Economic, political refugees flock to churches

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BESIDES the media, the church and academia remain some of the most important and critical voices especially in a country like Zimbabwe where the political system is failing people.

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The history of the church in this country’s liberation and formative years cannot be emphasised more, but suffice it to say that the current state and role of the church is disappointing.

Historically, academia — that is university lecturers, professors and researchers — has played a critical role especially in defence and advancement of democracy that, unfortunately, has eluded us since 1980.

When the public asks about awarding of degrees, university leaders must not be arrogant and tell us that we do not understand how universities function. Of course some would want us to believe that universities are mysterious places where things just happen.

These are public institutions for intellectual release and openness on to how they functions is key. Enough of the madness.

If we were to calibrate the years since independence into decades, one may find out each and every decade has some conspicuous events that spit into the faces of genuine war veterans and democrats who fought for a better nation.

Academics have become tradesman and farmers while the country looks for people to champion their cause.

The role of the church can be pictured this way; there are some members of one sect sitting and listening to their leader preach and, a stone throw away, is another sect singing, dancing, ululating and in spiritual ecstasy.

Reverend Francis Grimke argues that God is not dead: “Nor is he an indifferent onlooker at what is going on in this world. One day he will make restitution for blood. He will call the oppressors to account. Justice may sleep, but it never dies. The individual race or nation which does wrong, which sets at defiance God’s great law, especially God’s great law of love, of brotherhood, will be sure, sooner or late to pay the penalty. We reap as we sow. With the measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again.”

In short God does not eat Nandos. Since the Zimbabwean political and economic chaos assumed international relevance after the land reform, we have seen an increasingly “negatively” politicised church.

This negative politicisation has not been in the interest of the country or people at large, but has sought to advance the selfish interests of the church and some political leaders. Of course the rise of new age pentecostalism and flamboyant pastors can partly be explained by the desperation people find themselves in.

The economy and the political leadership have failed people whose place of solace is now these mushrooming one-man-fronted churches that seemingly do not have enduring structures.

People spend a large chunk of their time following prosperity preachers in an attempt to find ways to get rich without any hard work or without any work at all since industries are not functional.

Had these people been employed we might be having a different discourse altogether regarding the current crop of prosperity gospel outfits.

The First Lady Grace Mugabe recently and rightfully chided the police for taking away vendors’ wares, something the church must have raised long ago.

We need to question what has gone so wrong that most of our people have been reduced to vendors. Around the 1990s one could walk freely on the pavements, but this has all changed as pedestrians have to struggle for space with vendors.

The influx of these people and ex-Japanese and mostly used cars does not speak to a healthy economy and people.

Patrick Chinamasa once said we are a sick nation for importing bottled water and he was right.

With all due respect there is nothing dignified in vending and it is not even fair to advance vendor’s vending rights, whatever that is, without advancing human rights and rights to decent work supported by an enabling political environment.

Due to these economic failures and resultant poverty, the current church has now become a place of refuge for the economically and politically disappointed.

More problematic and confusing is how we believe. How do we find it in ourselves to believe that there is anything spiritual in someone calling out your identity card or cellphone number? Faith and belief are very complicated, but in a country claiming the highest literacy rates on the continent surely we could do better.

The same God who gave us the brain surely did not intend that we forgo its use. How do seemingly mentally well-balanced men and women run into this new age pentecostalism with their mouths and arms wide open in spiritual ecstasy, but painfully, with their thinking faculties shut?

Some have been eating grass, drinking petrol and eating flowers. I have no qualms with flower-eating especially in South Africa where we need more inner beauty as this helps people to be tolerant of foreigners fleeing economic chaos from the rest of the continent.

But the desperation does not stop here. Church leaders are so desperate and appear before politicians claiming a hold on God who fictitiously and supposedly answers their prayers, claiming their support and even and that of their congregants to politicians.

But we all know that this is done for self-aggrandisement. Will God not punish these desperados? I for one do not have a problem with pastors and church leaders participating is some political comedies and sideshows.

We need comic relief to laugh at that state of affairs and ourselves. But it’s problematic when congregations are supposed to stoop to the same levels their leaders have gone.

If anything church members are supposed to make their own choices as it is spiritual negligence and abrogation of duty for a pastor or church leader to use the congregants to make political statements supporting one party or the other just because they want a farm!

The church must be the voice of reason, speaking sense to the political elite and not attempting to suppress people’s quest for human rights and other freedoms that democratic societies enjoy.

It is a human right to demonstrate and march for different things, including the right to display one’s thighs in public regardless of whether they are appealing, scarred or shapeless.

The prophecy that the march by the opposition will lead to bloodshed does not definitely come from God. If we have kiya-kiya economics why can’t we have kiya-kiya religion?

One needs not be a prophet to tell what might happen when people go for a justified sensible march. Of course churches must sensitise politicians, on both sides of the divide that violence, intolerance, repression, name-calling and all forms of clogging democratic avenues are not in the best interests of the country and future generations.

Churches and pastors whose prophecies want to maintain the status quo so that they keep the masses flocking to them and giving them offerings and tithes with their hard-earned monies are doing God the least of services.

If indeed they are prophets why not go to our hospitals that are bent double like beggars under sacks for want of resources, personnel and the sick in need of healing?

Jesus’s ministry on earth concerned itself with the plight of the poor and suffering. He confronted political and religious leaders who were on the wrong path like most of our current charismatic preachers who are pouncing on people’s desperation.

The church that was part of the National Constitutional Assembly must rise and speak up against the many ills of our society including current unholy religio-politico thuggery.

What the country needs are men of the cloth who are true to their heavenly duties as the needle is to the pole, men and women who cannot be sold or bought and definitely men without skeletons in their closets who will, with a clear conscience, speak truth to power economics and politics, without any semblance and shred of fear or favour.

Current trends suggest the truthfulness in the statement that religion is indeed the opium of the poverty stricken who have been abused by the charismatic pastors with reckless abandon in comical stagnant ways.

Shepherd Mpofu is a media studies and journalism lecturer at Nust. He writes in his personal capacity.