Last year I wrote in this newspaper decrying the silence of the churches with regards to the socio-political situation in the country. I complained about the reluctance by the church to exercise its prophetic office. My lamentation was that the church has been a huge letdown in the sense that it has not been carrying the cross (being a voice of the voiceless). The reality on the ground is that the churches should realise how influential they are to their congregants. The church as an institution closest to the grassroots, can easily relate to the social situation obtaining among its people. The church has been a place of refuge for many. It is quite evident that there is a direct correlation between the levels of desperation in the country and the number of people flocking to prophets for healing and deliverance services.
The coming of young and charismatic preachers brought a contemporary and modern feel to the gospel. This has also seen the increase of the number of church-goers, many seeking answers to the biting social and economic challenges. Striking examples include the 60 000 plus congregants who thronged the giant National Sports Stadium for the much hyped UFIC Judgement Night and the estimated 500 000 who attended the PHD Ministries’ Night of Turn Around. These numbers indicate that Christianity occupies a very important part in the lives of the general populace.
From the numbers of the people attending these services, it seems that the gospel of prosperity and miracles is selling better than all the blueprints from various political parties. The reason why Zimbabwean politicians have been seen at such huge gatherings is to chase the religious vote more than anything else. Churches are powerful, transforming and empowering social institutions which have the power to alter the course of history, if they want to.
In tandem with the ideas above, Jesus said “I came that all may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). I have come to the understanding that the church exists in the society as a manifestation of the kingdom of God, that is, the church exists to make the world a better place to live in. The role of the church is to utilise its social justice ministry championing for tenets like liberation, reconciliation and social reconstruction, human dignity and participation of all people in decisions that affect the quality and direction of their everyday lives. This, therefore, means that the church seeks to serve the people in terms of providing spiritual answers to the everyday questions that boggle the human mind. It is evident, church is not only about promising eternal life in the afterlife but also to make the world a habitable place in today’s life.
However, the current status quo is that the churches are disappointingly silent. From the job losses, the disappearance of Itai Dzamara, the embarrassing factional fights in the ruling party, the Harare house demolitions, the volatile political climate and desperate economic situation in the country, among other issues. The church has not been showing a united front in speaking out against such issues, leaving the likes of bishop Ancelimo Magaya to fight lone battles in the battle against injustice prevailing in the country. Levy Kadenge once said “a church that is not involved in the lives of the people that it seeks to serve is no church at all”. Whose lives and interests are churches serving?
The country is burning while our leaders are holed up in factional fights and the economy is suffering as a result. The government is engaged in unnecessary wasteful spending while people in drought-hit areas are starving, civil servants are also not spared as they spent the festive holidays broke as their salaries and bonuses were not paid. Moreover, there is the $15 billion loss puzzle. It is expected that the church as a moral conscience of the society, should speak out against these issues but their silence is disappointing. I feel so let down that the church has taken the back seat while the country’s economy is sinking.
History has shown that the church played an important role in the struggle for independence and there are two shining examples — the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) that gave birth to the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA). It is the NCA that campaigned vigorously against the Godfrey Chidyausiku-led draft constitution and the power of the people ruled the day. However, the ZCC chickened out and withdrew from the NCA when the NCA became more vigorous in its demand for a people-driven constitution.
Another example is the Catholic Church which has been consistent in speaking out through their pastoral letters, of which the most notable is that of April 2007 titled, “God Hears The Cry Of The Oppressed” prompting the State to use its machinery to stop its distribution. The Catholic Church also has the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) ,which is found at parish level tackling issues related to social justice and the promotion of peace and condemning politically-motivated violence.
However, it is my opinion that this is not enough; the churches of Zimbabwe need to show a united front in exercising their prophetic office — speaking truth to power. The church can either endorse the status quo or call for its reform. The church can either do so by keeping silent or speaking out. The failure by the churches to be the voice of the voiceless is another way that the churches are passively legitimising the status quo. The church has to be relevant in its message to the people that it seeks to serve. The country cannot afford a whispering church, as Father Oskar Wermter once opined. Of course there has been the 2006 document “The Zimbabwe We Want” drafted by heads of Christian denominations which showed a united front to tackle the situation in the country back then. However, the document had its own pitfalls as the churches were bullied to edit the document before it was published.
The crisis in the country is enough to force the church in Zimbabwe to awaken itself to the demands of its social justice ministry in a way that will offer hope and the possibility of a Zimbabwe where everyone will be treated equally before the law. Zimbabwe needs a church that exercises its role in the society. The church should not keep quiet when the moral fabric of our society is being torn to pieces, the church must speak out when people are killing or fighting against each other. The church is obligated to speak out when things are being done contrary to God’s will.
The pulpit is one place where the authority of god is professed.
l Simba Joe Mambiravana is a theologian, social and political commentator interested in issues of church and politics in Zimbabwe.
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