ZIMBABWE’S first lady, Grace Mugabe, has publicly claimed her husband was ordained by God to rule for life, stating boldly that he is “irreplaceable”.
“…you were chosen by God because you are faithful to God, he chose you before you were born,” said the First Lady addressing supporters at President Robert Mugabe’s One Million Man March held last month.
But church leaders seem to now have a different take. They have increasingly become critical of the 92yearold strongman’s policies after years of shying away from the country’s often brutal politics.
For years, Zimbabwe’s church leaders have mostly stayed out of the political fray; with those involved often doing so from the safety of praising President Mugabe and his government.
But the trend appears to be changing as the country’s economy takes a debilitating tumble, widely attributed to Mugabe’s alleged misrule and corruption.
“Taneta (We are tired),” said Tudor Bismack to a cheering congregation at his Jabula New Life International Ministries last month.
The sermon, in which Bismark laments deepening corruption and alleged bad governance and likens Zimbabwe to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, has gone viral on social media.
The Bible is awash with many leaders who took political roles, from King Samuel, David, Solomon and many more. God would rule his people through his anointed, drawing an invisible line between politics and religion.
In Zimbabwe, church leaders have used various methods – from Bismark’s pulpit sermons to social media campaigns while others go for direct confrontation.
Some have paid a price for taking Mugabe’s regime head on. Last year, a pastor based in the resort town of Victoria Falls, Patrick Mugadza, spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in prison.
This was after the youthful pastor held a solo demonstration outside the venue of a ruling Zanu PF party conference. He held a placard demanding that Mugabe steps down.
Apostle Tawonga Vutabwashe recently joined the bandwagon criticizing the Zanu PF led government for allowing foreigners to elbow locals out of the economy.
He blamed the leadership, accusing it of failing to safeguard the interests of the country when deals are negotiated with outsiders.
Youthful cleric Evan Mawarire has also been making headlines through his anti-government social media campaign #ThisFlag launched in April this year to stimulate political participation via social media.
And only last week, the Zimbabwe Divine Destiny (ZDD), Christian Prophetic Voice Zimbabwe, Christian Voice, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Christian Alliance and Prayer Network Zimbabwe, among others, convened a meeting condemning Mugabe regime for abusing citizens’ rights and implementing unworkable policies.
Living Waters Bible College Principal Lovejoy Chabata said clerical intervention in matters of policy and governance situation is a dictate of the economic downturn whose stinging effects have not spared the church.
As the whole country reels under the ever worsening financial crisis, offerings and tithes which are major revenue streams in churches have started dwindling drastically.
Economy woe hits churches
Chabata said this scenario has seen a number of churches failing to break even with some of the urban assemblies in rented venues having to reduce the number of weekly meetings as they cannot afford paying rentals while resources to sponsor the welfare of the clergymen are now scarce.
“As they say, a hungry man is an angry man. Hence, the vitriolic voices from the pulpits,” said Chabata.
Ancelimo Magaya, the convenor of a recent churches meeting, said there is generally a growing consciousness in church that its role goes beyond the spiritual welfare of life.
“During his life, Jesus operated far beyond the synagogue,” said Magaya. “Earlier we had the myopic way of looking at Christianity as Sunday service and burying people.
“Jesus rebuked the Pharisees even for selective application of the law, remember the story of the harlot. Both the church and Zimbabwe will never be the same again.”
Some clerics feel that the trend is driven by greater access to information through newer platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp which are difficult to censor compared to traditional media formats.
Social media impact
“In the struggle of the 2000s in Zimbabwe, the internet was more expensive. We have always been outspoken, but there are more media platforms now than ever before,” said Bismark giving his opinion about the trend.
Citing 2 Samuel 11 prophet Nathan rebuking King David after the latter had murdered Uriah and went further to take Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, the cleric said, “The prophetic voice that rebukes unto righteousness is therefore necessary in the current situation in Zimbabwe where graft and greed have precipitated a plethora of problems for the nation.”
Apart from the former Archbishop Pious Ncube who paid a heavy price for criticizing government in 2007, the media has been awash with reports on clerics who were only singing praises to the regime while the rest chose strictly stick to the gospel.