The Peril of Gambia’s Religious and Spiritual Leaders Politicized Religion. Part I

Mamos Media

Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: The Gambia’s religious and spiritual leaders are at the crossroads of politics and religion. Politics and religion are in an interesting quandary that pits their opinions against their roles as spiritual leaders—mixing religion, and partisan politics is not a good thing. Many Gambians, especially millennials and other young people also of older adults, do not believe religion and politics mix very well. The separation of religion and the state served this country well for decades until the second republic under Sheikh Nasirudeen Al Hadji Abdul Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh; the Gambia could not separate political-religious powers separate between government and religion and the President.

Democracy and secularism are deceptive words, among others, masking the politics behind religion. The post-modern, so-called Daesh, al-Qaida, Taliban, Boko Haram, Muslim, Christian, the Jewish state, and other religious fundamentalist states or groups are political imperialist capitalist powers created by global-local colonizers under the name of God.

Religion is the best tool to veil the minds of people and divide them. Unfortunately, the Gambian educational system followed the British colonizers and contained many racist, patriarchal, religious, and capitalist ideas. To exploit people, you must veil their minds and create conflicts and wars between them. This is happening today in our life as happened in earlier societies.

To weaken the human mind, you need an absolute power in Heaven and on Earth. Obedience must be the rule to God, the king, or the President. For instance, in Ancient Egypt, God was the king. In fact, “God’s power” was created by the statesmen or the politicians to conceal the king’s domination and exploitation. Throughout human history, political, economic power was the origin of all religions. Obedience to God is inseparable from obedience to the ruler. The idea of secularism, or of separating religion from state, is misleading. No country can control its people without submission to God’s will, which hides their submission to the government or religious leaders.

Fatoumatta: There is freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The operative word for the constitution is the freedom to worship. The constitution was written by men and women who believed in God or that God exists. However, those men and women did not think there should be a state religion, or that religious leaders are more important than the sovereign people.

Unfortunately, a lot of so-called religious people make God small, petty, and intolerant. Politics has always been a dirty business, but it appears to be getting messier every day; that is why religion would not appear to mix very well. Religion is supposed to appeal to our better angels, but that is not the case today. The merging of politics and religion has not been good for the country because it blurs what is acceptable and what is not.

The people in their religious congregations cast ballots that reflect whom they think are the best candidates. However, clerics are ordinarily reluctant to share their decisions — partly because the peril of politicized religious rules prohibit them from endorsing any politician or political movement and partly because they do not want to cross anyone in their congregations.

The Churches and Mosques are a consumer culture. Given the economic situation, they do not want to tick anybody off and have them leave their congregations with their finances. However, Imams and Pastors are humane too, and others can hurt them. Clerics overwhelmingly agree that as spiritual leaders, their role is to bring a diverse group of people together and make them feel welcome and secure. Partisan politics, they say, would defeat that purpose. However, unlike other clerics, they do not shy away from challenging cultural and social issues. They are bound to challenge and preach issues that affect people’s lives, not concerned with partisan politics but with the welfare of the deserving and the vulnerable in society. They should also care about issues that affect and concerned children and women. For example, they should talk about children’s health care and quality of education, which is crucial and deserves sharing with their congregation. However, talking about social and health issues can be complicated because religion and politics have become blurred. Things that were once considered moral issues have become social issues in the political arena, and religious leaders must find for themselves how to figure out how to discuss what is deemed to be scriptural truth without appearing to endorse a candidate or a political party. Moreover, taking a position results in labels.

So, for example, if pastors talk about abortion being wrong, they become a hater of all women. If they talk about marriage between a man and a woman, they become a gay hater. If an Imam discusses the role of women as housewives, they become misogynists, and feminists and gender activists attack them; when Imams talk about polygamy, some women folks label them as haters. Religious leaders strive to bring people together, but they risk discussing social and cultural justice issues considered political issues. Spiritual tightrope is finding a balance is like “walking a tight wire.”

Once God transforms them, they are called to live out justice, mercy, righteousness, and love, and their vote should reflect that. However, it is up to each individual to wrestle with all the issues and decide what that vote should look like. It is a cult leader who tells members exactly how to live and to vote. Unfortunately, some people want things in black and white, and that is not how life is about. Because things are not in black and white and different people have different opinions, some spiritual leaders find it best to have clear rules on political talk. The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. Also, the historical concept of the Mosque’s role in society is prophetic roots of the sacred model that the Prophet established in Madina; Imams lead the way in developing faith as an active component of the congregation by preaching the holy Quran and Sunnah of Prophet Mohammed(SAW.

