Church leaders have not taken lightly President Robert Mugabe’s warning that the church must steer clear from politics, telling the 92-year-old leader to keep his hands off the “body of God”.
By XOLISANI NCUBE
Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe president, Shingi Munyeza said since time immemorial, the church had been instrumental in national politics and attempts by Mugabe to cow them now after they demanded good governance would not work.
“The views of the president of the Republic are his and this does not deter the church from playing its role. Our role is to continue speaking truth to power in love,” he said.
“The church will not sit back and watch while the lives of people become more threatened and survival of the common man and woman is no longer guaranteed.
“Isaiah faced the same challenge and this is what he had to say; Isaiah 62:1, ‘For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.’”
Two weeks ago, Mugabe threatened to deal ruthlessly with church leaders who were critical of his rule after youthful cleric, Evan Mawarire had led a massive stayaway demanding that government put an end to endemic corruption and deal with problems facing the economy.
As the country witnesses an economic catastrophe characterised by increasing unemployment, decline in service delivery and uncontrolled corruption, many church leaders have spoken out against Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.
But the calls by the church have been met with threats that brutal force would be used to silence them by an increasingly restive Mugabe.
Pulling no punches, Mugabe threatened Mawarire, who is the face of #ThisFlag movement — an online-based movement fighting for social justice and good governance — with unspecified action and even told him to leave Zimbabwe.
Munyeza, who has also challenged Mugabe and his Zanu PF regime through the same platform, said the involvement of the church in national politics “ is always and should always be led by four core values which are non-partisan, non-violence, constitutionality and God fearing”.
“The church is where opposing parties in politics converge for the sole purpose of worshipping God,” he said.
“A partial approach by the church will inevitably injure its credibility.
“Often the church’s non-violent approach can be confused to mean it is condoning abuses by those in political power and hence the perception of partiality.
“1 Kings 1:11-12, So Nathan spoke to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, saying, ‘Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king, and David our lord does not know it? Come, please, let me now give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon.’
“We are currently at the same juncture in our nation and it’s imperative [that] the church brings the prophetic voice which cannot be ignored,” Munyeza stated.
During a meeting of a splinter group of war veterans, Mugabe threatened Mawarire and other like-minded church leaders, telling them to stay away from national politics.
But Mawarire fired back at the veteran ruler, saying he would not be silenced.
The heads of Christian denominations comprising EFZ, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference and Zimbabwe Council of Churches, have also spoken out against government’s shortcomings.
Prophetic Healing and Deliverance ministries founder, Walter Magaya, United Family International church leader Emmanuel Makandiwa and Tavonga Vutabwashe, leader of Heartfelt International Ministries among others, have all expressed their unhappiness over the direction the country is taking.
Citing Mugabe’s well-documented strong arm tactics in dealing with opponents, political analysts said the Zanu PF strongman should spare clerics as they speak and represent the populace, who if not handled properly, could explode and cause civil unrest.
Alexander Rusero, a political analyst and a media lecturer, said Mugabe’s fallout with churches, if not handled well, could be his political downfall as “this is a place where the masses are found and have their hope pinned on”.
“There is an organic link between the church and politics from time immemorial and you realise that biblically priests were instrumental in appointing and anointing the kings,” he said.
“The extent to which the church in Zimbabwe was distancing itself from the political process post-independence is very worrying.”
Rusero said the church was where many hopeless people found solace and when their leaders speak, they would be representing the constituencies which in national politics are the voters.
“Any normal and rational government has to listen to the church because these are the people who vote for them,” he said.
“But having said that, the church too must not meddle in political party activism but instead should stand for the truth, speak to justice, demand for responsible governance and promote peace in communities.
“The church should advocate for a responsible government and not support a certain political party. It must advocate for principles, Christian principles and not individuals or political parties.”
He said even Mugabe himself was a product of the church as he was brought up by the Catholic Jesuits who were against black people’s oppression, hence they supported nationalist movements.
Another church leader, Retired Anglican Bishop Sebastian Bakare said Mugabe should just leave churches to do their work, accusing him of always turning to the churches for political support when it was convenient for him.
“The church is there to condemn wrong doing. They should not say that the church is abandoning its role when they point to government the wrongs it is doing to its people,” Bishop Bakare said.
“He is accusing Pentecostal churches but he is always at Zaoga and the white garment churches for political support.”
Mugabe has since turned to indigenous churches for support.