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Zambia: The Christian Nation Debate

Zambia is currently in the process of developing a new constitution and one of the most controversial issues surrounding this process is whether the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation in the preamble should be maintained. In 1991, President Frederick Chiluba declared Zambia a Christian nation and the current constitution was amended to reflect the declaration in 1996. This, by the way, is the same Chiluba who was convicted on corruption charges in a London court after stealing millions of dollars of public funds. [1]

Religion or non-religion should not be imposed on anyone but the Christian nation declaration does exactly this. The draft constitution acknowledges that Zambia is a multi-religious, multicultural and multi-racial society but then contradicts itself by only truly acknowledging the Christian majority. 

Another major problem with the Christian nation declaration is that it is not factual. Simply stating something does not make it true. The majority of Zambians are Christian but there are also minority religious groups such as Muslims and Hindus. Atheists and agnostics are virtually unheard of but we do exist. If you want to confuse a Zambian bring up atheism or agnosticism. The thought that there are people who do not believe in God or are unsure about the existence of a deity is difficult to comprehend even for the most liberal of Zambians. Zambia may generally be a tolerant nation but the deeply ingrained religious belief and the hostility towards non-religious people means that most of us are not open about our beliefs, or lack of beliefs. The preamble of the draft constitution states that “We, the people of Zambia, in exercise of our constituent power: Acknowledge the supremacy of God Almighty.” This is yet another lie. I am Zambian but I do not acknowledge the supremacy of God or any gods. Zambia needs a constitution that promotes the rights of women and other marginalised groups in society and one that promotes an equitable and just society. Declaring Zambia a Christian nation and declaring God supreme will not bring this about. These are just empty statements. 

Even more disturbing than the actual declaration of Zambia as the Christian nation is the fact that draft constitution does not allow criticism of Christianity or anti-Christian practice. Article 35, clause 2, asserts people’s right to “manifest any religion or belief through worship, observance, practice or teaching.” Clause 3 goes on further to say that “this does not extend to anti-Christian teaching or practice.” Christianity (or any other religion) should not be exempt from scrutiny and criticism but this is exactly what this clause calls for. This is an indefensible infringement on the freedom of everyone living under Zambia law. 

Even Jesus (if he existed at all) advocated for the separation of Church and state when he said “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (NIV) after being asked whether it was right to pay taxes. This implies a separation of church and state but the Christians of Zambia conveniently ignore this. Separation of church and state is not something that is actively promoted throughout Africa. Recently, the current Zambian president, Michael Sata, stated that he would rule the country based on the Ten Commandments and Catholic doctrine. [2]  Sata has been lauded for this, rather than condemned for using his personal religious beliefs to govern the country. As so much of the Bible, which guides Christians, is incompatible with modern values we should not base any of our laws on Christianity. In order to progress and improve our lives we need to continually scrutinize our values and reject those that do not promote equality and a better life for all. As a former Christian, I rejected the religion once I could no longer ignore the sexism, genocidal religious wars, tolerance of slavery and unjustified homophobia.

When the time comes to accept or reject the draft constitution I will vote against it. That is, no to having the religious beliefs of others thrust upon me and no to having my right to criticise Christianity taken away. When Zambia was first declared a Christian nation, there was an overwhelmingly positive response to this. It is likely that the majority of Zambians will vote in favour of any legislation that gives special standing to Christianity and I will be part of a small minority voting against it. As it stands, non-believers across Africa are despised and scared into silence. Any legal document that singles out a specific religion and declares it more important than others only serves to maintain the current situation for the non-religious in society and for this reason must be rejected. We need laws and policies that are good for all, not just the religious majority.  

While this article refers to Zambia specifically, it is relevant for the rest of the African continent as religion prevails over reason throughout. Democratic principles have been adopted throughout the contintent but even as this has been done, we still insist on merging them with contradictory elements. Promoting Christianity in the Zambian constitution is just one example of this. 

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/19/frederick-chiluba-obituary
[2] http://www.zambianwatchdog.com/2011/09/25/sata-i-will-govern-according-to-biblical-10-commandments/