Civility of Lay Faithful For Political Participation   -By Bashorun Askia Ogieh (KSJI) JP

Being a Lecture delivered by Bashorun Askia Ogieh (KSJI) JP on Wed 13th March, 2024 at Annunciation Parish, Ogunu, Warri, as part of the activities of the Catholic Church Laity week celebration

Perhaps, due to the complexities and demands of politics, instances of bad governance and the failure of governments to adequately meet the needs of the people, there have been discontent, frustration, anger and distrust, leading to apathy towards participation in political processes.
As for fact, and understandably, the Christian faithful is sometimes particularly challenged when they witness certain undignifying political conducts with unsavoury outcomes, which do not conform with their religious conscience, especially Catholic principles and values.
This therefore raises the question if we, as Christians and Catholics, especially the Lay Faithful, should participate in politics and political processes.
It is thus a privilege and honour for me to speak to this agitation which confronts the minds of millions, in fact billions, of my brethren Lay Faithfuls across the globe.
There are three critical questions in the issue: First is: Should the Lay Faithful participate in politics and political processes? If yes, the second is: Why should they participate? And the third is: How should they participate?
In attempting the answers, I shall rely on the scriptures, the doctrine and catechism of the Catholic Church, the directives of the Pontifical Council, the resolutions of the Conference of Bishops and the positions of various Synods.

For us Catholics, the first question has been answered in the affirmative by the Pontifical Council. Clearly, we should participate in politics and the political processes of our society, nation, state and community.
The second and third questions have also been answered by the Doctrinal Note directed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, and especially to Catholic politicians and all Lay Faithful.
Interestingly, their positions and directives are in conformity with the scriptures, the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and the early Apostles.
Writing on “Religion, Synodality And Civic Responsibility For A Better Nigeria,” Bro (Dr) Matthew Atonko Ksm, National Leader of the Christian Business Men Network, Abuja Province, and Ukwueze Emmanuel Okeke JP, National Coordinator of the Catholic Social Forum of Nigeria, were emphatic that, “the Catholic Church calls for the participation of the Lay Faithful in political activities, grounded in civility and guided by moral principles to shape a more just and peaceful world.”
To understand this responsibility, the beginning point is for us to understand that government is ordained by God and established in the Bible.
In Romans 13, we are told that, “all authorities come from God, and those in position of authority have been placed there by God…The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good… They are God’s servants sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.”
There are two key things here: “Sent for your good,” and “to punish those who do wrong.”

The point is that there is always need for government. As different individuals with different goals and different tendencies, we cannot run a society without control. That will amount to a state of anarchy.
The purpose of government, therefore, is to provide general points of consensus to regulate individual and group conducts for our common good.
These are done through laws, rules, regulations, policies, programmes, projects and other activities that will ensure our peaceful co-existence, our common welfare and progress.
I dare say that aside doctrines, the laws of government are not so much different from our scriptural laws – the ten commandments and the principles and rules of justice, and so on.
The very establishment of government itself was manifest in Exodus 18 when Jethro, Moses’ father in-law, told him as follows:
“And thou shall teach them ordinances and laws, and shall shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work they must do.
“Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, rulers of tens.
“And let them judge the people at all seasons; and it shall be that every great matter, they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter, they shall judge. So shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.

“If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall go to their places in peace.”
A simple reading of this scripture shows not only the basis of government, but also the character of those who are to be called to leadership as well as the structure of government.
Judging or governing “in thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens,” translates to our governmental tier system which is divided into national, provincial, states, local governments, wards and units, which are also in turn structured into executive, legislative and judiciary arms.
Thus, we all called to function at different levels, according to our reach, and this should assure us not only that it is approved of God for us to play a part in governance but that we have a divine responsibility to do so.
Accordingly, the Catholic Church believes that “democracy cannot be productive without the active, responsible and generous involvement of everyone in different ways, forms and levels, and therefore enjoins us “never to relinguish our participation in public life.”
Be it in the economic, social, legislative, administrative or cultural areas, everyone is to contribute in the development of solutions towards achieving the common good and progress of society.
Indeed, as a faith and religious organization, the Catholic Church has been in the forefront of driving the progress of societies through the years, with huge and ubiquitous commitments and investments in education, health, science, medicine, justice, sports, you name it.

