ELCT Press Release

Date: November 10, 2017
Press release No. 001/11/2017

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Church leaders should be beacons of hope in the society

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President, Archbishop Dr Filibus Panti Musa, was on a tour to Tanzania at the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) from 8 October 2017. This was his first visit to Tanzania since he was elected President of LWF at the 12th LWF Assembly in Windhoek, Namibia in May 2017. He started his first leg in Dar es Salaam where among other things he attended a training workshop organized by the LWF for church leadership in Africa focusing on advocating justice for women and children. After the workshop he travelled to Iringa and addressed the 14th Round Table of the Lutheran Mission Cooperation. While in Dar es Salaam the LWF President granted the following exclusive interview to Elizabeth Lobulu, the ELCT communication coordinator.

LWF President, Archbishop Dr Filibus Panti Musa giving his
speech at the opening of the LWF Workshop on gender justice.

Question: Your Grace, the President of Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Archbishop Dr. Filibus Musa, what are your priorities now that you are President of the LWF as far as eradicating injustices in the continent and particularly in the Lutheran communion in Africa?

Thank you very much for that question. The question of injustice in Africa is a huge question because it touches almost all aspects of life. And within the Lutheran world communion we have quite a number of focuses. First of all it is critical for us to deal with the issue of gender that tries to address imbalances between men and women by ensuring both genders are brought up together, they live together and they are developed together. We can only have real development in Africa if the questions of gender imbalances and injustices are addressed.

The second critical area that is something that is quite close to my heart is the question of our children, both in the Church and in the society. This is a group of people who do not have the capacity to do anything for themselves. These are human lives that God has given us that are totally dependent 100 percent. It is important that we invest time in fighting for the rights of children; so as to have the right to a safe environment where they can grow; the right to develop their future, particularly, through education and welfare; the right to go to school; the right to play; the right not to be pulled into violence and other atrocities at a tender age and the right to grow as free human beings.

A third area that touches all dimensions is the question of peace. And we talk a lot about peace in Africa. For me this is very important. But we must recognize that peace cannot stand alone. It has never been attained without the question of injustice. When you trample on people, when you take away people’s rights, when you deny their rights or possibility for livelihood; don’ expect peace to reign. So these two: peace and justice, from the Biblical point of view, must always be carried together. I think in Africa most of the time, we think that it is possible to build peace when there is no justice in the society to hold it. When people know they are respected and they can live dignified lives, it minimises the possibilities and potential for conflict and violent reaction. Actually it lays the basic ground for people living together and enjoying life to the fullest as the scripture teaches us. These three are, in fact, the key priority areas.

But I would like to add one more thing that has been a pillar of the LWF since the beginning. And that is the question of people who have been displaced – whether they have been forced to be migrants in their countries or they are forced to flee their countries. These are vulnerable people who leave everything behind. It is important as churches that we continue to address the questions related to displaced people who are forced to be migrants by being forced to leave their countries.

Question: In your remarks during the opening of the workshop on advocating justice for women and children in education and health, you want church leaders in Africa to speak the truth rather than being carried by unknown agenda hence pointing fingers to the system as if the church is no part of the society? Can you in a nutshell dwell on this or rather can you give us the main message of your speech?

So much of the life and witness of the Church depends on the leadership, the integrity of the leadership; the sense of direction the leadership provides and even the practical life experience and examples set by leaders is very critical. So unless the leadership in the Churches in Africa are prepared to be self critical as to who we are, our identity and our stand in church, it is very difficult to face or stand in public space to speak and be respected because we are part of the systems we are dealing with. We are not isolated and they know us, they know who we are, they know what we are doing in practise. So if we remain clear on our agenda and become source, example or beacons of hope in society, sometimes we don’t even have to talk, we will be respected anyway. In so doing we will become a model for many people in their context and in their realities.

I am going to use an unusual word here: In order for the Church to be an agent of ‘interruption’ in the direction of the public and the systems where there is so much exploitation, where a lot of atrocities are going on; misuse of power, and so on. These things happen in the society, if you find the same things in the Church, in that case the Church cannot pretend to be an agent of ‘interruption’ of atrocities happening in the society.

Hence my emphasis is that if the church wants to be a credible voice in the society, (and it should be a credible voice in the society), it needs to clean its own house and be very clear of its own agenda and not allow itself to be dragged around because churches are not just social organisations. We are rooted in the scripture. So our understanding of our salvation in Christ as a gift of grace should be the basis for which we will be engaged in society at large. And that is our agenda actually. That we are not doing what we do because we have learnt about it in science. We do not have experience in those areas. Our area of experience is to understand that salvation is free, creation is not for sale and human beings are not for sale. We learn these themes and sub themes at the 12th LWF Assembly. They have become the basis that we can change the society in order to interrupt the system and the injustices going on there.

