The Church & Good Governance


Go to other Essay Series sections: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII. This chapter seeks to deal with the age-old debate of the role of the Church in the management of public affairs or the relationship between the state and the Church.


The concept of "governance" is generally defined in a variety of ways depending on the level of governance being defined and the goals it seeks to serve.

The Webster dictionary, for example, defines it as ‘the act or process of governing, characterized by authoritative direction and control’.

For the purposes of this chapter, I find the definition used by the British Council more attractive: "Governance involves interaction between the formal institutions and those in civil society. Governance refers to a process whereby elements in society wield power, authority and influence and enact policies and decisions concerning public life and social uplifting."

Good government with regard to the state has, therefore, come to be associated with the management of public affairs in an effective, open and responsible manner, and has four basic components:

• Respect for human rights, constitutionalism and rule of law

• Functional multiparty democracy

• Transparency and accountability

• Effective participation of the governed.


For purposes of this discussion, the Church will be defined as the community in which the Lordship of Jesus is explicitly acknowledged, and where doing His will and serving His purposes takes precedence over all other demands.


According to the Bible, the state is one institution among others - family, church. St. Paul describes rulers as ministers of God (Romans 3:6).

This is so because creation and Christ’s redemption touches on every aspect of the world, including political things “thrones and dominions or principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).

The purpose of the state is described in various ways, in the Protestant tradition typically as the establishment of justice; and in the Catholic tradition as the promotion of the common good. In scripture, the state is seen to function through its leaders, and point to the furtherance of a just society as the main task.

“Give the King thy justice, O God, and thy righteousness to the royal son”. “May he defend the cause of the poor people, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppression!” (Psalm 72)

The biblical view is also that the state has received its authority from God as hinted above. Authority is regarded as social power. The Bible clearly recognizes the need for authority in the social order. It speaks freely of the authority of priests, kings, parents, and masters. In other words as Abraham Kuyper has noted, one never meets the authority of God Himself, but this authority appears in the office of human persons who do not desire this authority as power exercised by one group over other persons but exercise it only as representatives. This authority can be found in many areas and in many forms.

When Paul talks of “governing authorities” in Romans 13, he is recognizing that all human authority is derived from God and has the nature of “office”, “assignment,” “task”. It has an implicitly limited character. “There is no authority except from God”.

Paul further illustrates that this authority must be exercised for the welfare of those subject to it. . . the person in authority is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:3)

In light of this, the state and its authorities exist for the good of the citizenry. Politicians are office bearers. They are to execute their executive, legislative, judicial or administrative offices only for the good of the citizenry. This good is public justice.

When they conduct themselves in this manner then the state can be said to be exercising good governance.


The Church is the new community brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is called to be both a sign of God’s new rule of Shalom and the instrument of God’s purposes of fulfilling that role in the world (Matt. 28:16-20, 5:13-16). The Church acknowledges that Jesus is Lord (John 13:3, Colossians 1:15-20 and that Jesus’ Lordship extends over all the earth, even though it is not acknowledged by all the inhabitants of the earth (Romans 8:24f).

It is in this sense that we can call the Church a community where the Lordship of Christ is acknowledged, and where the burden of sharing and demonstrating the benefits of his Lordship is high on the agenda.

Christopher Sugden describes the Church’s mission in a nutshell as being: "To declare that Lordship over the whole created order, demonstrate what creation looks like when acknowledging its master, summon all people to acknowledge his Lordship and seek ways of ordering the world that best express the present Lordship of Jesus, the King of justice and righteousness, the prince of shalom."

The Church’s mission must be seen in the light of God’s ultimate purpose and plan for mankind and the universe, as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God’s plan is that all the created world, people, supernatural powers, natural forces and institutions work in agreement with God’s purpose that his sovereignty over all things will be acknowledged and his reign of peace and justice will be realized.

The Church is the instrument for furthering God’s purposes as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The life and ministry of Jesus Christ reflect Him as one who proclaimed God’s righteousness against the injustices of his day and as one who sought to bring about social renewal on the basis of God’s reign.

In Luke’s Gospel (4:18f) Jesus describes his mission as that of bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, healing for the blind, freedom for social victims and the arrival of the year of the Jubilee in which the renewal of society and the environment as a whole is put into effect (Isaiah 61:1f).

Consequently, Jesus went about healing the sick, liberating many people from the bondage of dehumanizing powers and restoring to them their God-given dignity (John 9:1; Luke 8:26f; Mark. 5:21).

He disregarded the social and hierarchical barriers of gender or class, ritual cleanliness or piety which traditionally separated people from each other.

Jesus challenged the authoritarian and patriarchal patterns of leadership within contemporary Judaism and surrounding cultures; and instated that the renewed community avoid cultural and economic patterns that created a chain of domination, maintaining institutionalized injustice. In this way he turned social relations upside down and sought to re-establish them along egalitarian lines. He demonstrated these new set of values in the way he called and related with his disciples (Luke 22:26; 1 Corinthians. 1:27).

