Since President Mugabe resigned as the head of state for the Republic of Zimbabwe in November 2017, the church has been at the centre of momentous political negotiations and thrusting forth tirelessly to make sure there is accord and balance in the country.
Recently, the church campaigns before, during and after July 30 polls contributed positively to a harmonious election and Christian engagement this year.
But, the query has always hovered; where was the church all the years the dictator Mugabe has been in power? Where was the Church during the Gukurahundi massacre? Where was the church during the 2005 Murambatsvina exercise? Where was the church during the 2008 political madness and where was the church when activists like Itai Dzamara were disappearing?
To resolve all these age-old lingering questions, the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and a clergy with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe Rev Dr Kenneth Mtata sat down with Chim Onyebilanma on the Chim’s Talk Africa, a weekly 30-minutes TV talk show that helps Christians around Africa to get God’s perspective on the issues facing Africa so as rightly understand and properly engage our times as the salt and light that we are called to be.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
On where the church was during the Mugabe years
“The church was both present and absent. The last 37 years we saw the church playing a very important role initially when the church participated in the initial negotiations for Zimbabwe’s independence at Lancaster House. The church was playing a role behind the scenes to enable the Patriotic Front, the different African political parties to negotiate and find a peaceful solution the war that has been raging from the 1960s.
“But after independence in the 1980s, the church felt that it had finished its work and therefore allowed the Africans to run the country after colonialism. I think this is where things started to go wrong because you know that soon after independence there was a genocide that took place in the western part of the country and in Midlands and the church was sort of absent.
“I think these were the signs that the church had sort of relinquished or reneged on its responsibility to continue holding this new government responsible and we think that if the church had continued with the task it had started in the 1970s and continued in the 1980s, I think we would’ve seen some kind of a relationship with checks and balances between the church and the new independent African state.”
On whether the church had lost its voice completely during Mugabe’s rule
“There were individual voices. We cannot discredit the voices of people like Bishop Pius Ncube who continued to speak. But if you do not have a unified of the Church, then it is very easy for these other voices to be labelled renegades or to be labelled as if the church is intruding in politics.”
Church siding with the state even if it’s not doing right
“I think this is the crisis of the church. The reason why Jesus Christ prayed that there must be unity among believers was because it is only in the unity that the church can speak with power.
“And what we saw just before the demise of President Mugabe was that you could see that the voices of the church had become so split. What was called the Super Sunday, the Sunday before the then Vice President was expelled, one sports stadium was full of people from some churches that were saying that God had anointed the President’s wife that she was likely to be the one who was to take over and all the other voices that were dissenting from within ZANU PF were labelled as something that was contrary to God’s will.
“This was a sign that, I think, we were having a problem because this was not the voice of the whole church but still, they represented the church. And for this reason, we feel that there were some people who were sort of ignorant of what it means to be Christian, I think, may not be the right label.
“This represents one sector of what it means to be the church that endorses the status quo because the same people, after President Mugabe was removed in the next few weeks when the new president was being inaugurated, they filled the National Sports Stadium and they were receiving the new president.”
When the church compromises to identify with political power it loses her prophetic voice
“The biggest challenge I think we have is that the church has not understood the idea of power as Jesus Christ talked about power. Therefore, when the church wants to identify with power, the church will compromise all its other values to identify with power.
“But what we see is that whenever the church tries to continue identifying with power then the church becomes the legitimator of anyone who is in power. They endorse and when they do this the church loses its prophetic voice and we hope that this is not what is going to continue to happen in Zimbabwe and indeed in the rest of Africa.
“Religion and Christianity, in particular, plays a very important role in Africa and that the church needs to rediscover its own prophetic voice so that the church holds accountable: praises the state when it is doing well, but it also holds the state accountable when it is not doing well.”
On the three types of Christians that are there in the church and their approach to dealing with power
“There is a first group that says ours if we are preachers of the gospel is to prepare people to go to heaven and for them, people come in on Sunday. You preach to them, they sing hallelujah and they have learnt what God wants from them. They have repented for their sins, they pray and they are preparing to go to heaven.
“They don’t want to hear anything about policies, about health. They don’t want to hear anything about going for elections to vote. They are not interested in understanding what are the political debates. They are not interested in whether the city council comes and collect the bins. They are not interested in anything that they may consider secular and carnal.
“There is another group; a group that says we are a church, and ours is to recognise all the governments that God has put in place. They quote Romans 13 that a good citizen is one who accepts what God has given as government. So, even if the government is unjust, they embrace it. Even if a government is oppressive, they embrace it and they say we must suffer because God has given us this government.
“There is a third group which I would say those are the critically engaged. They say if the government is doing good, they praise and support the good work the government is doing. If the government is not doing well, if the government is oppressing its people, they stand as prophets to speak truth to power and I think this is the kind of Church that we are missing in our continent but also in the rest of the world.”
On how the Church can engage with political power
“The first thing is consistency. The church cannot wake up one morning and they start to want to criticise a government which they have never praised. So, if the government is doing well, if the government is doing that which enriches and strengthens people’s lives, something that empowers people, the church must speak in support of that.
“Whenever the government diverse from that which enriches and strengthen lives, the church must be consistent in the way it communicates.”
On the Church being a model of what states should be like
“The church must embody what it says to the state. The church cannot talk about justice in society when its are not just inside. The church cannot talk about democracy when its way of structuring itself is autocratic. So what the church wants to see in society it must see in the church.
“The church cannot speak about representation of women in government when the church doesn’t have representation of women in its own leadership. So the church must speak to the world what it is doing inside.”
Watch the full interview here:
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