The Minister of Information, Mr Frank Tumwebaze, was yesterday responding to remarks by Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga that the current animosity between the two institutions may plunge the country back into its ugly past.
“There is no doubt that the two complement each other and the record of the NRM government to recognise, support and work with the different faith denominations is unprecedented in the history of our country. The only issue of concern is when the Church through its pulpit is used by partisan activists to target and malign one political entity while lending support and credence to another,” Mr Tumwebaze said.
While addressing mourners at the burial of the former Church of Uganda Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo at the Anglican Martyrs Shrine Namugongo on Tuesday, Archbishop Lwanga said the government was treating the Church as its enemy.
“The truth between the Church and politics is that the Church is not against the State as some people are telling the public. The remarks we make are none other than those telling the truth because the Church is the conscience of the State,” he said.
“History is indeed repeating itself as some people are fighting against the truth with a furry of selfishness…. So government should listen to the voice of reason. Reason of hope. Reason of stability,” Archbishop Lwanga added.
He did not name any particular incident but his remarks were interpreted to criticise government regarding the amendment of the Constitution to remove the presidential age limit.
Mr Tumwebaze said by stretching into partisan politics, the Church was overstepping its clerical mandate and causing divisions in the country.
“That is not healthy for the Church. It becomes a source of divisions. Why the church sermons or messages from the pulpit are never questioned is because they are spiritually neutral and good for all,” the minister said.
“On the other hand, political opinions are diverse. So if some religious leaders as individuals choose to hold and propagate their own political opinions and again want to sell them uncontested using the shield of the pulpit, then it’s not good,” he added.
Mr Tumwebaze asked religious leaders not to “take offence” when they get rebuttal on their partisan opinions.
He said some Church leaders supported the Opposition on the recent age limit Bill, now an Act, when it was clear it had proponents and opponents.
He said government does not stop religious leaders to talk about politics or give counsel on matters of governance but they must be impartial.
“I know many religious leaders who feel offended when some of their colleagues openly join the partisan podiums and still want to impose their individual views as for the whole clergy. I hope internally the church gets time to discuss some of this feedback,” Mr Tumwebaze said.
The Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Mr Simon Lokodo, reiterated his colleague’s view.
Mr Lokodo said Archbishop Lwanga’s castigation of the government was inappropriate. He said although President Museveni, in his New Year message, reminded the Church of its function, he was not fighting it.
“To condemn government with a loud voice was not right because it was overrated by the public. We went there (Namugongo) for mourning but not to see who is better than who. The conduct of my Archbishop lamenting was not befitting the event. The President’s comments were to remind the Church of its mandate and he was not in the tone of war,” Mr Lokodo said by telephone.
Opposition speaks out
Kizza Besigye, opposition politician: “When Mr Museveni wants the support of the Church, they are friends but when he does wrong and they comment, he cannot stand it. He then castigates the Church and throws them [religious leaders] out. But Mr Museveni cannot separate Church from politics because the Church makes us what we are.”
Winfred Kiiza, Leader of Opposition in Parliament: She said the government is wrong to condemn the Church for commenting on politics. Ms Kiiza said the religious leaders’ opposing statements on the amendment of the Constitution were legitimate.