We have been behind some of the great educational, health and multi-facetted professional institutions that have uplifted world civilization, the dignity of man and the progress of societies.
That being so, why should we therefore be shy or bow to any challenges such as would make us shirk our responsibility in playing roles in the decision making and policy or programmes implementation processes in the society or community in which we are born or live?
This is a no-brainer, because in Jeremiah 29:7, God enjoined us to: “Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”
Note the key phrases: “Work for” and “pray for.” This injunction completely erases any tendency for apathy, for if we all abstain from the responsibility of governance, how then can the state be governed?
As earlier noted, participation in the political process, nation building and national progress is in different ways, forms and levels.
It starts with observing civic responsibilities, obeying the laws of the land and meeting our obligations to the state.
This includes fulfilling all citizenship protocols like the various mandatory biometric registrations, being counted in census, voting during elections, obeying traffic and environmental regulations, and paying our taxes, amongst others.
Jesus gave this injunction when he said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Ceasar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

He acted and exemplified his command by instructing Simon Peter to go cast a hook in the sea, open the mouth of the fish that first comes and use the money found in it to “pay your tax and my tax.” Matt 17:27
If Jesus fulfilled his civic obligations, what about us, his children and followers?
Aside the fulfilment of civic duties, we are all called to participate in the political and governance processes in various other higher capacities.
Thus we can aspire to be board members, councillors, local government chairmen, State and National Assembly members, Governors, Presidents and such other offices in political service that support the delivery of governance.
The worry for some people, however, is in the perception of politics as dirty and lacking in moral values and ethical codes. They therefore think it is a contradiction to get involved, in the fear or confusion that such involvement negates or will compromise their Christian conscience and values.
Some even feel that because we are looking ahead to the eternal city, where there is perfection, there is no need to get involved in the affairs of the world but, as stated by Akonto, “it is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities.”
This brings us to the question of how we should participate. This question has also been answered by our Lord Jesus Christ in John 17:15, when he prayed God not to take us out of the world, but to keep us from evil, sanctifying us through the truth.
Admonishing us about our engagement in secular affairs, he said: “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world. A city that is set in a hill cannot

be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
The import of this is that we are to bring our religious principles and moral values into our engagement in politics, because, as Proverb 29: 2 says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”
Can we therefore abstain from participation in politics and governance, so as to leave our society to the rule of the wicked?
My answer is: God forbid. For why should we, having the knowledge and skills to deliver our people from poverty, to bring justice to the poor, to provide sustainable welfare for the needy and to advance the cause of the well being of our society, as imbued us by the grace of God, fail or refuse to so aplly ourselves?
Some people may argue that the strongholds of negative politics are so deeply and strongly entrenched that any efforts to infuse Christian principles and moral values may just be like pouring water on the duck, but being children of faith, we should believe, as our Lord assured us, that “when the light comes, the darkness disappears.”
As the Bro Akonto put it, “by faith, we are bound all the more to fulfill these responsibilities according to the vocation of each – in human, domestic, professional, scientific and technical areas – with religious values, (being that) all things are ordained to the glory of God.”
If we doubt this, where then is our faith?

But, how should we participate? What are the principles and values that we should take into the political process?
The Catholic Church believes that there is a convergence between religion and moral politics, which is in establishing and promoting the basic norms, values and virtues that define good governance, the cornerstone of national progress and citizens welfare.
According to the 2nd Vatican Council and the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the first is Civility, which requires us to treat others with courtesy and consideration, under all circumstances, no matter our different religions, ethnicity, gender, age or political association.
Civility brings with it sincerity, simplicity, sympathy, love, justice, kindness, honesty, tolerance, Godliness, courage, discipline, creativity, self reliance, determination, dedication to work, upholding of law and order and peacefulness.
These are the very expressions of the fruits of the spirit, and we have been told that any tree that does not bear good fruits shall be cut down.
These fruits which derive from our Christian and Catholic values eliminate resentment and breed positive relationships, understanding, empathy, better communication, peaceful co-existence, social stability, mutual cooperation and more productive working environment.
We must also recognise that civil and political rights as well as allocation of public resources and services are not dependent on citizens’ political persuasions. We must therefore be fair to all persons in our judgements and actions.

As the scripture put it in Leviticus 19: 15: “Do not twist justice in legal matters by favouring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.”
This should apply also to our policy decisions, projects designs and programmes implementation.
Psalm 82 enjoins us to: “Give justice to the poor and orphans; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.”
If we don’t come forward to do these as Catholics, what then is our purpose?
Also very crucial is the need for us to ensure the legality of government actions, the rationality of policies and decisions, sense of responsibility in conduct, the strengthening of commitment to work, the development of responsiveness, safeguard of the spirit of justice, transparency and integrity, protection of national interest, and the facilitation of individual and organizational goals.
We must acknowledge that democracy denotes the diversity of opinions and perspectives for which we must seek and promote dialogue, compromise and consensus for the realization of the common good.
We must also discern the content of political issues, positions of candidates, political parties and platforms to ensure that our concurrence and alliances are in tune with good conscience and for the common good.
The Pontifical Council is of the view that these are attainable if we apply our religious and moral principles in our participation in the political process.

Arising from all these, my conclusion is simple. We should participate in politics and political processes. We have a responsibility to do so in view of the need for all hands on deck to drive the progress of our society, and we should do so by sticking to our Catholic values, moral principles and ethical codes.

News Reporter
Blank NEWS Online founding Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, Albert Eruorhe Ograka, is a Graduate of Mass Communication. He also holds a Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Journalism from the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ).

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