Therefore, Churches and Mosques should comply with religious ethics and be neutral in matters of party politics. Religious institutions have outlined that the Church and Mosque do not promote or oppose political parties, candidates, or platforms but encourage its members to become informed about issues and participate in voting.

Fatoumatta: Clerics of different religions must operate similarly by not allowing the Church and Mosque to partisan politics. They can discuss issues that have community and moral implications. When it comes to a presidential race, they have to remember that they elect a president, not an Imam or a pastor. They should be looking for the person that they believe can best execute and defend the constitution. People look to spiritual leaders to help them develop their spiritual lives. As religious and spiritual leaders, I think it would be wrong of clerics to endorse one candidate because the sanctuary is where everybody ought to come and feel safe.

The public prefers avoidance of religion and politics. Public opinion surveys show that imams and pastors may be better off avoiding political talk — not only because they could jeopardize their organization’s independent status but also because Gambians want their religious and spiritual leaders to be less involved in partisan politics. People are less comfortable than in the past with religious leaders talking about politics.

A lot of it, however, depends on what religious community you are in. In some practices and traditions, religious leaders take a prominent role in leading the discussions and decisions on political matters. In other practices, there is much more excellent resistance to that idea of partisan politics.

Endorsing a candidate and a party would violate the rules governing the political activity of nonprofit organizations that are exempt from taxation. For instance, in America, the authorities had existed since 1954, when Congress amended the Internal Revenue Service code to block religious institutions from backing a candidate. In recent years, some have opposed the limits, saying they violate freedom of speech. However, surveys of clergy members have consistently shown that most oppose publicly endorsing candidates.
Imam Nader Taha, spiritual leader at the Islamic Community Center in Cuyahoga Falls, is the majority group. He said he encourages members of his faith community to participate in the election process. However, as a spiritual leader, he said his primary role is to help Muslims commit their lives to God.

“I am more interested in encouraging every individual to make a sound judgment based on their conscience,” Taha said. “Each individual must study the issues and each candidate’s position and decide what is right rather than be blindly influenced by any institution. There are different schools of thought in Islam just like there are in other religious groups.”
A leader serves all. Rabbi Stephen Grundfast of Akron’s Beth El Congregation said that a president, and other politicians, are elected to represent all people, not one set of beliefs.

“The government has no business interpreting the Bible,” Grundfast said. “When you misinterpret Scripture and begin to tell everyone else what it means, that’s when you get into trouble. The Jews wrote the Bible and we wrote it in Hebrew. If anyone should be interpreting what it says, it ought to be the Jews.”
Religious leaders should stick to issues, he said, but even that can be difficult.

“If there is a moral or ethical issue in question, that is a teaching opportunity for spiritual leaders, and not every issue is clear cut — there is room for discussion,” Grundfast said. “I get very nervous when people start saying they know what is right. People need to decide for themselves who and what they should vote for.”
While local clerics concede that the final decision lies with the voter, they disagree on how far to go with the discussion.

Disagreement on issues. The Rev. Jeff Bogue, a senior pastor at Grace Church (which has campuses in Norton and Bath), said that people might have differences of opinion regarding issues like the economy and taxation. However, moral issues — like abortion, the definition of marriage, and care for the poor — are the most important things to consider before voting.

“The economy should not be the number one issue for Christians,” Bogue said. “Our biggest concern should be morality issues.”
“I teach what I believe God’s word says because my accountability is to God not to the government. The idea that a certain candidate is going to turn the country back to Christ is naive,” Bogue said.

“Where I struggle is when people rail against the president, whether that person is Democrat or Republican, because the Bible is very clear that we are to pray for our president and respect his authority.”

While Bogue assigns equal value to all moral issues, saying they are all intertwined, Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon uses a more weighted method.

“The [Catholic Church] teaching on abortion and euthanasia are based on ‘God’s truth’ regarding the dignity and sacredness of all human life, whereas the other issues, relying upon the acceptance of ‘God’s truth’ on human life, then strive to build it up, to enhance its quality, and further justice and peace,” Lennon wrote. “The first group of issues is essential and foundational and can never be compromised. The second group depends upon that foundation being securely in place, so that all human life which is sacred may be protected.”