Question: What is your experience in Nigeria in the issues of confronting structures affecting access of social services to women and overcoming injustices to children?

The context of Nigeria is not dramatically different from other countries in Africa in the issue of gender and child rights. We are still struggling. It is quite a distance from reaching the goal. Nigeria like so many African countries is a signatory to so many international and regional conventions that has to do with gender issues, human rights and advocating for child rights. But we are nowhere near reaching our goal.

I think what is really needed urgently is to push for concrete policies and programs in order to ensure the implementation and domestication of these international conventions and treaties that we have signed. It is not easy. The Churches, non Christian organisations and religious groups are struggling. They are working very hard in trying to find ways in collaborating to address the matter.

We know actually, the government alone is in no way in the capacity to address all these questions because the issue of gender inequality, gender injustice and trampling on child rights is in every corner; from the family to the immediate community, to the wider society and at national level. No government can address these things at once, so we need to find ways at every level. At family level for example, the Church has the critical role in terms of re-orienting the mind sets of the people. Therefore, the Church through the pulpit and programmes they have become very important. In the wider society we have to collaborate with Government, Non Governmental Organisations and other religious organisations in order to find a way of working together in order to address this menace.

As I said the situation in Nigeria is not dramatically unique or different from other African countries that I have seen. But there are signs of hope in the sense that wherever I go I have seen men and women of integrity who are increasingly standing up and speaking about these issues, not only speaking but developing programmes and taking action in order to address them. So these are signs of hope and we should invest on those signs rather than being discouraged by enormity of the challenges.

Question: Your grace, you have seen some activities in some congregations around Dar es Salaam, can you tell me if there is anything you have learnt from the encounters such as the ones you had?

While in Dar es Salaam for almost a week we visited three congregations (Mbezi Beach, Kijitonyama and Kimara) and each one is unique. One common thread in these congregations is the importance of identifying gifts and nurturing those gifts by giving an opportunity to people to use their gifts in the development and in witness of the church. The leaders are bringing professionals who are members of the congregation who are willing and voluntarily giving their time and talents for the building of the church. That is an important reminder and a lesson for me.

Another lesson is how I sensed the vibrancy in the life of the congregations. It appears to be that people really are not coming to church when they do not find something addressing their spiritual, social and economic concerns. So the fact that these congregations are growing tells me there is a lot that is going on. It points out to me that the pastor and the leadership of the church are doing a lot of work and helping these people. The members of the church are also taking the responsibility to establish diaconal programmes by themselves without depending on anybody from outside. In some of the congregations they are even talking of establishing hospitals; they have schools and they have other concerns for children. This is a very positive and laudable development for which I thank God that I had an opportunity to visit and interact with the leadership of these congregations.

Question: You mentioned in your speech that there are four founding pillars of LWF holistic mission, what did you mean?

From the very beginning when the LWF was founded, it was not just found in an empty space. Of course, the LWF came right after the Second World War. There was mass suffering particularly in Europe as a result of the Second World War. So the question was where we are as Lutherans? So you have Lutherans who had suffered as a result of the war; you have Lutherans who were perpetrators of the war and people coming out of mutual suspicion; that is how eventually how LWF was founded.

When I say pillars these are theology, mission, holistic diakonia and ecumenical engagement that have been there. We have continued to develop them in different ways but when I say pillars, those are foundational values for the LWF from the beginning and they continue to shape our identity of who we are and what we are and how we engage other ecumenical bodies and religious bodies and the world at large. These are very important to us. One of it is about diakonia, justice in general and when we come to specific issues such as dealing with gender justice, child rights and other human rights issues. So the question of injustice as we know even from scripture is inseparable. You cannot be church without dealing with these questions of justice and people’s freedom because we are liberated. And if we are liberated then our message should be that which seeks for the liberation of humanity.

Elizabeth Lobulu
Communication Coordinator,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania
Box 3033, ARUSHA, Tanzania.
Phone: +255-27-250-8856/7
FAX: +255-27-254-8858
E-mail: ELobulu@elct.or.tz

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For more information contact:

Elizabeth Lobulu
Communication Desk Officer, ELCT
E-mail: ELobulu@elct.or.tz