When Grace Mugabe held the infamous ‘Super Sunday’ rally at Rufaro Stadium, many Christians were revolted by the messages of hate, that she spoke while adorned in the white apparel normally associated with those of the apostolic sects/churches. Many publicly and some privately spoke against what was seen as the abuse of church pulpits by politicians in Zimbabwe.
As an institution entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, the church in Zimbabwe has promoted a lot of conflict resolution and peace building work at community and national level. However, some sections of the church (both clergy and laity) have been grossly compromised and have ended up speaking on behalf of some political parties.
The circus at Grace Mugabe’s ‘Super Sunday’ was testament to this, a number of church leaders from the apostolic sects fell-over-each-other, giving prophecies and testimonies of how God had revealed to them that Grace Mugabe was God sent. Some even dared to say that she was lined up for future leadership of the country. Thankfully that prospect seems not so close to becoming a reality now. But my point is many influential church leaders have been compromised, in the process they have either wittingly or unwittingly allowed themselves to be used as political tools to support violence which they are supposed to condemn.
While there are some that hold the view that Church and politics should not mix quite a sizeable number-if not most of Zimbabwe’s church leaders –clergy and laity have chosen to give more allegiance to their being either ZANU PF or MDC members before their church roles, some even sought political protection from their scandalous and fraudulent lives by making large cash donations to the political establishment. Besides this, church unity among the clergy especially at national level is not easy to come by as the level of boot-licking and rumoured infiltration of the church by state agents has made the situation worse. On the other hand, church –civil society collaboration and complementarity has been handicapped by differences in strategy, suspicion and mistrust.
But maybe change has come through President E. D Mnangagwa. The new president seems to be according the Church its respected role, relieving the church from its self-appointed boot-licking role that it had assumed at the height of the Mugabe era.
There was a different atmosphere at the National Sports Stadium in Harare last week when the president addressed a church gathering of the Zion Christian Church. Not only did president Mnangagwa give the church a special role in the economic, social, political and spiritual aspects of society and nation; the president reiterated what is fast becoming his campaign mantra ‘peace, love and economic development for Zimbabwe’.
“churches have to be ambassadors in the economic trans-formative agenda by helping to build a society free of crime, which shuns corruption and whose values are anchored on hard work, honesty, diligence and integrity. It is, thus, integral for the church to remain as the beam of hope for the world.”
Touching on the issue of love and the promotion of peace president Mnangagwa said:
“In church you preach love, you preach peace, you preach unity, you preach forgiveness. We in the political arena, we also preach love. We preach peace. We preach unity and forgiveness. For our nation to prosper, we need to be united. We need to love each other. We need peace and we need to forgive each other.”
Many Christians struggle with the church’s involvement in socio-political-economic issues. Yet Scripture and history clearly support the church’s place in these concerns. Daniel becomes a leader in Babylon, Amos and other prophets speak into political and social matters in Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations. Both John the Baptist and Jesus refer to the political concerns of their day. In both the Old and New Testament God’s representatives spoke out against abuse of political power and sought just use of power. This surely, is what being “salt and light” means. Hence participation in politics does not detract from spirituality; in fact, a spirituality that is unrelated to politics is questionable.
President Mnangagwa seems to have brought a fresh perspective and a wind of change is undeniably blowing in the air indeed there is a different atmosphere compared to that which arose from that dishonourable and misnamed Grace Mugabe “Super Sunday”.
Many today fail to grasp that governments and institutions are made up of people. When people’s hearts are changed by Christ, godly governments and institutions will follow. If the hearts of the people are corrupt, getting them together in groups only multiplies the corruption. What we need is not better government, but better men and women in government. President Mnangagwa’s willingness to respectfully engage the church as demonstrated at the National Sports Stadium last week presents a hopeful situation.
I am persuaded that one of the key roles that the church must play in politics is through its prophetic ministry. “Prophetic” here means speaking into policy, structure, or issues in the name of God and Christ, or on behalf of humanity in general or of a community in particular. Senior Church leaders such as Paul Mwazha, Ezekiel Guti and others of that ilk are classical examples of leaders who can be used to speak into policy.
The church has a set of moral norms and it has illustrations in Scripture and in history of how these norms have been used. The prophetic role is seen in the application of relevant moral norms to the current political concerns of the day. Hence the church needs to continue engaging with government on justice, corruption, leadership, economic debt, housing, education, health care, safety and security, policy, and whatever else is morally important. Further, the church needs to be saying “yes” as well as “no” to governmental promises and policies.
By “no” I mean to clearly oppose wrongdoing, corruption, or anything else deemed unedifying and not benefiting society. “Yes” supports commitments to fulfilling promises made to making real efforts to curb crime, to making education truly a prime target for development, to making health care accessible and significant – not second-rate. Government (including local government) should look again at how it spends money in areas considered priorities.
God instituted government to establish ordered and peaceful social space where not only is judgement carried out, but good is recognised and encouraged (see 1 Pet. 2:14). Government leaders should not be “a terror to good conduct” (Rom. 13:3). Rather, as Paul states, “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:3–4).
This is true for all people but especially for Christians. Ordered and just social spheres should be forums for obedience to the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). It is right to desire and seek religious freedom as Christians; however, civil governments should neither compel allegiance to nor forbid the practice of any particular religion, whether Christianity or any other faith. Jesus makes a clear distinction between spiritual and political authority (Matt. 22:21; John 18:36). To be sure, the early church benefited from the legalisation of Christianity under Constantine by the Edict of Milan in 313. Arguably, however, the church also lost some of its vitality when the lines between spiritual and political responsibilities became blurred.
Well-ordered social space should also allow for obedience to the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). By such love the light of the gospel shines forth through God’s people, and by God’s grace many will be turned “to righteousness” (Dan. 12:3; see Matt. 5:14–16; Eph. 5:8–9). Such neighbour-love, we must always remember, is sustainable only as it is founded in and empowered by God’s love for his people (1 John 4:19).