Recently, my wife and I were once invited to preach at a campus Christian Union evening service. As we drove into the university, we could tell it was politics season. Posters on trees. Posters on notice boards. Posters on walls and posters on doors. Posters on top of rival posters. Posters on top of the posters on top of rival posters. Posters with smiling faces of potential leaders. Smiles you could trust. Posters you could design with basic Photoshop experience. Posters you couldn’t create even with 10 years Graphic Design experience. Posters for re-election. Posters for new election. Posters with clichés. Posters with unique slogans. The incumbent student government’s reign was seeing its sunset weeks and the positions were up for grabs. My wife and I got a bit nostalgic because six years ago, we too served in the student government of our time when we were in University. My wife served as the School of Arts and Humanities Representative. I served as the Vice Secretary. We were two out of the 10 members that formed the Student Affairs Council senate (SAC) of The United States International University-Africa (USIU).
That night, we sat in a hall with hundreds of campus students waiting to hear the word of God. Just before we were invited to go up to speak, a certain gentleman in the CU went up on stage to make some announcements. As he walked up, we noticed the congregation stir. I was curious.
“Who’s he?” I asked one of the students seated next to me.
“He’s a CU official.”
“But why are the students chattering?”
“Oh, that’s because he’s running for political office in the student government. And you know how that can’t go well with being in the CU.”
“Well, that’s because there’s so much corruption in the student government. How can a Christian be part of it?”
Believers in the Christian Union in that campus did not even vote during the annual student government election. One of their reasons was that rigging would happen anyway. Secondly, the campaigning was filled with enough hellish deals that made the proverbial “politics is a dirty game” sound cute. The cultural narrative in the Christian Unions in Kenyan campuses seemed to suggest that born-again believers and student politics did not live in the same estate. We wondered why. Was it too messy for the saints? Would the mudslinging taint the bleached robes of righteousness? According to majority of the congregants, a student mafia was in charge. The systems couldn’t be dealt with unless you bowed down to it. And for this reason, the CU official running for office did not even have the votes from the faithful.
Waturi and I served in a secular school where you cannot register a CU as an official student activity body. USIU is as secular and non-religious as they come as far as campuses in this country are concerned. While USIU politics is undoubtedly fair and more civil than majority of the campuses I know, it is not altogether saintly. As we campaigned, we dealt with opponents who bribed voters with cash and free beer. Insults were hurled. Waturi and I specifically received taunts that the SAC office was not a dating hub for boyfriends and girlfriends. Despite all this, we campaigned and played our cards clean while trusting God. Waturi was running against two popular students. She beat them both and secured her position by three votes in her favour. I secured my position with about 78% of the total votes. And in pure conscience from having played clean politics in our time, I hope to pass a few lessons for Christians in our Kenyan campus Christian Unions. This is why Christians should not shy away from campus politics.
- The change we want is with us
We complain when the establishment makes decrees that we are not pleased with. In fact when justice is not meted, we grow livid. Ecclesiastes 8:11 states When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong (NIV). Born-again students vying for political office espouse the values of the faith above the need to be politically correct. The change we want is with us. Proverbs 29:2 says When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan. (NLT). It goes without saying that godly people’s ambition is to act justly like our God. Our God selflessly gave his life for us on that cross so that we could live free from eternal damnation. A godly person mirrors this quality. They will die to self for the good of the people. A godly leader will disadvantage himself for the benefit of the public. A wicked leader is one who disadvantages the public for the benefit of self. The populace rejoices when the former type of person is in authority.
- This world is not our home
Jesus came to the end of his ministry on this world and prayed for his followers. See what he said in John 17:14-17 “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (NIV)
Jesus begins by acknowledging that a Christian’s adherence to God’s word will inevitably result in them being hated. At times even persecuted. To be hated and persecuted on account of our faith is one of the trademarks of the Christian faith. The world admires some traits of the faith and even embraces them. They may borrow Christian marriage advice, Christian financial advice but the core of the faith, the Gospel, is offensive to them and they wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. Jesus is telling us that politics is not the only dirty game; Christianity in the world is as well. Yet Jesus’ prayer is not for the Christians to be tucked away from the rest of the planet and have our little heaven on earth in a neighbourhood where no sin dwells. On the contrary, he says in John 17 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Even Paul told us it would be impossible to live a life like that (1st Corinthians 5:9-11).
Christians running for political office should be backed up by prayer from fellow believers for protection from the evil one as opposed to receiving petitions to step down. Jesus then states a classic verse in John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. The challenge of student politics for a believer is to stick by the truth of the word whilst living in a sinful world. Yet Jesus prays for us to remain sanctified in a sinful world. Jesus’ tactic is not to live in a sanctified bubble. But rather, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world in a campus where the evil one is gaining ground.
- We have a responsibility to this world
When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, they repented for not heeding God’s prophets. They hoped for God to deliver them and take them back home soon. False prophets arose promising that God would swiftly take them back. But that was all hogwash. Prophet Jeremiah, whom they had rejected, gave a contrary message from the LORD.
Jeremiah 29:4-6 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘(NASB)
Jeremiah informed the people that they would remain in exile for 70 years. They may as well unpack their bags. They may as well start that business. They may as well plan that wedding. They may as well build that house. They may as well get kids. They may as well get to find out who their neighbours are. They may as well participate in student politics. The LORD then further reiterates that responsibility in Jeremiah 29:7-9.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. ‘For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. (NASB)
Babylon was a pagan city. Yet God asked the exiled nation to pray for the pagan city. Why? Well, of course God desires the salvation of every man (1st Timothy 2:1-2, Ezekiel 33:11). But there was another reason. If it goes well with Babylon, it goes well with its inhabitants. If Babylon is safe from invaders, so will the people in it be safe from invaders. The LORD expressly states that the messengers who reject life in Babylon are people he did not send. Pray for your campus and participate in its welfare just as the Israelites prayed for Babylon and participated in its welfare. You will do well to recall that while the Israelites were in exile, a few of them held political responsibilities in a secular pagan system. Daniel, Nehemiah and Esther all served in very close positions with the kings of their time. Their faith even challenged some kings like Nebuchadnezzar to repent and some like Darius to believe in the one true God. Kings like Artaxerxes were useful in saving the genocide of an entire nation through the influence of Queen Esther. Officials like Nehemiah were instrumental in rebuilding Jerusalem’s broken walls through the edict of the King.
We should not fear the evils of campus politics such as rigging and the establishment. We must remember that evil persists because good sits and tweets about it. Let me finish with a recap from my days in student politics. When we ran for office, we realised a number of us were born again. So we became shrewd. We knew if we formed a coalition we would be voted against as a block. So we joined other teams and ran as independent candidates but secretly supported each other’s election. In the end, us born-again Christians filled 6 out of the 10 senate positions. We had one Muslim and one Hindu in the team as well and we became great friends with them, and we are even today. We knew what Proverbs 75:6-7 tells us; that promotion comes neither from the east of the west, but from the LORD who exalts one and lowers another. I say it with humility when I state that our student government leadership was considered one of the best that the campus had experienced up to that time. I am sure however that better ones have come after us and better ones existed before us too. But we did our very best. We got the students’ council out of deep debt by cutting on our own budgets. We revived dead events such as the Cultural Week. We established the strategic plans for projects such as the Student Centre that was executed recently. We tapped into student talent and used it in all our school concerts. We learned of cases of theft and misuse of funds from some earlier governments which we swore to never imitate despite their popularity at their time. We handed over leadership in a free and fair election when our time was over without holding onto power. Christian students should not shy from campus politics.