Good Citizenship and Leadership in the Bible

Good Citizenship and Leadership in the Bible

President’s Welcome Address and Introduction of the Convention Theme Your Grace, Most Rev. John O. Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, our esteemed

Foundational Member and highly generous host, Your Excellencies, Bishop members of CABAN and other venerable guests, dear brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to participate in our conference and support or young Association, it is with great joy and gratitude to God that I welcome you all on behalf of the Catholic Biblical Association of Nigeria (CABAN) to this our Third Annual Convention with its timely theme of “Good Citizenship and Leadership in the Bible.”

  1. A Brief History and Activities of CABAN

Our Association was conceived in 2007 in Makurdi during an annual conference of the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria (CATHAN) which had the theme “Religion and Violence”. During that CATHAN conference, 17 biblical scholars present, including his Grace, Most Rev. John O. Onaiyekan, unanimously welcomed with great enthusiasm the proposal that we form a Catholic Biblical Association, different from the national one, Nigerian Association for Biblical Studies (NABIS). We felt that the new Association would help us to discuss more in depth and with sound biblical scholarship, the issues and questions that our Catholics and all God’s people in Nigeria have about the Bible. At Makurdi, the foundational members agreed to name our Association, Catholic Biblical Association of Nigeria (CABAN, taking after CATHAN).

A year later, the enthusiasm at Makurdi gave birth to the First Annual Convention of the Association, held at CIWA, Port Harcourt from April 30th – May 3rd, 2008. Our theme, “Alive and Active: Images of God’s Word in the Bible”, was chosen as a response to the Year of the Word (October 2008-October 2009) declared by Pope Benedict XVI. The purpose of focusing on images was to gain a feel of the rich, concrete and powerful ways in which God’s word, which is “sharper than any two edged sword” (Heb 4:12), acts, “like fire and like a hammer that shatters a rock in pieces” (Jer 23:29) and serves as God’s messenger that does not return to God empty but successfully carries out all that God was sent it to do (Isa 55:11).

The Second Convention, held in Makurdi where the Association was first conceived, from 20th to 23rd May 2009 deliberated on the theme, “Paul: Embodiment of the Old and New Testaments”. This was our way of participating in the celebration of the Year of St Paul, also declared by the Pope Benedict XVI, to mark the 2000th anniversary of Paul’s conversion. In our deliberations, we saw how deeply God’s word, ever alive and active took root in Paul’s own live and moved him to cross over from a Law based to a Christ anchored way of life. As our apostle (of the Gentiles) he has left us this legacy of radical personal transformation in Christ manifested in the ability to cross and transcend the boundaries of race, class, sex (Gal 3:28) and all other boundaries.

This current year God has inspired us to choose the theme, “Good Citizenship and Leadership in the Bible”. This is in relation to the 50th Anniversary of our Nigerian Independence and the coming general elections in 2011. By God’s providence and the generosity of Archbishop John Onaiyekan, we selected Abuja, capital of the Federation and symbol of our national unity as the venue of this Convention. We view both this year’s theme and venue as God’s own choice and gift to all of us: members of CABAN, you our friends and benefactors here present and indeed the nation as a whole.

  1. This Year’s Theme in Nigerian and World Contexts Fiftieth anniversary of Nigerian independence and the 2011 elections

As already said, the context and motive of studying this theme is the 50th Anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence and the impending 2011 general elections. In most of its fifty years of existence as an independent nation, Nigeria struggled to move from a colonial mentality and system of government to that of a predominantly military rule. In the recent past, it has moved and continues to move towards a democratic system of government.

However, a theoretical democratic system of government operated with a colonial and/or military mentality does not augur well for the nation. This hybrid reality of our country calls us to an honest awareness that our citizens (both the leaders and the led) have still a long way to go before they/we can appreciate what it actually means to be a democratic nation. For the democratic system to become effective, it is imperative that all citizens realize that the nation can only be as good or as bad as they are, individually and collectively. Our hope is that our deliberations on the theme of our Convention will help in the process of making our citizenry aware of what it means to be a truly democratic and God fearing nation where all citizens assume their individual and corporate responsibility to make democracy a reality; and thus reap individually and collectively the dividends of democracy.

