Politics is defined as the art of gaining and keeping power. This is the classical definition of politics by the so-called Father of politics, Niccolo Machiavelli.
Although we can claim this is a standard definition of politics, both institutions and currents of thought are not ‘sacred cows’. All human activity according to Pope Benedict XVI must be open to ethical scrutiny. Politics is a human activity and therefore must be challenged to uphold some basic moral standards in any society.
Politics ought not to be left alone to decide its own rules of engagement; it ought not have a morality of its own where it decides its own ‘oughts’ and ‘ought nots’ as it remains faithful to the dictum of ‘gaining’ and ‘keeping’ power.
Crucial to these rules of engagement is moral consensus about the proper relationship between religion and partisan politics.
We are now into an election campaign period in the build up to the August 10 poll. Some journalists have referred to this period as the silly season.
Politicians have strayed into the zone of the silly because they have engaged in behaviour on the campaign trail that flouts the code of conduct signed by politicians at Archbishop’s House during the 2015 General Election campaign.
Mud-slinging politics trumping issue-raising politics should never be tolerated. Further to this, the silly season is spreading its contagion into the relationship between politics and religion.
In our society’s recent history, we have allowed politics and politicians to creep into sacred spaces of our denominational churches and major religions through the practice of endorsement copied from American politics.
This is a dangerous shift because it is undermining the unitive and integrative role that religion plays in our society.
Politicians must not be allowed to draw religious groups and their leaders into the partisanship fight.
The religious space is the last bastion where a fragmented society can be mended together.
The religious space is a space where we celebrate humanity and not allow ethnic and political differences to be used to stoke the fires of discord.
The religious space upholds the values of respect, tolerance and love that are opposed to hate, discord, and the politics of race, colour, tribe and class.
Imams, priests, pundits, and pastors are not means to political ends. There shouldn’t be a selective and convenient appeal to separation of Church and State.
The Catholic Church respects democracy but is keenly aware of the pitfalls of the Church allowing herself to be sucked into election campaigning or taking political sides.
There are two reasons the Catholic Church maintains a healthy distance from partisan politics. Firstly, partisan politics is divisive, and churches and congregations run the risk of being divided along political lines. Secondly, the Catholic Church has guarded its independence in this country and will continue to do so.
When religious leaders become too close to politicians, they lose their prophetic ability to challenge them for misbehaviour in public office.
The healthy distance between Church and State and between sacred space and partisan politics begins now in this election period.