Politicians often give men of the cloth that dare to wade into the political waters an acidic tongue-lashing and tell them off. The clergy have to confine themselves to their pulpits and leave the game of politics to political gladiators, politicians pontificate.
For this reason, statements of, and actions by, say, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference or Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) pertaining to political twists and turns characteristic of contemporary Zimbabwe are dismissed as nonsensical.
A group of six church leaders, led by EFZ president Goodwill Shana, recently toured the region to persuade Sadc leaders to force President Robert Mugabe to implement a cocktail of security, electoral and media reforms. These are highlighted in their position paper presented to Sadc ministers of justice.
The clergymen also include Bishop Naison Shava (head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church), Bishop Alexio Muchabaiwa, Father Edward Ndete and Father Frederick Chirombo (Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference) and Father Richard Menatsi (Southern African Catholic Bishops secretary-general).
In fact, according to the Zanu PF script, it is unforgivable for the church to issue statements almost similar to those issued by the MDC — and that regardless of content. That the EFZ position paper contents are said to be similar to those in MDC-T’s election demands has not found takers within those whose sympathies lie with Zanu PF.
The EFZ position paper is titled “The Role of the Church in Nation Building in Zimbabwe.”
Indeed, the church has a critical role to play in the development of this country and the sooner both sides of the political devide realise this, the better. It is tragic, however, that those who have been found wanting in terms of how they conduct their political business have crafted all sorts of silly reasons to bunch the EFZ with some rival political parties without confronting pertinent issues raised.
Refusal to be accountable — which the church often demands from political players — is what often makes politicians consider the clergy a thorn in the flesh.
Of necessity, the church has a right to demand politicians operate in ways that promote peace and harmony and that uphold the sanctity of life and human dignity. It is common cause in the Zimbabwean political discourse that human life can be easily reduced into cannon fodder upon which political gladiators battle for office feed.
It would be wrong, however, for the church to take sides, but it has to tread the middle ground, bridging the gap between political rivals treading punches often at the expense of ordinary people.
Prophets and kings in the Old Testament, were — more often than not — always on a collision course simply because kings were usually driven by parochial and selfish interests at the expense of working for the common good as God wanted them to do.
Confrontation between kings and prophets often brought remorse and repentance on the part of the kings, but the tragedy of modern day politics is that today’s kings (political leaders) will brook no counsel from the church despite their obvious failures.
To have a situation where blood is shed on the altar of political expediency and corpses become a staircase to the pinnacle of power and expect the church to remain silent, is criminal.
In any society, the church should be a voice of reason and society’s conscience. Theories about the origins of prophecy in the Bible demonstrate this powerful spiritual office was established round about the same time the political institution of kingship came into being. This important office was there to ensure the excesses often attendant in political office were checked and ensured it would not be used as a conduit to abuse people.
It is strange politicians would accuse churches and the clergy of trading their Bibles for politics when the former makes demands that the latter be accountable and work towards the betterment of a bruised nation.
The irony in contemporary political developments is the erstwhile liberation movement got tremendous support from the church in the 1970s, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, saw most of its priests courting the wrath of the Ian Smith regime for throwing their weight behind black nationalist movements. The church then struck a chord with the liberation movements because the latter’s objectives to fight for liberation and justice blended seamlessly with the church’s desire to have social justice and a political system that did not discriminate people on the basis of skin colour.
In a way, the church’s objectives could be seen in the same light as those of the black liberation movement.
In that context, it is clearly laughable for some narrow-minded politicians and their coterie of followers and hangers-on — including those in the media — to accuse the EFZ of having a position paper that, as we are told, carries elements that mirror demands being made by the MDC-T. If the MDC-T, for instance, argues it will not participate in an election in which people’s protection from the vicious cycle of political violence is not guaranteed, why should it be wrong for the church to demand a violence-free election?
It is not criminal for the clergymen to say they have lost faith in country’s voters’ roll and call for the need of a new model for monitoring elections.
Anyone who has witnessed the sham of an election called a re-run in 2008 will agree these are pertinent issues that need to be addressed if we are to have a credible election in this country.
These clergymen can speak on behalf of their congregations and there is nothing criminal about that — in fact, what is criminal is to claim we have a clean voters’ roll, when it is well known some people whose names appear there have long died, but they are still “voters” in this country! Talk of ghost voters!
There is nothing criminal about heads of churches demanding the need to have a violence-free plebiscite. But it is hardly surprising Zanu PF’s feathers would be ruffled by these kinds of demands because they have always thrived on violence to win elections and would, naturally, feel heckled by anyone who dares poke their nose in that pungent matter.
For some unnamed Zanu PF government official to claim clergymen are being used by MDC-T and foreigners to effect regime change in Zimbabwe is not only laughable, but heart-breaking in as much as it displays the thinking capacity, or lack thereof, of some people mandated to play some role in the governance of this country.