Centenary of Edinburgh 1910

This year 2010 also marks the centenary of Edinburgh 1910, where Africa and other developing continents were tagged as “mission lands” at the historic world mission conference. That conference eventually gave birth to the World Council of Churches, based in Geneva. To what extent did this definition of our continent “as mission land” influence and continues to influence our perception of ourselves and things African, including the way we receive/interpret the Bible? Are our readings of the Bible free from western colonial readings or do they now adopt a more fundamentalist approach also imported largely from the West? While scholars speak of post-colonial readings of the Bible, popular readings tend to see the Bible as a blue print for every situation in life, without regard to the life-situations and questions to which the biblical texts were addressed to challenge and transform those situations. Our people tend to read the Bible as though it had fallen from the heaven, using it as a handbook for solutions to all kinds of problems, even a book to hold God to ransom for promises he made and therefore “must fulfill”. They do this without paying attention to the fact that the Bible itself is largely a cumulative and historically progressive record of a people’s own struggle to live their lives in response to God’s covenant with them as they progressively understood God and God’s ways among them through their lived experiences. Though not the direct theme of our convention, this issue of how we understand and read the Bible today is related to it because if we are to find in the Bible models of good citizenship and leadership, we will need to see in the Bible how real people responded to God in their real and concrete life situations and the consequences for them of their responses, good or bad.

  1. Emphasis on “Good Citizenship”

Though our theme is “Good Citizenship and Leadership in the Bible”, the focus of this theme is on “good citizenship”. In the past biblical studies and reflections on governance generally focused mainly on the leadership. Yet important as leaders are, they constitute only a tiny minority of the citizenry of any nation. Good citizens translate into good leaders; conversely, bad citizens translate into bad leaders. Unless we have good, courageous, God-fearing and responsible citizens who know and claim their rights with the corresponding duties, we cannot hope to have good leaders and a good system of government. Not only do leaders come from the citizens but also the citizens have an abiding duty (right from the grassroots) both to elect good leaders and after elections to ensure that those in perform according to the constitutions, their electoral promises and the needs of the people, not their own. Thus while the leaders are in office, the citizens must continue to call them to accountability. If they fail to do this, the leaders will convert their stewardship to ownership to the detriment of the people and the nation.

Leaders come and go, but citizens remain forever as long as a nation lasts. The watchword of democracy is that “power lies with the people.” Our reflection on our theme aims to awaken the people to their possession of this power to help them to claim it so that leaders may see their role as servants of the people and the nation and thus win the people’s support in their ministry of governance. When this happens, the tendency of citizens to treat their leaders who are their servants as benefactors will end.

The concern to empower the citizens and promote good leaders is reflected in the different topics, which our members will treat in the course of this conference. A list of this is included in the registration files. The presenters are well versed in scientific and faith-filled ways of reading the Bible within diverse Nigerian contexts. They will study the text both in its original and ever-changing historical contexts and growing biblical scholarship and in the Nigerian context. Biblical authors were aware that God’s word was alive and active, so they continuously read and reread their life experiences in the light God’s word (its abiding message) and their ever-changing historical, socio-cultural and political contexts which this consistent word kept addressing over the centuries.

As responsible and faith-anchored stewards of the word, our members pay particular attention to the meaning intended by the biblical author (for as Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council says, inspiration lies in the message intended by the author; DV 7-12, 21; VD 19). Our members also pay attention to new dimensions of the text that the biblical authors themselves may not have noticed because their situations/concerns then were different from ours today. Accordingly, our members move with faith-filled conviction that the ever alive and active word of God wants to address and impact for our good our diverse life situations today as it did those of past ages. God’s word impacts our life situations as God’s good news for us, even as it was for our ancestors in the faith (the biblical authors and their intended hearers).

  1. The Challenge of the Theme

The challenge of this conference theme for all of us then is this: How can our study of good citizenship and leadership in the Bible help to impact and improve the Nigerian situation? How can we effectively and fruitfully relate the biblical characters and issues studied to our socio-cultural, political and religious problems so as to promote personal and corporate responsibility for becoming good citizens and leaders (at home, and in church and society)?

If we conduct our study of the theme along these lines, we will make a solid contribution towards the sustainable development and growth of a God-centered nation. Nigeria and the global world are currently concerned with the “economic growth”, especially given the current global “economic downturn”. But concern with “moral growth”, in the face of the current global “moral downturn” is as important, if not more so, than the economic concern. Pope Benedict XVI called the Church in Africa at the Second African Synod to stay alert and guard against appropriating the “spiritual toxic waste” of western materialism which is being dumped on Africa and those which come in the form of religious fundamentalism (outside and inside the Church). The Synod Bishops in their Message also urged that we find ways of monitoring efforts to exploit the continent, or set up watch posts to alert and ward off the diverse dangers threatening Africa today. To what extent are these “foreign influences” (coupled with internal factors; e.g., cultural exclusiveness, ignorance, operating with a military mindset in a democratic system, desire to please and be dictated to by the West, commercialization of religion and the Bible, etcetera) responsible for the lack of patriotism (good citizenship) and leadership in Nigeria today? Can our study of the Bible help to loosen the grip of these debilitating factors from the minds and psyche of our people and liberate them to become good and responsible citizens and leaders?

