In an address to prelates of the Catholic Bishops Conference in Rome, Pope Francis heaped praise on their work.
He said, “The church in your country has stood fast with her people both before and after independence and now in the years of overwhelming suffering as millions have left the country in frustration and desperation, as lives have been lost, so many tears shed.”
The Pope went on to praise the prelates for the exercise of their prophetic ministry, in which they have given voice to all the struggling people of their country, especially to the downtrodden and refugees. He also said he was aware that many Zimbabweans have reached their human limit, and do not know where to turn.
It is true that the Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe has stood true to its prophetic mandate from the days of oppressive white rule to these days of equally oppressive black rule. However, there is still more to be done because the human situation in Zimbabwe is getting more and more desperate.
We know what happens when human beings are pushed to the limit. They turn to violence in order to save themselves and their children. The result is the chaos and destruction that is taking place in some parts of Africa, the Middle East and other countries around the world.
Unfortunately, what the Pope said about the Catholic Church cannot be said about the Protestant churches.
Bishop Chad Gandiya of the Anglican Church responded to the Pope’s comments through his spokesperson, Precious Shumba. Speaking about the protestant side of Christianity, he said, “The church has fallen far short of giving spiritual guidance to the national leadership in terms of raising critical value issues. They have left the politicians to abuse the citizens and left the citizens at the mercy of an elite, which is consuming all the resources.”
He added, “In terms of dealing with the national conflict, the church has not come out strongly against oppressive leadership and dictatorial tendencies by those wielding state power and authority and this means citizens are feeling vulnerable.
“The church has become so corrupted that it no longer speaks the language of the suffering masses, but speaks the language of the elites they are aligned to.”
A network of Christian groups meant to promote peace and governance in the country, the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) denounced the government over its abuse of human rights during the 2008 elections.
ZCA also organised the non-partisan, Save Zimbabwe Campaign which included opposition political parties, churches and civil society organisations.
Zanu PF was invited but refused to join the campaign. It was at such a campaign prayer meeting that police attacked participants including MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai and Lovemore Madhuku of the then National Constitutional Assembly (NCA). This led Sadc to initiate the reconciliation process, facilitated by South Africa, which led to the government of national unity.
Asked about the present role of the church in the country Jonah Gokova a founder member of ZCA said, “The church in Zimbabwe is fragmented and there is no unified approach, by the churches to the continuing crisis.
“There is a spiritual, moral and theological vacuum in the church which calls for real revival which only God can bring about. From the time leading up to the elections some of the churches, especially those founded by Africans, openly aligned themselves to the ruling party.
“Some individual leaders in the mainline churches, founded by missionaries, have also aligned themselves to those in power. This has silenced the prophetic voice denouncing injustice and the abuse of human rights.”
Talking about African founded churches, many, if not most, of them are not churches at all but money-making outfits. Because of the economic meltdown in the country the majority of our young people are jobless and penniless.
Many of them have become cunning con-men. They ordained themselves pastors, bishops and prophets, even though they don’t have any theological training or church background.
Roy Musasiwa, is the Principal of Domboshawa Theological College and National Treasurer of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe. He sees a number of ways in which the church is responding to the crisis. First, there are Christians who believe that it is not their role to be involved in matters of economics and politics.
He equates them to salt which remains in the salt shaker with no influence on what happens in the wider society.
Secondly, he says, are those who choose to be involved on the side of the ruling party or the opposition. They are salt which has lost its saltiness. Musasiwa also said the third group takes the stance of prophetic denunciation of the evils that they perceive in society. They take their cue from prophets like Amos who denounced injustice and fought for the downtrodden.
The problem that I personally find with their stance is that they continue to curse the darkness rather than lighting the light. Because they speak without love, they are often not listened to and they become the proverbial voice in the wilderness.
Musasiwa continued by stating that the church should not be roundly condemned and accused of doing nothing because there is much that is going on behind the scenes that people don’t know about.
I do agree with the concept of constructive engagement. It, however, does not mean “speaking the truth in a non-partisan way.” This is a misunderstanding of our situation. Christians cannot be non-partisan because what we are facing is not a socio-political crisis, where two sides are fighting for power, but a humanitarian crisis where people’s lives are threatened.
It is not a matter of aligning with this or that political party but a battle between good and evil. Christians, in obedience to the Gospel, have to be aligned with the poor and downtrodden.
To them “constructive engagement means personally talking to those in power about the suffering they are causing and the need for them to reform.
Zimbabwe is in a serious spiritual, social, political and economic crisis. The Christian faith has all that is needed to get us out of it because it promotes the highest values of love, honesty, morality, truth, dignity, self-respect and respect for others.
It is imperative therefore, that all genuine church leaders take the issue of the church’s role in our polarised situation as a matter for serious discussion leading to appropriate action. He, who has ears to hear, let him hear.