Following the publication of a Pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops of Zimbabwe which portrayed the government in a negative way when it comes to human rights, accountability and democracy, people have been debating on whether the church must be involved in politics or not. My church the Seventh-day Adventist is not spared from this debate after Pastor Moyo the President of one of the Conferences of the SDA Church in the Midlands Province Church wrote a letter admonishing members not to entangle themselves in political debates or comment on Zimbabwe’s poor or failing economy. It is the aim of this paper to try to explore the position of the SDA Church on political and social justice activism.
An internet definition of politics “is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status”. On the other hand social justice focuses on fairness in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within the society. Social justice incorporates human rights advocacy as well.
Relying on some quotations from Ellen G. White, a Seventh-day Adventist co-founder and prophetess, most seventh-day Adventists believe it is evil to vote or to be involved in any political matters. However, this author believes that the belief that Ellen White disapproved political involvement by Seventh-day Adventist is a grave mistake reached by quoting her writings out of context.
Researching seventh Adventists would agree to me that after 1864 when the Seventh-day Adventist Church was formed there were a number of controversies within the newly formed church on a number of doctrinal positions such as, righteousness by faith, the issue on church organization, the slavery questions etcetera and also a debate on politics and voting was part of the discourse.
It is also true that some writings of Seventh-day Adventists at some point discouraged voting, political activism and even discourage members form taking civil positions in government. However, the General Conference of 1865 held on May 17 at Battle Creek voted and I quote, “Resolved, That in our judgment, the right of voting when exercised in behalf of justice humanity and right, is in itself blameless, and may be at some times highly proper”. GC Resolutions 17 May 1865. It must be noted that when the GC made this resolution Ellen white and her husband James were present.
Ellen White in one of her writings clearly said it is sometimes good to vote for “a lesser evil”. In 1875 she wrote “There are speculations as to woman’s right and duties in regard to voting. Many are in no way disciplined to understand the bearing of important questions. They have lived lives of present grafication because it was the fashion. Woman who might develop good intellects and have true moral worth are now mere slaves to fashion… such woman are not prepared to intelligently take a prominent position in political matters. They are mere creatures of fashion and circumstance.Let this order of being be changed” (1865). In short Ellen while is encouraging women to compete for political positions with men.
According to Mudzengi (2014) Ellen While, through her writings and her example , helped early Adventists develop a balanced, careful approach, which affirmed that the church members could, in good conscience, vote in elections and even advocate enthusiastically for issues of public policy, while maintaining careful guards on their independence and integrity.
A Seventh-day Adventist Church’s position paper on “ church state relations” published on its website says “ the growth of the seventh day Adventist church has resulted in a corresponding growth in our ability to extend our political influence in some areas of the world. This political influence is not in itself problematic. Indeed, Adventists may properly aspire to serve in positions of civil leadership. Adventists should take civic responsibilities seriously. We would participate in the voting process available to us and we should share the responsibility of developing our communities.”
There is a school of thought which says Adventists must not voice or disapprove the wrongs, the human rights violations, corruption, poor governance done by our governments. This school of thought says the clergy must be mindful of their sermons, tithes and offerings at church and leave political and human rights issues alone and stop talking about social justice. This school of thought is erroneous because pastors are messengers of God sent into the world by his word. God hates strife, commotion, murder and he hates human rights violations hence Gods messengers, the prophets, the bishops, elders and pastors must speak against, corruption human rights violation, poor governance and advocate for equality, democracy, freedom of expression, academic freedom and good social justice. If the church choose to keep quite on human rights violations it becomes complicit and an accomplice to tyranny dictatorship and immorality.
In conclusion Mudzengi (1994) in his doctoral thesis made a conclusion to his thesis (which I adapt as my conclusion to this paper) which is as follows; “Christian are not just citizens of the world to come, but of the all-encompassing kingdom of God. They have a Divine mandate to stand with voice and vote against injustice. Their activism is supposed to be nonviolent and includes roles of advocacy, mediation , and reconciliation. While Christians are called upon to respect their governments, there is room in their lives for civil disobedience when the requirements of the state conflict with those of God-there is room within the church for those feeling the call to occupy political office just as any other profession, provided they do not compromise biblical principles.“