On the other hand Jesus persistently challenged social and economic injustices; and taught the right attitudes towards wealth and poverty. His confrontation with religious and political leaders of His day about injustice; complacence, hypocrisy led to his death.

The Church has no other mission apart from that of God as reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The Church is the extension of that mission and ministry. It must therefore emulate Christ.


As already illustrated, both the state and the Church derive their mandate from God and are called to serve His purposes by working for the common good - that is, for conditions that promote human dignity, responsible stewardship and fairness in human relations.

In this way, they are complimentary in their roles. When the state, using its instruments of governance creates conditions that are enabling of citizens to enjoy their rights and to exercise their responsibilities in peace; such an environment is also conducive for the Church to preach the Gospel and uphold a life of dignity for God’s people.

Although the state through its government is expected to be accountable to the electorate and the Church to her members, both institutions are ultimately accountable to God.

However both the state and the Church being institutions that are managed by human beings, they are subject to going astray and failing to fulfill their divine mandate. Right from the biblical times we read of kings exercising their authority in a manner that oppressed, exploited and marginalized their subjects.

In Uganda for example, political leaders have by and large not lived up to the principles and practices that contribute to good governance. This is especially reflected in the:

• Violent political changes in 1966, 1971, 1979, 1985, 1986.

• Human rights abuses characterized by harassment of people having divergent views from those in the regime in power, illegal arrests and detention, disappearances and killings.

• Mismanagement and plundering of national resources.

• Undermining the constitutional mandate of national institutions by making them serve personal or group interest as opposed to national interests.

• Adoption of policies that promote division and undermine national unity and peaceful co-existence within the nation and the region.

• Deliberate flouting of constitutional provisions.

Since the Church, according to Bishop Okullu, is institutionalized by God “to bring the mind of God to bear upon total human life and contribute to the building of value systems upon which a sound society may be built," it has a responsibility to call the state to order and remind it of its divine calling (John. 5:3; 1 Peter. 1:17; Deuteronomy 10:17-19 and 16:18f; Jeremiah 23:3; Psalm 45:4-8). In this case the state must recognize that the Church has a divine right from God to possess and to use all rights of correction and admonition invested in it without threat or interference from the state.

Similarly, when the Church conducts herself in a manner that betrays her mission, for instance the ongoing cases of exploitation of the poor through the money for prayer programs, the state is justified to intervene.

Unfortunately, as Bishop Okullu observed, “there is no blueprint pattern of behavior of church/state relationship anywhere which could be translated and fitted into the present situation in East Africa”.

Ultimately, therefore, the church/state relationship can only be determined by the divine purposes for the state and the church in light of the actual social and political situation.


Before exploring ways in which the Church can contribute to good governance, I would like to make the following observations.

1. Realizing good government in any society is a collective effort, no one institution in society can fulfill it alone, yet each institution by adhering to the principles of good governance contributes to it.

2. The Church must seek to be exemplary. The Church’s life must authenticate its prophetic voice. We can address our politicians most effectively when we demonstrate our own credibility:

• In the management of resources, human, financial, time

• In the management of diversities in our churches

• In the way we nurture the ecumenical vision and how we cooperate with other faith groups

• In the way we are open to scrutiny

• In our ability to harmonise our voice

• Our willingness to accept failure and readiness to repent and reform

• By our actions of love and compassion

• By our choices and lifestyles.

3. The Church needs to re-evaluate its understanding of church and state relations and relinquish its search for status and protection from the state.

The competition for establishment image is one of the reasons why churches in Uganda are failing to exercise their prophetic role.

While it is commendable for the Church to cooperate with the state, it is important that the Church is not compromised by promises or actual offers of gifts from the state.

The Church needs to discover herself as a pilgrim community (Hebrews 13:13), as a community called to live outside the camp, in the wilderness; away from the wings of security provided by the government. It is not necessary for the Church to work at securing their status or future. There is no need for the Church to give absolute commitment to the state or to any political ideology or economic theory.

For the future of God’s Church and God’s mission as Escobar has aptly put it, "do not depend on the rise or fall of this or that civilization, of this or that race (or tribe), of this or that social, economic and political system".

The future and mission of the Church is located in God, against whom even the gates of hell cannot prevail (Matthew 16:18), for God is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

4. The Church needs to live up to its ‘double-identity’. According to John Stott, “on the one hand the Church is a ‘holy’ people called out of the world to belong to God. But on the other, it is a ‘worldly’ people in the sense of being sent back into the world; to witness and to serve”.

The Church must therefore grasp the vision of God, who is concerned about making everything new. He seeks that individuals are recreated in Christ as well as the whole creation. This re-creation begun with the coming of Christ and it is the responsibility of the Church to further it. This awareness helps the Church to avoid polarization and to hold in tension the spiritual and social dimensions of its mission.


