Where is the church?
HAS the Zimbabwean church, whose public persona is dominated by tabloid headlines of trashy stories, betrayed its multitudes of members during what could be the country’s greatest time of need?
Over 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s population professes allegiance to one Christian denomination or another.
Religion does not only provide a moral compass for people to decide between right and wrong, but it also actively shapes how people tackle various problems and formulate solutions to their day-to-day lives.
In short, it shapes a person’s worldview.
As such, as social and economic problems continue to take their toll on Zimbabwe, the question must be asked: When will the church raise its voice for the betterment of everyone?
There has been one dominant narrative when it comes to the local church. What has come to dominate debates about the church are scandalous stories of pastors and leaders doing absurd things like making people eat leaves and selling anointed this and that; even condoms.
The church in Zimbabwe has all, but betrayed itself. It seems to have become more concerned with prosperity gospel, where only the leaders prosper while followers wallow in abject poverty.
Outspoken Reverend Levee Kadenge believes that: “The church should prophesy and not salivate, as exhibited by some of our spiritual leaders when invited to take part in government business. Actually, the excitement boggles the mind. That is why people are asking, where is the church’s voice in the multiple-man-created problems plaguing this nation of law abiding people? Those with ears let them hear”.
Kadenge views the July 17, 2015 Supreme Court ruling that left several thousands of workers jobless as a missed opportunity for the church.
“There is no excuse for silence whatsoever. The church should have done something.”
Marlon Zakeyo, a lawyer, human rights advocate and a former general secretary of the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe, contends that in a plural society like Zimbabwe, it is important to have a clear view of the relationship between the church and the State.
“The church is not identified with any political community, nor is it bound to any political system. Rather its function is to be the moral conscience of the nation, the sign and safeguard of the supreme value of the human person,” Zakeyo says.
To him the role of the church is still to be defined.
“The role of the church in fostering democratic governance and the rule of law and the meaning of its ‘prophetic office’ also remain a key discussion point within church, civil society and media circles, within and outside the country,” he also queried just like Magaya.
Zimbabwe has a number of prophets whose followers probably number hundreds of thousands.
“Since the deterioration of the political and economic crisis that began in 2000, the church in Zimbabwe has been heavily criticised at home and abroad for losing its prophetic voice and remaining silent and cowardly in the face of grave human rights violations and repressive rule,” Zakeyo again stresses.
To highlight the perilous environment for the church, President Robert Mugabe once warned in 2007 that “once (the bishops) turn political, we regard them as no longer spiritual and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves”.
Some, however, believe that the church has shortchanged itself by becoming partisan.
On March 1, 2011, one prophet created controversy when he officiated at a ZANU-PF anti-sanctions march, where the party’s membership were launching a campaign against targeted travel and commercial sanctions against President Mugabe and some of his senior leaders.
Former education minister and senior opposition figure, David Coltart, also recently criticised the church for failing on its mandate to the nation.
“It has become far too partisan. The church has no partisan political role to play in any society; the moment the church begins to get involved in partisan political activity, it blunts its ability to speak against human rights abuses. The church has, in many respects, lost its saltiness. The people are facing starvation and yet the church appears to be silent,” said Coltart.