Since the antique age, religion has been an elemental part of the corpus of political life.
In Zimbabwe, the church has been active on the political scene on various fronts yet its exact role within the context of political transitions has been least explored, save only for the constitution-making process, the November 2017 events that elbows out former President Robert Mugabe from power and, of course, the ultimate 2018 general election.
From and within this transitional epoch, a number of activities were undertaken by the church and since then, the church has been at the centre of weighty political discussions and thrusting forth tirelessly, making sure that there is an accord and balance between the governors and the governed.
It is well indicated that the church is still prominent on the radar of political life as evinced by the enterprises of the organised Christian networks such as the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), Ecumenical Church Leaders Forum (ECLF), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), Zimbabwe Divine Destiny (ZDD), Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA), Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC).
Noteworthy is that the church and the state are complementary in satisfying human needs and that the later is awash with political zealots who partake in key political processes envisaged under the volatile phases. Albeit, the immensity of their participation vary depending on the national issue at hand.
Incontrovertibly, if history could be of any preamble, the church’s association with the political blocs in the government has been predominantly that of a horse-rider relationship where politicians exploit the church to score cheap political points and the church use politicians to amass relevance and efficacy.
Yet for all that, although the prizes show it is a win-win case for both parties, sometimes the Church declines to swallow the political bait and continues to honour its prophetic voice.
While the other chunk of the church would run a mile to mar all its other values, endorse and identify with power – thus becoming the legitimator of anyone who is in power – the other fraction remains politically undiluted. This one owns its prophetic voice and holds the status quo accountable. They eulogise not only the state when is doing well but, also hold it accountable when it veers off.
By way of justification, these two political stances represent what the church thinks, however the disparities in their treatment of politics. While anticipations could have it that the church of God should be unified and speaking with a solid voice, it is utterly a lamentable development to note that the prevailing denominational and theological divide among the Christian or religious always splits the church’s attitudes, not merely on issues to do with doctrines and belief but likewise on red-button national issues.
One ecclesiastical union says one thing, while the other is communicating an entirely distinct sentiment, thus any undertaking to understand how the church views national issues to do with government and power is exasperating and a true definition of opening a pandora box of confusion.
Regularly, there are so many voices coming out branded as the ‘church’, even if they represent a minuscule fraction of what constitutes the body of Christ. Church X says the sitting government was put in place by God and Church Y says it was not. For all we know, these are not the tones of the whole church, nevertheless, they represent the church. Whether pro-status quo or anti, it is still the Church speaking. As retrogressive and divided as the church, some will say.
This unrelenting division has proven to be a defect to the Church when it comes to communicating with power.
Instead of paying attention to all views stemming from the Churches, the powers that be will only choose to attend to those specific denominations or interdenominational bodies that cheers them at all yields.
The other Churches who critically inspect the government are blackballed from state media and left at the benevolence of private mediums, which at times do not have a broader following, hence their message is usually stalled.
The ongoing political halt in Zimbabwe, characterised by looming strikes, demonstrations and the dire economic deterioration, is bringing out the aforementioned ecclesiastical insanity, where we have numerous churches speaking out separately on the same issue.
Last week it was brought to the media’s attention that Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) president Archbishop Johannes Ndanga met with the Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity & Broadcasting Services Energy Mutodi and told him that the ‘church’ (probably those under his patent, but he was not specific) will not support demonstrations directed at unseating a legitimate government.
Without, of course, seeking to fathom what embeds this socio-economic discontent and why those who felt bereft of their value are taking an industrial action towards the government, the Arch. was hasty to claim that some political parties were fuelling demonstrations for their own advance.
“Demonstrations are an act of desperation. They are not a solution to problems but demonstrations are like conflicts,” he said.
Arch. Ndanga’s folly, however, was that he did not affirm or repudiate whether the situation in the country was under control or outside, apparently because he is not paying particular attention to his parishioners or perhaps he is, just that he is so hellbent on being politically correct as his fealty to the status quo is well-detailed.
However everyone sees it, what the ACCZ patron said made sense, only until another clerical unison sounded off.
In a statement entitled Do Not be Heartless, Church Cautions Government – released amid the government and junior doctors showdown – a Christian advocacy organisation that facilitates the Church’s visibility and audibility on matters of governance, Zimbabwe Divine Destiny (ZDD), came out blazing guns.
