‘So help me God’: Political vow and the art of deception

‘So help me God’: Political vow and the art of deception
Some members of the Reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly take oath (photo credit: euronews)

A political oath of office is an affirmation taken by a politician before assuming the duties of an office, in most cases, a position in government or within a religious grouping. While some organizations also require recruits to take the oath, today’s editorial focuses on oaths within the political realm. 

In most countries, the laws of the state require that before assuming a public office, an oath should be administered at an inaugural event, coronation, enthronement, or other ceremonies connected to taking up office duties. Of course, an oath can also be administered privately though this is uncommon in the political arena.

In South Sudan, the Bible has been used for taking oaths as was the case with some 28 Members of Parliament from the Other Political Parties earlier this week. During the swearing-in, usually, one phrase is repeated by all that is being sworn in. 

“I, (name of politician) do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will faithfully bear true allegiance to the government of South Sudan and be committed to carrying my duties according to law. So help me God,” it goes.

These vows are normally made with the Bible held to the left-hand side with the perception that the ‘holy book’ shields any ill-mannered individual from mismanaging a public office or resources.

However, history tells us that his vow is nothing but just what it is. That it does not guarantee moral leadership conduct among politicians despite carrying the Bible, Christians’ oldest and most respected book.

This has been a trend in Africa and South Sudan in particular. Quite often, vows are abandoned at the ceremonial platform. This explains why corruption reigns supreme and failure to deliver basic services to the citizens is the order of the day.

In 2017, the United Nations published a report that people between the age of 18 – 35 were disengaged from politics because of the art of deception, which commences on the campaign trail and ends on the day of the inauguration, which is also when some politicians abandon the Bible.


In the United States, for instance, refusal to take the oath of office is considered traitorous. So, a public official must make a vow, not to deliver quality services but to remain relevant in the eyes of the public and make the assumption of the look somewhat procedural. Precisely, it is done for the sake of formality.

Bible abuse

It was stated earlier in this editorial that Christians hold the Bible in very high esteem. To make a vow with this book held on one hand and do the opposite, is an abuse of the Bible safe for the irreligious.

Maybe it is time the constitution be used to escape the sense of wrong deeds. Historically, some leaders have taken oaths of office without the Bible.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States did not use the Bible during the swearing-in in 1991. This was not deliberate but because there was no time to plan a ceremony. Mr. Roosevelt took over the office upon the death of William McKinley. In his second inauguration, he used a Bible though this did not make a major difference in his leadership. 

Lyndon Johnson also didn’t use a Bible during his first inauguration because there was no Bible on the aeroplane where he took the oath immediately after the death of John F.

Kennedy. He held a Roman Catholic prayer book instead (even though he was Protestant) because it was the closest thing anyone could rustle up. He did use a Bible when he took the oath in a planned ceremony after he was elected in his own right in 1964.

John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce were the only presidents who deliberately didn’t use a Bible; they both held books of laws when they were inaugurated.

Like in the United States, nothing in the Constitution should require the use of a Bible and no religious test should be used for holding a public office. With or without the Bible, politicians indulge in self-aggrandizement at the expense of service delivery to their people. A political vow is a final nail on their deception to the public.