Last week, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations launched a scathing rebuke at church leaders who are calling on their congregants to stop using conventional medicines in favour of faith healing. Speaking at a two-day conference held under the auspices of the National Aids Council (NAC), the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Reverend Lindani Dube spoke firmly about the catastrophe being created by some denominations.

“Churches must encourage people to adhere to medication prescribed by doctors instead of advocating for harmful religious beliefs which discourage the intake of medicine in the name of faith,” he said. “God cannot be manipulated by ascetic tendencies and overzealous emotions which are theologically inconsistent with sound biblical teaching and acceptable societal values.”

And he hit it on the head; God’s power is not subject to the dictates of fallible human beings. The only confidence that we have when we ask anything from God is when we ask for things that are in accordance with his will. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5: 14). Human beings cannot arm-twist the Person of God to bend down to their carnal desires as is widely taught by some leaders today. God, in his unfaltering wisdom, exercises discretion over his creation.

Against this background, I am compelled to make a follow up to my piece of last week in which I highlighted the need for church leaders to stand in solidarity with medical doctors in their God-given wisdom towards the common good, in particular the regulation of the ruinous practices prevalent in some of the Vapostori sects. I also found out in feedback that the call to embrace conventional medication should not be extended only to Vapostori, but also to the sprouting contemporary churches recognizable by an emphasis on miracles and signs.

Faith-healing schools mushrooming throughout the country where also fingered among groups promoting the drug-shunning practice. I received quite a number of e-mails pertaining to the matter from two distinct groups: one uncompromising group rooting for the banning of these groups and the other fighting in the Vapostori corner primarily citing that people have free choice. They argued that Vapostori should not be “persecuted” for their beliefs. Honestly, in my opinion, I find it mind-defying that anyone can sanely support a practice as calamitous as letting people die when medication was readily available. Even one prominent Vapostori leader, who wrote me, did not seem to have a plausible explanation why members should be made to shun conventional medicines except to say there were some things which people didn’t understand.

One member, though, could only say, “We can’t go against ‘the spirit”. On the other extreme, a woman wrote an emotional e-mail profusely thanking and throwing weight behind the “urgent need” to address the problem of drug-shunning groups. Those who largely supported faith healing fought from the point of view of religious liberty. Even as I highlighted last time, there is a fine line between freedom of worship and the abuse of congregants. If we are to interpret religious liberty from this ludicrous angle, then we may as well need to free jailed religious leader Robert Gumbura.

The woman who e-mailed highlighted how she had lost a relative who suffered from a chronic illness after the pastor had instructed him to stop medication. I have, in most of my writings, always fought against practices that malign the good name of God and surely, the shunning of conventional medication is a mutilation of the scriptures. God never said that he would banish all ills in this present sinful world. Biblically, ills such as sickness, poverty and death will remain in this Satan-controlled world until the New Jerusalem is ushered in (Rev 21:4). The trouble with contemporary leader-centered groups is that they want people to believe the leader wields answers to all the troubles of this world which is far from true.

The revolutionary anti-retroviral therapy brought a new lease of life to many people who should have long died. Dr Owen Mugurungi, Director of the Health and Child Care, noted that the majority of people who started anti-retroviral therapy in 2004 are still alive. Information about certain diseases should be made readily available in order to dispel dangerous conclusions. It is very critical that churches and pastors understand that when an HIV patient is correctly and consistently taking their medication, viral load, over time, becomes undetected and this should not be misconstrued to mean that the virus has gone.

The principle of religious liberty should not be abused. The concept is similar to the one which is applied in the courts of law: consent is never a defence. That someone has consented to being abused does not absolve the abuser from wrong-doing. It remains mind-boggling that in a highly literate society like ours, we still have people in support of primitive practices which are as ruinous as they are ungodly.

Christian Heads deserve commendation for standing for true principle and saving the name of God from shame. It is imperative that religious groups pull in one direction on this matter to save lives.