27 September 2016, The Tablet

Church opposes Zambia president's new ministry for religion

Catholic bishops say it is one step away from state control of religion as Pentecostal pastor appointed minister

The Catholic Church has strongly opposed the creation of a new government department to oversee religious affairs in Zambia, warning it risked turning the country into a theocracy and extending state control over religion. President Edgar Lungu appointed a Pentecostal pastor, Rev Godfridah Sumaili, as head of the new ministry last week.

Both of Zambia’s church bodies have said the creation of the new department is unwise and unnecessary. "In view of the various financial and economic challenges our country is currently facing, we neither see the creation of the said ministry as a top priority nor a prudent decision. After all, we believe that Zambians want their country to be a democracy rather than a theocracy", the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) and the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) said in a joint statement on 21 September.

It warned against attempts by the state to control the Church, saying that the Church "derives its authority, mission and structure from God and this must not be confused with temporal order of political governance.”

Churches would not be intimidated in acting as the conscience of the nation and calling for social justice, continued the statement. "We believe that as churches and other faith communities, we have this far been able to exercise our God-given mandate and meaningfully contribute towards national development without having such a ministry. Therefore, both CCZ and ZCCB stand opposed to the creation of the above mentioned ministry,” concluded the statement sent to Fides news.

President Lungu told parishoners at a Lusaka church that they should not feel threatened by the creation of the religious ministry, which would harmonise Church and State relations, reports Vatican radio.

The head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia praised the initiative saying it would “promote Christian values and give more meaning to the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation. A religious affairs post was established under former president Frederick Chiluba in 1997. The ministry never received official approval from the public and was quietly phased out.

The Zambian president has said the re-introduction of the Ministry will re-affirm Chiluba’s declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation.

Edgar Lungu was re-elected as president by a narrow margin in August, following a violent election campaign that damaged the country’s record of peaceful transitions of power.

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