Defining conscience as the “voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us,” Murry outlines four sources of “moral wisdom” to be used collectively to form the conscience — experience, reason, Scripture, and Church tradition.

“It is not the role of the bishops to tell Catholics for whom to vote. That would be a violation of an individual’s conscience,” Murry wrote. “It is, however, the responsibility of bishops to articulate the moral issues in any election and to share with you our Catholic Tradition regarding conscience formation to help you discern how you will engage in political life.”

Fatomatta: Religious leaders have two broad roles in the political process. One is to help empower people to decide (via voter education and encouraging them to study the issues and vote). The other is to provide moral guidance.

Most moral guidance is not about politics. It is about how to live your life. When ethical behavior and political choices converge, it is up to the individual to decide how to apply those standards. Imam Nader Taha, spiritual leader at the Islamic Community Center in Cuyahoga Falls, is the majority group. He said he encourages members of his faith community to participate in the election process. However, as a spiritual leader, he said his primary role is to help Muslims commit their lives to God.

“I am more interested in encouraging every individual to make a sound judgment based on their conscience,” Taha said. “Each individual must study the issues and each candidate’s position and decide what is right rather than be blindly influenced by any institution. There are different schools of thought in Islam just like there are in other religious groups.”

A leader serves all. Rabbi Stephen Grundfast of Akron’s Beth El Congregation said that a president, and other politicians, are elected to represent all people, not one set of beliefs.

“The government has no business interpreting the Bible,” Grundfast said. “When you misinterpret Scripture and begin to tell everyone else what it means, that’s when you get into trouble. The Jews wrote the Bible and we wrote it in Hebrew. If anyone should be interpreting what it says, it ought to be the Jews.”

Religious leaders should stick to issues, he said, but even that can be difficult.
“If there is a moral or ethical issue in question, that is a teaching opportunity for spiritual leaders, and not every issue is clear cut — there is room for discussion,” Grundfast said. “I get very nervous when people start saying they know what is right. People need to decide for themselves who and what they should vote for.”
While local clerics concede that the final decision lies with the voter, they disagree on how far to go with the discussion.

Disagreement on issues
The Rev. Jeff Bogue, a senior pastor at Grace Church (which has campuses in Norton and Bath), said that people might have differences of opinion regarding issues like the economy and taxation. However, moral issues — like abortion, the definition of marriage, and care for the poor — are the most important things to consider before voting.

“The economy should not be the number one issue for Christians,” Bogue said. “Our biggest concern should be morality issues.”
“I teach what I believe God’s word says because my accountability is to God not to the government. The idea that a certain candidate is going to turn the country back to Christ is naive,” Bogue said. “Where I struggle is when people rail against the president, whether that person is Democrat or Republican, because the Bible is very clear that we are to pray for our president and respect his authority.”

While Bogue assigns equal value to all moral issues, saying they are all intertwined, Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon uses a more weighted method.

“The [Catholic Church] teaching on abortion and euthanasia are based on ‘God’s truth’ regarding the dignity and sacredness of all human life, whereas the other issues, relying upon the acceptance of ‘God’s truth’ on human life, then strive to build it up, to enhance its quality, and further justice and peace,” Lennon wrote. “The first group of issues is essential and foundational and can never be compromised. The second group depends upon that foundation being securely in place, so that all human life which is sacred may be protected.”

Defining conscience as the “voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us,” Murry outlines four sources of “moral wisdom” to be used collectively to form the conscience — experience, reason, Scripture, and Church tradition.
“It is not the role of the bishops to tell Catholics for whom to vote. That would be a violation of an individual’s conscience,” Murry wrote. “It is, however, the responsibility of bishops to articulate the moral issues in any election and to share with you our Catholic Tradition regarding conscience formation to help you discern how you will engage in political life.”

Fatoumatta: Religious leaders have two broad roles in the political process. One is to help empower people to decide (via voter education and encouraging them to study the issues and vote). The other is to provide moral guidance. Most moral guidance is not about politics. It is about how to live your life. When moral and ethical behavior and political choices converge, it is up to the individual to apply those standards.

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