republished with corrections and additions from The Herald of August 2011

Tobacco farming has become a hot “potato” in most Churches, as leaders fear it might cause serious factionalism and great loss of much-needed revenue for the upkeep and sustenance of the institutions.

Most Church leaders contacted by The Herald refused to speak on behalf of their respective churches preferring to give personal opinions on whether it was godly or not to grow the lucrative crop.

Tobacco is the crop of the moment with an average selling price of about US$4 per kilogramme.

It has evidently transformed the lives of many people and communities, with some cases of rags to riches being documented.

Investigations by The Herald revealed that some Churches whose doctrines do not allow tobacco farming end up compromising them considering that most of the income comes from the growing of the golden leaf.

Proceeds from farming are reportedly dominating the tithes and love offerings in some churches to an extent that the churches choose not to debate the issue.

Investigations show that the churches feel the issue was too sensitive and a threat to the oneness of the institutions. Recently, one of the most popular and old churches was trapped in a predicament when a tobacco farmer and member of the church brought a US$600 000 tithe from tobacco sales to the church.

Sources within the church revealed that the leadership debated the issue at national level until the money was finally accepted.

“His tobacco had fetched in excess of US$6 million. There was a debate among the leaders until the money triumphed. The money was finally accepted after the leaders agreed to consider the business aspect of tobacco farming,” said an impeccable source.

Mixed reactions came from various representatives, most of whom chose to speak on condition of anonymity.

Although most Christians agreed that there was nowhere in the Bible specifically barring people from growing or smoking tobacco, some challenged the practice on Christian health grounds.

Some maintain that there was nothing bad about growing tobacco because it was not only meant for smoking.

Tobacco can be used for various purposes including medical drugs and other useful chemicals.

Methodist Church in Zimbabwe national director for evangelism Reverend Josias Mudenda acknowledged the business aspect of tobacco farming but added that he was most inclined to the spiritual aspect, which associated the crop with health problems. “It is difficult for me to speak on behalf of the church. From my own understanding of Christianity and personal Christian experience, tobacco is associated with health problems. Our bodies resemble the temple of the Lord and we should not defile them with smoking.”

“Although people may hide behind farming, they will be indirectly promoting tobacco smoking, which is hazardous to health. I do not personally encourage people to grow tobacco. Yes it is a money spinner and we want money for our church programmes, but I would not encourage the growing of tobacco,” he said.

Efforts to contact Bishop Amos Ndhlela, who was reportedly in Victoria Falls, to speak on behalf of the Church were fruitless, as he was unreachable.

Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of the United Methodist Church refused to comment on the issue saying it was a personal issue that each member should speak for him or herself. His secretary said the Bishop was unable to comment on the issue. “I briefed the Bishop about your issue and unfortunately he is unable to comment on whether members should grow tobacco or not. He said it was better for the members to speak for themselves. The issue is too sensitive,” she said.

The United Baptist Church members said they were against tobacco farming but some were known to be in that business. Asked to give the position of the church on tobacco farming, Bishop Chibinjana said the issue was too sensitive and he would only respond when he had ample time after the Church’s annual conference in Chimanimani. “We are currently in Chimanimani for our annual conference. The issue is too sensitive and I need time before I respond. Maybe next week I will be in a position to talk to you when I come back to Harare,” said Mr. Chibinjana.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) is on record disapproving tobacco farming and its members are not allowed to grow the golden leaf.

Any member who risks growing the crop faces censure or de-fellowship. The implementation of the doctrine caused factionalism in Mashonaland East’s Svosve area with some members defecting from the church.

Confusion arose when some members chose not to grow tobacco but chose to work in others’ tobacco fields for a fee, which was also perceived unacceptable in the Church.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses also share the same belief with the SDA on the issue and shun tobacco or alcohol businesses. In separate interviews, senior members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses confirmed the position, saying tobacco growing was as good as smoking.

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints is also against tobacco farming. A senior member of the Church said there was no difference between smoking and growing tobacco.

“In our Church, we are totally against tobacco farming. We preach the gospel of abstaining from tobacco. Growing it is as bad as smoking. Although tobacco has got other uses, it is difficult to tell if your produce will not be used in the manufacture of cigarettes,” he said.

Pastor Tinarwo Chituza of the Zion Christian Church supported tobacco farming. “It is a money spinning venture and a form of empowerment for the economic growth of the country. There is nothing bad about that. It is business and the Churches are supported by funds from such businesses. We are in an economic war and we should devise ways of fighting poverty,” he said.