all the challenges, there is a place for Christian youth in politics. I assure you that it does not negate the principles of the bible if you do take part in politics, provided you don’t engage in unethical practices. I hope you actually do. Run for office. Get your friends to run. Write a letter to your LGA chairman asking questions about the status of particular projects. Write to the representative in the state house of assembly, the house of representatives or senate asking questions about how he /she is representing you. Educate your family members, friends and community about the need to vote ethically rather than based on ethnic or other motivations. Make sure you register when the time avails itself. If you are not eligible, encourage your parents, older ones in your family and significant others to register and go out to vote on elections day. It’s a cycle really and your engagement with the process could yield the kind of results that will make everyone’s life better. I hope you actually consider my opinion.
I believe that all young people, regardless their religious leaning, should be actively engaged in politics, but more so for Christian youth, because your religion expects you to be honest and ethical. Given your peculiar situation therefore, you appear to me as well positioned to bring a real difference to the political space. Throughout history, young men and women have played and continue to play leading roles in the transformation of their societies. The recent Arab spring in the Middle-East and North Africa, shows one thing – that in spite of their lack of political and economic power, when young people resolve and unite, they can and do make a difference. This country belongs to all of us but it is currently being vandalized by those saddled with the responsibility of leading us. That’s why I think you should take a more active role in the political process. I hope you do, but the choice is ours really. You can either ‘siddon look’ or take action. I hope you do get involved, and take action: no matter how small.
Remember, the sum of all our drops of water knows no bounds – it could be a gallon, a tank, a stream, River or an ocean.
Text of my remarks at The Salvator Ministries Annual Convention in December 2012