Although the church’s bishop, Eben Nhiwatiwa wrote to the UMC circuits announcing the resignation of five senior pastors, some members discussing the issue on social networks seemed to believe the church had split.
The popular sentiments were that the clergyman’s behaviour was influenced by money and hunger for power. Reverend Philip Mupindu, the spokesman for the five, said the UMC had not split, but that just five individuals had withdrawn their services from the church.
“We are still in good books with the UMC such that today I was at their offices sorting out some personal issues,” Mupindu said. He dismissed allegations that his group had resigned in protest over rigged elections saying they had previously turned down nominations to contest for top positions.
However, the UMC debacle is another chapter in the troubling trend in Zimbabwe’s mainstream churches, where factionalism seems to be mirroring the pattern in the country’s fractured politics.
Zimbabwe today boasts of several political parties, which are offshoots of the mainstream parties such as Zanu PF and the two MDCs. The same trend seems to be cascading down to churches where factionalism and break-aways have prompted questions of whether the church can still claim the high moral ground.
Zimbabweans are now familiar with the acrimonious split of the Anglican Church’s Harare Archdiocese of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) where ex-communicated bishop Nolbert Kunonga is fighting tooth and nail to re-assert his authority.
The infighting intensified last week with Kunonga’s people evicting priests, headmasters and nursing staff aligned to CPA leader Chad Ghandiya at Daramombe Mission near Chivhu last week.
Kunonga says a recent Supreme Court judgement empowered him to take over all Anglican Church properties across the country.
He appears to have the backing of the police as Gandiya’s priests are routinely arrested while Kunonga’s people appear to be above the law.
The Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) has also had its own share of breakaways, with several pastors and members, including Emmanuel Makandiwa, leaving the church to form their own congregations.
SPLITS ARE HEALTH: CHURCH LEADERS
The Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe (PAZ) has not been spared by splits, with such people as Bishop Emmanuel Bhawa forming Emmanuel Christian Fellowship and Bishop Leo Mpanduki forming the House of Shekainah.
Traditional churches have also not fared any better. But Mupindu defended the trend saying forming splinter churches was a better option than infighting. “Most churches are going through the problem of break-aways because of the failure to iron out some issues, hence others opt to leave,” he said.
“In our case, we never invited anyone and went out with our families, but some church members followed. We are going to prioritise transparency, accountability and we will allow people to worship freely without tying them with too many restrictive laws.”
His comment tallies with many people’s views who blamed divisions in mainstream churches on their conservative culture. “Some disagreements emanate from lack of good leadership, whereby some leaders adopt dictatorial tendencies and also varying views over doctrinal issues,” Zimbabwe Christian Alliance national coordinator, Reverend Useni Sibanda said.
“The church is also still struggling on the issue of renewing leadership and mentoring others. “The challenge is for the church to start utilising the conflict resolution tools given in the Bible.”
Pastor Lawrence Berejena of PAZ said some splits were good as they were beneficial to the Christian community and the country. “In the Bible, we have Paul and Barnabas who, on failing to agree, held hands and prayed before parting ways but each continued with the same gospel and they continued winning souls for God’s Kingdom,” Berejena said.
“When a split leads to the torture of others and puts politics before God, then that is diabolic as the purpose of the church is to win souls, not to destroy them. But when the various groups continue to win souls, those are good splits, for example in the case of Makandiwa, whereby we no longer need to continue travelling to other countries for healing as he is doing that.”
Berejena said some church leaders “do not see God, but see gold in the church and that culture has to end if the church is to succeed in its mission of winning souls for God’s Kingdom.”