IS the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) an independent group? Can the association really be described in the language of a group with grounding in its own convictions and values? Could it be true that the group has handlers? These were the questions that naturally were left to play a fandango in the minds of many people after listening to the group’s position on the proposed regulation of churches.

For a long time, Zimrights, a lobby group for human rights, has been viewed by critics as a front for some hidden interests. The group’s manner of response last week left critics with a lot to say; (ZimRights) shocked all and sundry when they made a somersault distancing themselves from an initial statement embracing the fight against religious abuse. Isn’t it mind-defying that the group would issue two conflicting statements within hours? There have been growing calls from many concerned religious minds to regulate churches with a view to protecting the vulnerable, particularly women and children.

This comes in the wake of the country being hit by a wave of abuses perpetrated by church leaders.  “The answer is that we have come to a position of registering churches not only in Zimbabwe but the whole of Africa because it has become a means of money-making and people are forming churches at places where there are no toilets, and young men are suddenly forming churches some of them which might be devil-worshipping,” Home Affairs secretary, Melusi Matshiya told a parliamentary thematic committee on gender and development that the proposed regulations would help bring about sanity in places of worship.

There are many people who, blinded by their hatred for the government, fail to comprehend this simple matter and heedlessly go on the offensive. The last few years have seen religious abuse of unmitigated proportions with disgraced cleric Robert Gumbura leading the pack. This week, news made headlines of a Masvingo senior pastor who is facing a lawsuit for adultery from a fellow church member. Near-satanic practices have found a home in the church under the guise of religion and these cases are just a drop in a large pool. The sexual crimes by Gumbura will rank among the most horrendous religious crimes ever witnessed in the country. Some misguided individuals have tried to portray Gumbura as a victim of politics yet the evidence against him stands as clear as daylight.

The church, perhaps due to the unrelenting economic crisis, has become a haven for criminals who have adopted smart methods of conning and taking advantage of congregants. As a result, progressive religious minds lobbied for the government to have churches registered. ZimRights, a lobby group for human rights, in light of this development, issued an initial and very sober statement which deserved commendation. “We welcome the move by government to register churches,” ZimRights said in a statement last Tuesday. “The story of Robert Martin Gumbura, a church leader who was recently jailed for abusing many women in his church is a reflection of the human rights abuses which can go unnoticed as they are orchestrated by church leaders. As a human rights lobby group, we urge local Churches to observe the Zimbabwean laws and help in the fight against abuse.”

That was quite sound and this is exactly what most religious groups in the country have been saying all along. The idea of registration is simply aimed at protecting the vulnerable and restoring sanity in places of worship. Most criminals have found sanctuary in the church knowing full well that there is a general assumption that all is well within churches. So, for a long time, abuse went undetected in churches. All manner of crimes were committed hence Gumbura could even afford to detain married women within his premises. The church has been infiltrated by all sorts of evils, demons and hypocrites.

Now, while everybody was busy congratulating ZimRights for the bold and progressive statement, we were hit by the unexpected; suddenly ZimRights found everything wrong with their initial statement and fought hard to distance themselves from it. “ZimRights sincerely apologizes for and thereby retracts the statement citing the welcoming of the move by government to register churches,” the group said. “As a human rights group, we believe that the practice of religious freedoms should be free of any intrusion by the state. Citizens must be able to enjoy their religious freedoms without any form of state regulation; and if any, religious groups must be self-regulatory.”

Really, are you your own man? This somersault was made within a space of hours and it vexes the mind how a group, which naturally should have a standing stance on such a topical issue, would teeter in confusion. The question comes naturally: ZimRights, was that your own opinion or more appropriately, which one is your own opinion? Is it not mind-boggling that, in a matter of hours, we hear one mouth speaking from different angles? Are you your own man or someone is whispering in your ear? Would anyone be wrong then to label the group a megaphone for some obscure interests? Honestly, wouldn’t anyone be justified to conclude that the initial statement condemning abuse was the true view of the group? Would anyone be wrong to say that the second statement is simply an attempt to please a master elsewhere in the world?

I would rally all progressive minds that have true worship at heart to continue in the fight against religious abuse and to speak courageously against it whoever the perpetrator maybe. Let’s not sacrifice our souls on the altar of perishables.