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Janet Museveni: Obey God, hear your people’s cry and rebel against injustice

Janet Museveni: Obey God, hear your people’s cry and rebel against injustice

Janet Museveni, Uganda’s minister of education and wife of the president, wrote an impassioned letter last week in response to the student strike at Makerere University.


In her letter, Janet focused on corruption among the students, including alleged use of paid professional demonstrators. Whereas Janet did not condone “brutal treatment wherever it may occur,” she did not express regret or sympathy for the students that had been subjected to extreme violence by the military forces.  


It was a remarkable act of omission that placed Janet, a born-again Christian, at odds with the Apostle Paul’s instruction to us in Romans 12:2 not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.


Janet lives and works within a world where it is normal to use military force against citizens to maintain power at all costs; where threats of killing and sending adversaries “six-feet under” are issued with ease and total disregard for the sanctity of human life and dignity.


Her evident disregard for what was done to Makerere students suggests that she still conforms to her husband’s militaristic approach to political disagreement, in this case the students’ demands regarding university tuition.


Whether wrong or right in their demands, the students did not deserve the violence that was visited upon them. That Gen. Yoweri K. Museveni’s soldiers did to Makerere students in October 2019 that which Gen. Idi Amin Dada’s soldiers did on the same campus in August 1976 was quite sobering.


That Janet Museveni justified the brutality with Biblical scriptures was saddening. We need to be careful when we use the Scriptures to justify deeds that have led to bloodshed.


That said, I thought that Janet’s conclusion with Paul’s words in Romans 13:1-5 was very interesting and appropriate. This is where Paul states that we must obey the government; there is no authority except that which God has established; rebelling against the government is rebelling against God; and we are free from the government’s wrath as long as we do what is right.


Students and other aggrieved citizens should always pursue the peaceful approach and dialogue to problem solving. Happily, non-violent resistance and disobedience are well-founded strategies in the Christian Scriptures and in humanity’s long struggle for freedom.


The Bible has several examples of God’s anointed people disobeying the rulers for good cause. In Exodus, we read about the Hebrew midwives who disobeyed the Egyptian King’s orders that they should kill all Hebrew male babies. “God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.”


In the Book of Joshua, we read the uplifting story of Rahab, the woman who hid two Jewish spies and refused to betray them to the King of Jericho. It was a high stakes disobedience that helped fulfil God’s plan for the people of Israel.


In the Book of Esther, we read the great story of Queen Esther disobeying the king’s edict that prohibited anyone, regardless of rank, from entering into his presence without invitation. She was ready to perish in an attempt to save the lives of her uncle Mordecai and all the Jews in King Ahasuerus’s empire who were slated to be annihilated by Haman. She succeeded, by God’s grace.


In the Book of Daniel, we read the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who firmly disobeyed King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship his Golden Image, well aware that whoever disobeyed the edict would be “immediately cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”  


Indeed, the three men were cast into a furnace that had been “heated seven times hotter than usual.” They came out intact, their bodies unharmed, their hairs not singed, their robes not scorched, and no smell of fire on them. The Lord had used their disobedience to change Nebuchadnezzar’s heart and to advance the people’s awareness that He was the only true living God.  


In the same book, we read the magnificent story of Daniel’s public disobedience of King Darius’ edict against worshipping any god but him. When Daniel loudly prays and gives thanks to the true Living God, he earns himself a spell in a lion’s den, the ancient equivalent of Uganda’s Nalufenya Detention Centre. Daniel survives unscathed and God uses his servant’s disobedience to transform King Darius’s heart and to make known the identity of the true living God.


Space does not allow us to mention all Biblical examples of justifiable disobedience of rulers and other authorities.


There are many examples of rebellion against God’s anointed earthly authorities that I believe Janet celebrates as much as we do. These include the American settlers’ rebellion which led to their successful war of independence; the political and military rebellions that led to the formal abolition of the slave trade and slavery; the disobedience that triggered America’s civil rights movement; South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle; and the anti-colonial and anti-fascist struggles of the last century.   


But for discussion’s sake, let us agree with Janet’s use of Romans 13:1-5 as a blanket prohibition of disobedience against all authorities. Do we then take it that the insurrections against the governments of Idi Amin Dada, Apolo Milton Obote and Tito Okello Lutwa were rebellions against God and, therefore, wrong and sinful?


My view is that whereas all governments are instituted by God, they are not God. They have a duty to serve God’s people with justice, fairness, kindness and humility, not with illegal violence, discrimination and arrogance.


If it is true that people are created in the image of God, then a God-fearing ruler does not have a right to beat them and terrorize them, to oppress them and reduce them to despair as though they are lesser beings than their rulers?


I support Janet’s mission to promote Christian values in our country. However, to effectively proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as your government oppresses His people will be a tough hill to climb.


In the end, I believe that rulers and subjects alike must do what Peter and other Apostles declared before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29 after they had disobeyed strict orders not to teach in Jesus Christ’s name: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Janet’s challenge is to do likewise and hear her people's cry. By God’s grace, she can.


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