The police and apostolic sect fiasco in Budiriro high-density suburb in Harare has resulted in as many jokes on the social media networks, yet the result of the State and religion interaction and friction could have far more negative consequences in relation to religious liberties and freedom of worship.
As a result of the actions by the Madzibaba Ishmael sect in Budiriro as well as other related allegations of abuse by the church leaders, there have been calls to ban or regulate churches.
This call, as has been argued by the mainstream media elsewhere, is uncalled for and will only take Zimbabwe to the same level as some Middle Eastern countries where preferred religious practices, especially Islam, are enforced by the State and those of a different religious persuasion, especially Christians, persecuted.
Churches have been burnt; Christians arrested and killed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and other places.
In Sudan, a woman is in jail for marrying a Christian man and faces the hangman’s noose for her religious beliefs and love.
The essence of religion, which is to promote love and peace, is, therefore, lost when religion is enforced by the State and rights violated because the State prefers a particular religion over another.
The events in Zimbabwe over the past two years, where some religious leaders have been accused of rape, theft, self-enrichment and in the latest case outright criminality by beating up police and media workers, have ignited the debate as to whether the State has a role to play in religious matters.
My argument, and I think one shared by all other religious people, is that the State has absolutely no business in regulating religion in much the same way it does not regulate how many beers one takes and how beer drinkers and traditionalists spend money on their ancestors.
Religion and spiritual issues are central to social life within the realm of our various beliefs and contribute to one’s understanding of life, why we are here, where came from and where one is going in that life.
While others say they are neither Christian nor of any other known religious persuasions, the same probably hold some belief of sorts. Spirituality is something that everyone was internally built in them by the Creator, and even the atheist among us still believes in something.
Many of them read the horoscope in vain for guidance.
Traditionalists, on the other hand, reach out to the dead for guidance, even as the dead cannot hear them nor wake up from their graves to participate in the world of the living. It is on the basis of an appreciation of our diverse spirituality that respect for such differences must be maintained.
The State cannot, therefore, seek to control one aspect of religious beliefs which is Christianity and not control the beliefs of the traditionalists who equally in their wisdom or lack of it spend money pouring beer on the ground in libations to the dead and kill as many cattle in honour of the dead.
Will the State ask bars and other beer outlets to regulate the foolishness of the beer drinker, who spends all his income on beer as much as it seeks to regulate the foolishness of someone who gives all their money to a pastor ostensibly to be blessed and get the latest car on the market?
If there are churches that are making money out of the foolishness of people, then let it be so, as there are as many bars making money out of the foolishness of men and women.
Giving money maybe therapeutic and spiritually gratifying to the giver. A distinction has to be made between outright criminality, be it raping fellow church congregants men or women, denying medical treatment to children who cannot make decisions on their own, denying education to children, women, or spousal abuse and the beating up law enforcement agents.
The raping of women in church and the Budiriro violence are criminal and not religious acts and must thus be treated as much. These events must and cannot form a basis to regulate churches as is being proposed.
In the same vein, the activities of Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe’s (ACCZ) Johannes Ndanga, who has assumed the role of regulating churches, is to be stopped forthwith.
Ndanga’s ACCZ, as reported by a local daily on May 31, “has no legal mandate to issue judgments and enforce its orders because it is not a court of law”. It is therefore sinister how and why the police escorted him to the apostolic sect shrine in Budiriro to “ban” the church reportedly because of abuse of women and what Ndanga called evil practices by the church leaders.
If the story was the abuse of women and children, and denial of treatment, then the police should have investigated and taken action without involving Ndanga and his grouping. Ndanga is therefore violating the constitutional rights of citizens of Zimbabwe to freedom of worship and religious liberties and should be stopped.
Ndanga, in his wisdom or lack of it, is trying to bring in the State into religious matters by seeking the support of the security sector to enforce his erroneous “judgement”. He must be reminded that judgment belongs to God and it will come at the appointed time. Ndanga is usurping the role of the police to investigate criminal matters and arrest those at fault.
If the police had been doing their job, then the Budiriro incident would not have happened. Noting the above, it is safe to conclude that religion and spirituality cannot be enforced by the State without violating citizen’s rights to freedom of worship and religious liberty.
On religion, divided we stand.