Sunday, September 28, 2014

Christianity + Politics = ? with Sarah Kiyingi Kyama

Sarah with her husband Mr. Kyama
1.      They say “man is a political animal”; what do
you have to say?
I think it is true when you take the university definition of politics which goes something like “politics is a way of sharing power and scarce resources”. I think one Harold Lasswell defined Politics as the art of "who gets what, when, and how". So whether you are in the"official", or "public" political field or not, power, resources and sharing resources, equity, justice, etcetera, are of concern to all of us; they affect all of us.

2.      Have you been involved in politics?
Yeah, I have been involved in politics at the national level. I was the woman Member of Parliament for Rakai district from 1996 to 2006. And in between I was also a Minister of State for Internal Affairs from 1998 to 2003.

3.  They say “politics is a dirty game”, how did you as a Christian even consider getting involved?
First of all, I do not agree that politics is a dirty game. I think the people who participate make it "dirty" or "clean". Someone one day gave an illustration which I found appropriate. She likened politics to water. She said that you can add mud to water and it will be dirty, or you can keep it clean and put it to good use. So politics is clean and it is us who go in there that decide to keep it clean or make it muddy.
I must say, however, that before I joined politics, I too believed like many people, that it is politics which is dirty. This to me meant that everybody who joins politics must engage in corruption, compromise, dishonesty, etc. It is this belief that makes people think that believers must avoid engaging in public politics. Fortunately, when I joined, I found out that whereas there are many people who act according to that popular belief of politics being a dirty game, it is possible, with God, to participate in politics without engaging in the "dirty".
I joined politics when I had just returned from the Netherlands where I had been working for 4 years. After the Constitution making process was concluded in 1995, people from my home area said “Why don’t you come and stand?” So I went and stood since there was nothing I was going to lose by doing so. I was not employed at that time, because my placement back at Makerere University where I had been teaching before I went to the Netherlands had not yet materialised. So I thought to myself, "what do I lose; let me go and find out what goes on in politics." I was available, but also had nothing to lose. I didn't have much money, and didn't even think I needed it. I remember saying to God “God, I want to go into politics but I would rather lose than come out having done the [bad] things that I hear politicians do”. That was my prayer and the beginning of my journey into national politics. I was so green about politics. I did not even know how the Local Council system works.
I personally believe that God wanted me to be in politics, and He opened a way for me to stand as an MP. I did not want to go into politics my way or the people’s way but God’s way.

God did many miracles in my political career, especially during campaigns. For example, there are people who didn't know me but came looking for me to campaign for me and turned out to be very critical to my success, both times I contested (1996 and 2001). Throughout my political career, I was never in debt; not even during the campaigns. God gave me such wisdom, that by the time I went for re-election in 2001, I didn't have any outstanding pledges in the constituency, yet at that time, we earned peanuts compared to what MPs earn today. I never paid people for votes. I always told those who asked me for money for their votes that I didn't have such money. I remember during the first election (1996), on the night before voting day, my campaigner came and told me “Give us money; these people want money to vote for you,” I said “I don’t have any money; but I am also glad that I don’t have it because I do not believe in buying votes. If those people do not want to vote for me for what I stand for, that is okay.” My confidence was in God, not the people. 

4.     In your political career, was your Christianity and the politics ever at conflict?
No. I wouldn’t say they were ever at conflict. I would say that my faith informed and guided my politics. Because I was a Christian, there are certain things I was confident not to do, like buying votes. I always wanted to be able to stand up and say “God has given me success; He has brought me this far".You see, once you do it your way, not God's way to get into a position, then you will have to keep yourself in that position. God is under no obligation to complete what He did not start! That's why those who get into positions through crooked means continue in those ways.

The other example is that during my campaigns, there was pressure for me to go to campaign in bars. But I refused. I said as a Christian I would find the people in their homes, at the rallies and other places but not in the bars.  

5.   Choosing a political career in this country today is a decision that will most likely be met
with a lot of negative sentiments. Can Christianity redeem this image?
I think that is very unfortunate that believers think they shouldn’t be in politics. When you say you are going to join elective politics, everybody kind of looks at you saying “We have also lost that one” because of that attitude that politics is a dirty game. Of course there are so many immoral things that people do in politics; but why should believers expect non-believers to do Godly things? They do not have the spirit of God and hence lack the capacity to do Godly things. Yet politics affects all of us. For example now we hear of this corruption, but if there are non-believers in politics why would we expect them to resist the temptation to act corruptly? They are doing what their father (the devil) does or expects them to do. And then we start complaining “How can they do that?” What else do you expect them to do?