The Bishop Ancelimore Magaya-led clerical syndicate said that inasmuch as they do not bestow the paragon of virtue status on former President Mugabe, the haywire under the tutelage of Pres. Mnangagwa has prompted them to say that the country is in the least fascinating space than when Mugabe was around.
“Our politicians do not have national pride at all. They are the least patriotic. Their words and statement are not backed by action whatsoever. They talk of new dispensation and yet the reality on the ground indicates the opposite.
Zimbabwe is in a worse chaotic state than when their predecessor Mugabe was around, not, of course, implying he was any better.”
The outspoken bishop went on to slam the Vice President Chiwenga for threatening to fire striking doctors and called out the government for continuing to exhibit utter neglect, incompetence and lack of nationalism.
He said the “Church” will continue to hold the government accountable, sine timore aut favore.
“We will as the church, without neither fear nor favour, exercise our godly mandate as watchmen over God’s subjects including those in authority, caution unreservedly that your neglect and insensitivity to people’s suffering have gone too far.”
Bulawayo-based preacher Prophet Blessing Chiza was not left out in all these pious rumblings.
In his New Year’s annual cross-over night prophecies at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), the leader of the Eagle Life Assembly Ministries warned Pres. Mnangagwa that he is likely to face ouster through mass protests unless he engages opposition leader Nelson Chamisa to find an abiding solution to the country’s current economic crisis.
The cleric challenged the president to heed his prophecy, failure to which uprisings against his rule were impending.
“I was given verses James 4vs6/ James 4vs17 and the Lord said Mnangagwa must pray and humble himself for the sake of the Zimbabwean people he is leading and have a dialogue with Chamisa for this economy to change, because if there is no dialogue the people of Zimbabwe will continue to suffer. It’s a spiritual thing,”
Chiza told his followers.
“If the presidium does not heed this instruction, I saw Zimbabweans becoming very impatient, and protests that have never been seen in Zimbabwe arising which shall bring the whole nation out and they will send the government resigning because some of the people will not leave the streets demanding food from the president,” he said.
Similarly to Prophet Chiza, but not in a cautionary tone as him, was the oldest ecumenical merger the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) which has reportedly launched a fresh bid to broker a dialogue between President Mnangagwa and Mr Chamisa.
The 1964-established amalgamation said it has become palpable enough to see that Zimbabwe is fast tumbling into a slump, hence them submitting to provide the framework to break the ice and allow the country’s two political protagonists to talk after the 2018 disputed presidential election narrowly won by the Mr Mnangagwa.
“We can choose the route of engagement or the route of conflict, the route of individual solutions or that of a shared vision, the route that entrenches greed or one that leads to the common good. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we serve as a sign of hope by being truthful in looking at the current challenges and their root causes,”
ZCC General-Secretary Dr Rev Kenneth Mtata said.
“We also remain committed to proffering solutions which are inclusive, realistic and sustainable. The church, therefore, commits to create a shared space for a collaborative national consensus-building process aimed at creating a space of trust in which all Zimbabweans can shape a new national imagination,”
Rev Mtata said a majority of citizens lacks confidence in the president and his administration’s capacity to solve the deepening socio-economic crisis which has been hard-hitting the country since the new millennium.
“Many people have a low opinion of the willingness and capability of government and other leaders to resolve pressing challenges due to lack of clarity of communication on the nature of the problems and how they are being addressed.”
He also noted with great concern that there was a clear sense of hopelessness and despondency among the citizens, and expressed an urgent need to address the deficit of trust and restore public confidence.
“Many Zimbabweans are suffering, standards of living are falling as people struggle to obtain the basic goods and services required for dignified lives. There is unrest among working Zimbabweans.”
Ergo, the political and socio-economic dilemma in the country is tearing the Church apart. The unpleasant reality about this outcome is that no matter how loud these churches are in their individual and minimal capacities, they will not be taken seriously. Rather, the state will go on to use these divisions to devaluate and patronise the Church’s essence to the society.
Only until the church gets to unite and speak authoritatively to power with an analogous harmony, is when it will be apt and capable enough to regulate the state.
Hallelujah Magazine is committed to publishing reliable, trusted, quality and independent Christian journalism. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and is not influenced by wealthy people, politicians, clerics or shareholders. We value our readers’ feedback, suggestions and opinions. Have something to add to the story? Share it in the comments below.