By RAPHAEL TENTHANI
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God”–Matthew 22:21
Jesus here is teaching the Pharisees that, while God is the Supreme Being – the de facto ruler of the world, man still has an obligation to respect earthly lawful authority. After all, coins carried Caesar’s effigy and they were accepted as legal tender.
So, by consenting to accept the coins with Caesar’s effigy as their money, the Pharisees were acknowledging their subjection to the government of the day. And, therefore, they had an obligation to respect all lawful dictates of the State over which Caesar presided, including paying taxes.
The Pharisees had wanted to push Jesus to a corner. They wanted, for instance, to crucify him for high treason if he dared say people should not pay taxes. But, conversely, if Jesus said people should pay taxes, he would also lose credibility as a prophet and son of God.
But, as we have seen, Jesus cleverly circumvented the ‘trap’.
I am being preachy today because, it seems, the delegation from the Nkhoma Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian that went to see President Peter Mutharika this other day lost their Bibles. You see, the good ‘Men of God’ – there were no women! – begged the President to ‘intervene’ in the case of the synod’s defaulted city rates. In fact, if truth be told, the clerics were begging the President to help them break the law, as it were.
If you think I am being overly irreverent to these venerable ‘Men of God’, just how did they want Peter to ‘intervene’ in their scheme of things – pay the defaulted arrears on their behalf or threaten the Lilongwe City Council to write off their bill as a ‘bad debt’?
If these reverends wanted the professor to pick the tab for them, where did they think he would get the money? He only gets around K1.4 million a month and has only been in office for eight months, for crying out loud! The last time I checked, the synod’s defaulted bill was way above K30 million!
Now you wonder why presidents play ‘hanky-panky’, to borrow from my senior colleague Zebedee’s parlance, with the famed ‘Account Number 1’? It is such kind of unreasonable demands on our leaders that give birth to the ‘cashgates’ of this world.
Or, maybe, the synod wanted Peter to order – read threaten – the Lilongwe City Council into ‘forgiving’ it of its defaulted bill?
I urge President Mutharika not only to ignore the synod’s obnoxious plea but also to urge town hall in Lilongwe to follow up on the defaulted bill and compel the synod to pay up or suffer the necessary sanctions, including losing property.
Just imagine, if the President allows himself to be ill-advised into bending to the synod’s obscene plea, what can stop other churches – or synagogues or mosques – from making similar pleas?
Indeed how many widows are failing to pay city rates because their bread-winners died? Indeed several businesses are failing to make ends meet because the economy is not ticking. If the council positively ‘listens’ to these ill-advised pleas for ‘clemency’, where will town hall get money to function?
Of course, councils are also guilty ‘by association’. How can, for instance, they let a rate payer run a bill of up to a quarter of a billion kwacha as is the case with a certain political party in a certain city?
But, of course, that is a discussion for another day.
Today in the dock is the Nkhoma Synod for failing to lead by example. The church management should have been the first to follow Jesus’ ‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’ edict. If the synod leads in not respecting Jesus’ word, what do you expect from its flock?
The synod must be the conscience of the nation to guide the rest of us – including government – to do what is right spiritually, legally, socially or morally.
I repeat, the church should be the last to default on its lawful earthly obligations if we have to keep our sanity as a nation. The church ought to be the bulwark of how the nation ought to operate as an upright society. It should be the last to show lack of faith.
Peter – in our present scenario – is the ‘Caesar’ in Jesus’ teachings. It is absurd, therefore – for want of a more pious adjective – for the church to go to the same ‘Caesar’ to ask him to fore-go millions in taxes that would have helped him serve the citizenry better.
What Nkhoma Synod is asking Peter to do is actually tantamount to corruption which must be condemned. The spirit of begging from politicians for everything is killing this nation. One would have thought it is only politicians who are killing self-reliance; to think that the church, the supposed conscience of the nation, should be at the fore-front of perpetuating this despicable behaviour is shameful to say the least.
Imagine Peter settles the synod’s bill or orders the council to write it off and down the line he loses his marbles and becomes a dictator; how will the synod begin criticising him? It will have no moral authority to correct the wayward president.
No, the synod – like every defaulter, by the way – should meet its obligations and pay the city rates in full because that is what is expected of it, according to its mentor Jesus’ own teachings.
In any case the synod cannot acquire property without planning. It should have a competent finance department, guided by a competent committee of church elders, that should know its monthly and annual financial obligations and be able to plan how to off-set them.
I repeat; the church should lead by example and not default on any of its earthly obligations. The word ‘default’ should not appear anywhere in the church’s lexicon. How will the church sermonise to us on the importance of being update and sincere on tithe when it is leading in defaulting on taxes?
The synod ought to follow the example of Christ who before he sent his disciples to go and look for food elsewhere to feed the multitude that came to hear him speak, asked what they had among themselves. They had five fish and three loaves of bread. And a miracle followed!
Nkhoma Synod collects offerings every Sunday or whenever it has gatherings in all its churches besides the tithe most Christians religiously pay. These monies must be used to run daily activities of the synod and daily activities must not only be feeding pastors; they must include meeting earthly obligations like paying ‘Caesar what belongs to him’, as the Lord Jesus taught us.
I urge Peter Mutharika not to be scared by the pastors’ collars into condoning the breaking of legally-constituted laws. After all, the President has the Lord Jesus on his side on this one!
Nkhoma Synod – and indeed any other religious grouping – must not scare Peter into unwittingly aiding and abetting the breakage of laws he swore to defend. After all Jesus taught us to do the needful during our journey on earth before joining him and his Father in the kingdom beyond the skies.