The only thing that can redeem politics in this nation is if we have a critical mass of believers who are willing to stand and say “No, I am not going to do that because I believe God wants me to do otherwise”.

For example, during the Constitution ammendment process to remove presidential term limits ‘Kisanja’, there were many Mps who, when you talked privately with them, they opposed the removal of term-limits. But when you would ask them if they would vote against it, then they would say things like " no I can't openly oppose it because I fear Museveni will sponsor my opponent against me", or " my child is in UK, and I need to return to Parliament to be able to pay her fees,", etc. (Needless to say, some of them, even after selling their souls, lost the election they thought they were saving.) What I found sad was that if every MP who believed that this Kisanja  was wrong voted against it, their fears would not  have come to pass because there were less people who genuinely supported it compared to those that did not. Government knew this, and that's why it brought an ammendment to the Article that required members to vote secretly on that matter, and it was changed to open voting. They were also given a bribe of five Million each. In short, whereas several Mps didn't agree with the Kisanja, they succumbed to bribery, threats and fears and voted for it.

You see, when people are not believers (born again), they are ruled by fear. They are ruled by uncertainty. They want to protect their future. But I personally know that my future is in God’s hands. I know that if I do what God wants me to do, the rest of the things, He will take care of.
For that reason, I believe that born again people should be involved in politics.

The other thing I want to say is that when the church disowns believers, it is counterproductive. Because when we say “Oh that one is also gone”, then we cannot call them to account.
I believe that if people are in politics and we say “Come we want to pray for you, we want to pray with you”, when they are taking decisions, they will be conscious of the brethren who might call and bring them to account. Like I believe you have people in your life who because of them, you cannot do certain things. The thought of how displeased they will be with you should they hear about such an ungodly act keeps you away from making compromises in your walk with God.

But many times we keep these Christian politicians at a distance; the world is pulling them in all directions, their voters are saying “Give us this, give us that". Some congregations put these politicians high up there, that they can't hold them accountable. In the end because the politician feels he is not accountable to anybody, they may slowly begin to fall away from God. This is compromise. Compromise is such that one moves from the truth little by little at a time, and before they know it, they have moved so far away they can't see the line anymore.

Therefore, I think that as a church, as a fellowship of believers, we need to ask ourselves questions such as these: What is our role in politics? How should we support those who go into politics? How can we bring them near to us to a point where we can question some of their decisions? But if we have never supported them, never given them a call to tell them we are praying for them, never invited them to dinner, then we cannot demand accountability and they are free to do what they want to do.
Another way church can be involved in politics is by for example asking during campaigns time: who is going to stand for what and we pray for them and with them. That way, believers will slowly come to appreciate that politics is something they can engage in without feeling that they are suspect in any way.

Concluding remarks from Sarah
Sometimes people come and say to me “What is your advice; should I go into politics?” And I always tell them that if you think you want to stand, go into a room, close the door behind yourself and take some days praying and fasting or whatever. But be sure to take time alone with God and find out if He calls you to the field of politics.

The Bible says “The heart is so deceitful above all things,...who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, ask yourself: What is my motive? Why do I want to go into politics? Is it because I have heard that MPs receive a lot of money? (If you are going for the money, woe unto you.) The Bible says that God gives us the desires of our hearts if we delight in Him (Psalm 37:4). So,  is your ‘desire’ a Godly desire; is it a “from God” desire? And if it is, then you will know that you are going to trust Him to take you through. Once your plans are to give Him glory, He will surely create a way even where there seems to be no way. I know because He did it for me and He can do it for anybody else. 

When you express interest in participating in elective politics, there will be people who will say to you, “Why don’t you come and stand; we will support you?” But their motives may be completely carnal, and contrary to yours. Such people may   walk with you only as long as their interests are met. Otherwise, they will declare along the way that they have decided to support another candidate. And in such a situation, if you went because people asked you to do so, you will collapse. But if you went because you know God has called you, even when  such people jump off your wagon, you will just shake the dust off and keep moving.

So it is very important for people who want to go into politics to know and be clear what their motive is and be sure that they are going in there on the calling of God, and for His Glory. Then you can be sure that He will uphold you and sustain you, just as His Word says (Isaiah 41:10).

Some cynic views about politics:
-A Politician is a person skilled in the art of compromise. Usually an elected official who got compromised to get nominated, compromised to get elected and compromised repeatedly to stay in office. (by Dick Gregory)