Can we identify in our contexts, as we do in the Bible, models (living or dead) of good citizenship and leadership whom we can propose for our encouragement in all categories and walks of life and to all ranks of citizens, women, men, children and the youth? What or who promotes good citizenship and leadership in Nigeria? What impedes the existence of good citizenship? What resources have we even in the Bible to help us address this problem?

  1. Eucharist/Love as the All-embracing Model of Good Citizenship

The people of Israel made the Torah/Law and its study the organizing principle of the study of the Bible and in all aspects of their lives; so much so that people like Philo, Baruch and Sirach could still regard their allegorical/philosophical and human wisdom explorations, respectively, as being all about the Torah (Sir 24:23-34; Bar 4:1-4). The rabbis believed that the whole of Torah was summed up in the first commandment, the Schema Israel: “Hear O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with your whole might and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4-5) and “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (cf. Matt 22:37).

In the New Testament (the New Covenant) Jesus has given us “a new law/commandment”: “A new commandment I give you that you love one another as I have loved you. By this will all know that you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another just as I have loved you” (John 13:34-34; 15:13). To what extent, in the past and present, have we, God’s privileged children of the new covenant, made this new law the organising principle of all aspects of our life as individuals and as church and in our study of the Bible and doing theology generally? At the heart of the new commandment stands Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God’s love for the world (John 3:16). He passionately demonstrated this love by giving himself to us as Eucharist, bread for life, and perfect act of thanksgiving to God for his love: “With desire I have desired to eat this meal with you”. “Having loved those who were his own in the world, he showed them how totally complete his love was” or “he loved them to the end”; eis telos; John 13:1).

If we are true disciples of Jesus, a truly Eucharistic Church and Community (Ecclesia de Eucharistica), can we afford not to make this same law of love our own rule of life? How can our study of the Bible help to make us truly Eucharistic scholars/persons and promote a truly Eucharistic community both in the Church and among all God’s people (God’s church) generally? “I have given you an example [not just a precept!] that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12-13). The challenge is great but we are assured of victory if we follow our one and only good shepherd and leader (John 10); our only Way, Truth and Life (John 14:6). The ultimate resource for promoting good citizenship and leadership in the Bible is that we become a truly Eucharistic people; people who break the bread of their lives so that others may eat and lead fully human lives; instead of living and feeding on them, or exploiting them in the name of leadership and on the part of selfish citizens, the so called personal survival.

  1. Our Hope for the Nation

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the biblical text which we have chosen as the motto for this current convention, namely, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with the joy of harvest” (Isa 9:2-3; NRSV). This motto is our belief in the prophetic promise that though Nigeria has been tagged a country of permanent darkness: no electric power available (power holding or withholding, and so forth), the time has come in God’s own reckoning and grace for us to move with faith from this physical, moral and political darkness to the light which good and responsible citizenship and leadership promise to bring in a new dawn to our beloved country. We are privileged to be God’s partners in ushering in this new dawn, not only through our reflection on the Bible, but also and most importantly by allowing what we have discussed, researched and discovered from God’s word to take flesh in our individual and corporate live as a nation.

As we conduct our reflections, let us do so with the great enthusiasm that the idea of forming CABAN generated at our initial meeting in Makurdi in 2007. Let us do so in the same spirit of faith that God was/is doing something new in our midst; let us make our Abuja meeting filled with hope and joy as we share with one another our insights, trusting that the Holy Spirit will help us to make a solid contribution to sustainable development and promotion of good citizenship and leadership in Nigeria, one that is solidly rooted in the Bible, God’s word which we and all our people love so much.

May God make this word fruitful in our lives and throughout our convention and beyond. Our Mother Mary was the first to hear God’s word in the Christian dispensation. She, kept it, treasured it in her heart and consequently gave birth to Jesus, our brother and teacher. Joseph her husband and legal father of Jesus did the same in his own way (Matt 1:18-25; 2:13-15). May Mary, Mother of the Word Incarnate, and our Mother and the Patroness of CABAN intercede for us now and always! Amen.

Rev. Sr. Prof Teresa Okure, SHCJ