Zimbabwean Christian churches’ ridiculousness in need of a political Sabbath.

By Takura Zhangazha

Like any other non-state organization, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) is entitled to its own opinion on the state of affairs in the country. Except that its opinion is generally expected to be considered. Its most recent one is borderline ridiculous and evidence of a misplaced messianic streak of undemocratic political overreach. Or even an assumption that with the limited levels of a critical national consciousness, Zimbabweans will probably forget the democratic principle of the separation of the Church from the State. Or to quote Jesus, giving unto Caesar, what belongs to Caesar.

To quote from the statement, the ZHOCD proposes what it refers to as a Sabbath that would be ‘ national seven year Sabbath period for the purposes of establishing an emergency recovery mechanism to address the national situation’.

This ‘national situation’ according to the ZHOCD would therefore require “the suspension of the constitutional provision of elections” that would, wait for it, be determined by a referendum. The lack of logic in the suggestion is laughable. The ZHOCD wants the country to vote against voting.

The leaders of the ZHOCD probably prayed about issuing this statement. Unfortunately the signal that they got from God or elsewhere is patently undemocratic that even St Augustine would be raising questions at their political theology.

If the ZHOCD had ended there, it would have been a little less ridiculous. In stating the problem and an anticipated result of the suspension of elections via a referendum, the clergypersons propose no actual mechanism as to who or what governs the country in the seven year electoral ‘Sabbath’. That will be determined by some sort of consultative process which assumedly, the church itself would lead. Though it does not say so in the statement.

I am sure one of the main reasons why the ZHOCD has reasoned this way is because it knows itself to be an organization whose voice will reach the ears of the most politically and economically powerful in the land. And because it has great societal reach, it also knows that is almost untouchable. With millions of worshippers flocking to its affiliate churches every weekend, it can with relative ease influence public opinion in its favour.

But to influence public opinion in this way, by asking for and actively willing an unconstitutional suspension of elections, is an abrogation of the churches responsibility of ensuring peace, progress and stability in modern day nation states. It is also probably as bad as shouting ‘fire’ in a cinema, causing a stampede, and claiming afterwards, that one was just expressing an opinion.

There are therefore a number of reasons why progressive Zimbabweans must be able to talk back to the ZHOCD undemocratic statement. Not only as a learning curve for that organization but a re-affirmation of a now long standing democratic value of the principle of the separation of religion from the state. Together with the necessity of a stubborn insistence that democracy overrides religion. All the while guaranteeing freedom of worship.

In another instance it would be useful to assist ZHOCD to recall that various religious doctrines have played important roles in our liberation struggles, they did not come to define these same said struggles. Indeed some may have been used to justify the necessity of liberatory armed struggles, others as a counter- narrative but religion remained firmly on the periphery of what in the final analysis were secular struggles. Statements such as the one issued by the ZHOCD are a rather a vainglorious attempt to place Christianity at the centre of what should essentially be secular struggles. Almost in messianic fashion.

Nowhere in their statement do they mention the political economic mess that has been wrought on by the ideology of neoliberalism. Their vague generalisations about ‘healing’ without reference to structural causes of why we find ourselves where we are is not the stuff one would expect from the clergy. But then again, who wants to argue against the massive wealth that these churches preside over, their own internal dictatorships, their fraternization with the wealthy and powerful to curry favour and in this age of millennial capitalism, the devastating effect of their prosperity gospels.

The ZHOCD is however lucky. The current Zimbabwean president uses religion as a political backstop. Ever since taking over power from Mugabe and retaining it in the 2018 elections, Mnangagwa makes it a point to pop up at huge gatherings of religious worshippers. And he makes many material promises to the leaders of these churches.

Opposition political party leaders have also taken on the dogmatic approach to Christianity and politics. Weighing in on a fervent Pentecostalism, various politicians have put on both robes of not only being trained clergypersons but also politicians. While it remains their democratic right to do so, the end effect is that actual church leaders at organisations such as the ZHOCD begin to think they and their religious inclinations are now the raison d’etre for the existence of the Zimbabwean state.

It is not Zimbabwe that must take any sabbatical from democratic electoral processes. It is the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations that needs a long political sabbatical.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)