1. Earnestly praying for leaders at all levels

Leadership is exercised at various levels and in different institutions. The quality of leadership at these levels and institutions has a bearing on the quality of life that citizens enjoy. Poor leadership at family level, for instance, can nurture children in patterns of behavior which in the long run impact the whole country.

In addition, decision making is a very delicate process which needs the guidance of God, the omniscient. It is for this reason that St. Paul admonished the church, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way (1 Timothy 2:1,2).

2. Influencing policies

It is often said that the changes we want to see in society remain wishful thinking till they are translated into public policy.

This is the basis of the Uganda Joint Christian Council Parliamentary Program. In 2002 we realized that we were complaining about bad laws and policies at the stage of implementation. We decided to be more strategic, so we appointed two staff members to work with Parliament full time, so that our in-put in the legislative process can be timely.

3. Empowering citizens

The need for empowering the population cannot be over emphasized. Good governance cannot easily be realized where Bishop Okullu notes that citizenry are not participants in their governance.

“One of the ways in which African politicians succeed in manipulating the people is by keeping them ignorant of their inalienable human rights and liberties bestowed on them by their creator. . . Constitutions are written, in English or French, and then put safely out of reach of those whom they are supposed to protect”.

Okullu also links the lack of awareness of rights to the people’s failure to take initiative and participation in nation building.

“They will not be granted participation in decision making unless they demand it and they will not demand it unless they understand that it is their right”, he said

The Church in partnership with other civil society organizations can design programs that aim at raising the level of general consciousness in this area of human rights and responsible citizenship. The current civic education programs are still inadequate because they are often linked to elections. Government needs to be challenged to invest in long term civic education.

4. Contribute to strengthening public accountability

Increasingly, in our society money is becoming the currency of dignity. Consequently abuses of public offices for direct or indirect personal gain are on the increase. This phenomenon hurts not only the economy but it has become a sick system which in the end hurts the poor and punishes those who choose to live with integrity.

The Church should lobby government so that legislation is strengthened to make corruption unprofitable; to increase people’s participation in governance and distribution of resources – operationalize the information bill so that information is available at all levels to facilitate monitoring.

5. Contributing to peaceful co-existence and reconciliation.

The political environment of Uganda has tended to foster a culture of violence. As a society we also struggle with managing our diversities, whether these are religious, cultural, ethnic or political. The current challenge is how to inculcate values of tolerance, and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

The Church participation in the calling for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Northern Uganda is commendable, and their participation in the Juba talks needs to be supported.

The Church should continue with the campaign against the proliferation of small arms.

It should continue to create platforms, like the one the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) created for inter-party dialogue as a means of inculcating values of respect and tolerance among political leaders.

There is an urgent need for the Church to advocate for the speeding up of a national mechanism for managing conflict and facilitating reconciliation.

6. Giving voice to the voiceless

Marginalization is one of the reasons why we have tension, conflict and even armed rebellions. Often it is not easy for those suffering marginalization to stand up for themselves. For example our brothers and sisters in Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps, in Northern Uganda are so crushed physically, emotionally and psychologically that they may not be able to stand up to government about their predicament.

Solidarity with those who suffer marginalization, alienation, intimidation, harassment and oppression is one way in which the Church can challenge the state to be accountable.


Since realizing good governance is a collaborative effort, let me appreciate the critical role that academia and media can play in promoting good governance.

1. The academe, working through professional groups or as individuals, has the role of contributing to the analysis of trends in society, providing in-depth professional understanding of issues, such as conflict, gender relations, democracy, and justice. Subject-matter experts may also propose alternatives to existing approaches or responses to issues in society. They can contribute to setting the national agenda.

2. The media is often referred to as the fourth arm in a functioning democracy to Parliament, the Judiciary and Executive and has a critical role to play by:

• Contributing to legitimacy of institutions of governance

For the above institutions to function, they need to enjoy a certain level of confidence within the population. The media therefore have a role to play in contributing to the legitimacy of institutions, which may lead to stability in the country.

• Engaging society around strategic issues

The media is key in agenda setting, mobilizing and focusing society around critical issues that impact the welfare of communities.

• Contributing to healthy management of conflicts in society

Conflicts are part of any healthy functioning society. Depending on how they are managed, conflicts can contribute to growth and a deeper understanding of the parties involved, however when they are poorly managed they can lead to discord and violence.

The media may contribute to the resolution of conflicts or may exacerbate those conflicts, depending on how they report them.


Nurturing good governance should not be a part-time undertaking.

Both the Church and state have a critical role to play, and must undertake this role with a great deal of commitment, patience, steadiness and with great attention to detail, trusting in the God who has chosen them to be instruments for fulfilling his purposes.