Should I say I was destined to have in me DNA of the Wesleyan (Hwisiri/Wisili) Methodist Church? In the same way most of those born in Muslim families are fated to follow Islam?
echoes: CONWAY TUTANI
Yes, we are what we are mostly by accident of birth; no one has any control of, or responsibility for, the circumstances of their birth or parentage. It may result in a situation or personal characteristic which may be desirable or undesirable, resulting from the circumstances into which a person was born, which is, therefore, entirely beyond his control.
I might as well have been an Islamic State (IS) terrorist had I been brought up in the religiously sectarian and politically fractured Iraq, which has alienated and radicalised otherwise peacable young people into bloody murderers due, to a considerable extent, to the destabilisation caused by outside political and military intervention which has marginalised large segments of the populace. Yes, the West carries a large share of blame for the genesis of IS, but that does not exonerate IS terrorists, who have redefined wickedness to a new level. And the biggest proportion of the victims of IS are fellow Muslims. Spiteful radicalism always hurts your own kind the most because it breeds gratuitous violence.
We see it here in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe’s obsessive grudge against the West and continual harping about the long-gone colonial past and grievances has left a trail of socio-economic damage, leaving millions of ordinary people like casualties in a war. Like IS is now more hated than the West among its Arab victims, Zanu PF is now, in the eyes of the people, a much worse tormentor than the British colonialists.
Due to this accident of birth, resulting in, I should say, desirable consequences in my case because hate was not inculcated and ingrained in me, I have always found myself gravitating — yes, as though being pulled by gravity — to the Methodist Church mainly for the reason that my grandfather, who I never saw, was among the first crop of Methodist pioneering missionaries to cross the Limpopo from South Africa to establish the church here in the 1890s. And so I found myself at the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe’s (MCZ) 40 years of autonomy celebrations, which ran from August 17-20, 2017 at the National Sports Stadium in Harare.
The MCZ has modernised and keeps on evolving because it has become a strong brand with its distinct style and reputation to maintain as an organisation. It came at the same time as colonialism when racism was deemed the natural order of God, as shown in a photograph taken from those early days showing white clergy sitting in front and black reverends, including my grandfather, standing in the back row. People have always used religion to suit their narratives — what with Zanu PF youth leader equating President Robert Mugabe to Jesus? All this is calculated to “colonise” our minds into regarding Mugabe as a demi-god like the whites he toppled would have us believe they were. We could now be facing a new form of colonialism by our own kind, and it’s no less deleterious, no less toxic. So, it was quite instructive when MCZ general secretary Reverend Dr Jimmy Dube, in the closing service of the celebrations, strongly admonished against top people poisoning the atmosphere using the hate-filled slogan “Pasi nanhingi! (Down with so-and-so!)” against political opponents. Rev Dube is not an apologist for the present excesses.
Neither is Rev Dube an apologist for the colonial past. Why do I say so? Last year he asked me to write the biography of my late father for presentation at the MCZ annual conference in Kadoma in honour of prominent church members who had died since the previous conference in 2015. As I listened to him presenting it before the hundreds of delegates and guests, I was pleasantly surprised and particularly pleased that where I had written that my father’s father, having been targeted for killing by being associated with the white colonial invaders, had been sheltered by Chief Kwenda during the “Mashonaland Rebellion” in 1896, Rev Dube read “First Chimurenga” instead of “Mashonaland Rebellion”. It dawned on me that you should call things for what they really are. You cannot say you are protecting the gains of the liberation war when you go on a murderous rampage against defenceless people. People needed protection against the white regime during those early years; now people, including whites, need that protection against the black regime.
That’s why the slogan “Down with so-and-so!” should be banned forthwith and criminalised. And the Church should lead the way in condemning that, as Rev Dube did on Sunday.
Of course, it is not a coincidence that denominations such as the MCZ, Catholic Church (which has been number one in terms of fearlessly advancing socio-economic justice from a Christian standpoint before and after independence), and Anglicans have led the way in condemning repression and corruption. Why? It’s because they are not cultish churches like Apostolic sects and some Pentecostal ones where all members are required to follow what the leader says and does. It is sacrilegious to question the leader. For instance, supporting Zanu PF becomes part of their dogma or catechism because the leader literally owns the followers. With this blind dogma, whatever Mugabe says, however cruel — that the killers of defenceless white farmers, including a 68-year-old widow, will not face justice — must be accepted as the law; and however absurd — that First Lady Grace Mugabe is a victim of a white supremacist conspiracy when there is plentiful evidence that she savagely attacked that young South African woman in a Johannesburg hotel room — must be accepted as the truth. You hardly hear among Methodists and Catholics such nonsense that Mugabe is God-given whereas that is the theme and dogma among Apostolic sects and some traditional religious leaders. This is what sets these churches apart from those cults.
Rev Dube also spoke strongly about facing the reality of the situation in our nation. He said bank queues would still be there after the MCZ celebrations. That the 90% unemployment rate would not disappear just like that. That people should be both prayerful and practical. That they would always face worldly troubles. That they should not be lured into a false sense of security by mushrooming churches promising heaven on earth. That they should take personal responsibility for their lives, not leave it or outsource it to lying politicians and get-rich-quick “prophets”.
Rev Dube also warned about being unfair and cruel to each other as individuals. Without using the term, Rev Dube was referring to guarding against what is called base instincts — those inherent behaviours or inclinations that are not taught, but are a natural biological or human reaction. Base instincts such as abhorrence, jealousy, envy and hatred have no class as seen in American businesswoman Leona Helmsley, who was known for her flamboyant personality and had a reputation for tyrannical behaviour that earned her the nickname Queen of Mean as in mean-spiritedness. And the Jo’burg hotel incident was a clear example of basic instinct taking over.
A person ruled by basic instincts behaves this way: You know that this family member is younger than you and is not as rich and successful as you, thus, he is no threat to you in any way, yet you interfere in their lives and take delight in seeing them stranded or when their suffering gets worse, whereas you wouldn’t do that to your own biological children, treating them as superior to, for instance, your brother or sister’s children, who you would make sure are homeless and go hungry. You just go out of your way to make life difficult for everyone else except you and your immediate family like an “Evil Uncle”. You intrude into people’s lives. You stalk and hound them. When it gets to that extent, it becomes pathological, a serious malady requiring both self-introspection and prayer, as Rev Dube said.
“This [meanness] is one of your base instincts from back in the days when different biological traits were embraced or shunned … but you need to rise above your pre-historic instincts at some point.” (allwomenstalk#lifestyle) Over to you, Kings and Queens of Mean!
If you have demons in your head, they will be exorcised by prayer.
With all these practical and prayerful perspectives brought out at the MCZ’s celebrations, I will always gravitate towards Methodism.
Here is to 40 more years of autonomous mission!
Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: email@example.com