A PASTORAL MESSAGE FROM THE ZIMBABWE HEADS OF CHURCHES
Editor’s note: This statement was issued prior to the resignation of President Mugabe
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your opportunity (KAIROS) from God.”
1. The Moment of Truth
Many Zimbabweans are confused and anxious about what has transpired and continues to unfold in our nation. While the changes have been rapid in the last few days, the real deterioration has been visible for everyone to see for a long time, especially during the public political rallies of the ruling party, coupled with the deteriorating socio-economic situation. On the 30th of October 2017, during the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Association between Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, it was again highlighted that the abrasive and exclusionary politics, the increased use of ethnic identities dominating the public discourse, especially at the public political rallies and in the media, would further fragment and threaten the already weak cohesion of our society.
Now we have reached a new chapter in the history of our nation. As we look at this situation as the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD), we are reminded of the warning of Jesus in Luke 19:41-44. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem when he saw the catastrophe of its destruction and the massacre of the people that was imminent, “because they had not recognized their opportunity (KAIROS) when God offered it” (Lk 19: 44). We see the current situation not just as a crisis in which we are helpless. We see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation. Our God created everything out of chaos. In order for something new to be born we need to clearly define our problem. Proper naming of the problem will give us a clear sense of where we must go as a nation.
2. What is the nature of our problem
It may be easy to describe our problem in terms of the economy and the accompanying myriad of social challenges. But all these are manifestations or symptoms of a deeper disease that has affected the nation for a long time. This was the challenge of the loss of TRUST in the legitimacy of our national processes and institutions. There is a strong sense that our hard-earned Constitution is not being taken seriously. There is not enough confidence whether the separation of the three arms of the State, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are functioning in proper relationships of checks and balances. There is a deep concern that there seem to be no clear distinction between the ruling party and the Government. There is concern that the priorities of the poor have become relegated to charity of those who have access to national resources without proper commitment to addressing the root-causes of these problems. There is a general feeling that the wheels of democracy have become stuck in the mud of personalized politics where the generality of the citizenry plays an insignificant role. It is this lack of democratic renewal and the resulting stagnation, sterility and fatigue that has culminated in the current situation.
3. Everyone implicated
To be fair, this situation is not only the doing of the ruling party and Government. It is also the result of the connivance of the different arms of the state and complicity of the Church and Civil Society. All of us at some point failed to play our roles adequately. The Church has lost its prophetic urge driven by personality cults and superstitious approaches to socio-economic and political challenges. Civil Society over time has become focused on survival and competition and lost the bigger picture of the total emancipation of the population. But the current situation is also a result of the many people in the ruling party who feel outdone, who enjoyed unbridled access to the trough of patronage. Journalists fanned the politics of hatred by giving it prime space in the name of sales and profits. All Zimbabweans must take some blame for our current situation.
4. What should be done? The Church makes the following calls:
4.1 Call to Prayer for the Nation
We call the nation to a moment of prayer for repentance, deep reflection and discernment. We all need to go before God and ask God to forgive us for ways in which we contributed to the situation through neglect or wrong action. We need individual and collective deep reflection on what this means for all of us as individuals, families, churches and the nation. We need to find meaning in this situation. We also need to collectively and individually discern the next direction for us as a nation.
4.2 Call to Calm and Peace
Right now, there is not enough information and many people are peddling opinions as facts. Some misinformation is causing despondency and fear. We are calling for peace and calm. Let us not sensationalize the situation but encourage calm and be modest in our engagement.
4.3 Call for the Respect of Human Dignity
We are aware that the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is currently managing the situation. But we want to make it clear to them that it is their responsibility to ensure that human dignity and rights are respected. This is not a time to allow for lawlessness and vindictive and selective application of the law.
4.4 Call for a Transitional Government of National Unity
The Zimbabwe Defence Forces have stressed that theirs is not a military coup, but an effort to manage the current situation. In the light of this position, we are calling for the formalization of a transitional government of national unity that will oversee the smooth transition to a free and fair election.
4.5 Call for National Dialogue
Finally, we are calling the nation to a table of dialogue. The current situation gives as an opportunity to reach out to each other. There is no way we are going to go back to the political arrangements we had some days ago. We are in a situation that cannot be solved by anything other than dialogue. This dialogue cannot only happen within the ruling party. What we need is a National Envisioning Platform (NEP) that will capture the aspirations of all the sectors of society. The church alongside other stakeholders in the private sector, academia, and other spheres can establish a NEP as an inclusive space to enable Zimbabweans from all walks of life to contribute towards a democratic transition to the Zimbabwe We Want.
Finally, the Church derives its mandate from its stature as a sign of hope in a situation of despair and discouragement. God has put the Church in the nation so that it can be a conduit for the healing of the nation. God has promised that: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). We are the people of God who are being called to champion the spirit of reconciliation. The Church is made up of those who have been reconciled to God and hence is called to be a sign of this reconciliation by calling the nation to reconciliation.
Zimbabweans can find each other again as they did in the 1960s and 1970s when they joined hands against the colonial forces; Zimbabweans can find each other again like they did when the signed the Unity Accord and stopped the self-destruction in Matabeleland and Midlands; Zimbabweans can find each other again like they did when the produced the current national Constitution; when they shared power during the Government of National Unity; there is no chasm that is too big not to be crossed through the power of reconciliation. Without reconciliation and openness to a process of shared national envisioning, we are all doomed.
We can either take the current situation as a mere crisis to be resolved by a winner-takes-all mentality or we use this as an opportunity for us to find one another to build something that is permanently healing for our nation. The first option spells disaster for us and future generations. The second option allows us to embrace our situation as a Kairos, an opportunity given to us by God to dream together that another Zimbabwe is possible! “If you, even you, would only recognize on this day the things that make for peace!” Luke 19:42
Even before the funerals had been held, and the eulogies delivered, one thing was already clear in Sutherland Springs after one of the worst mass shootings at an American church: First Baptist Church will be razed. The site where 26 people were shot dead by a lone gunman who sprayed the sanctuary with hundreds of bullets will give way to a newly constructed church, a Southern Baptist Convention official said. In what is becoming a grim American ritual, mass shooting sites have been demolished and then rebuilt. But some churches that experienced horrific killings have sought to reclaim existing sacred spaces. That’s not the case with First Baptist. Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, and Steve Gaines, the SBC’s president, confirmed the decision to demolish the church after meeting in Sutherland Springs with Frank Pomeroy, its grieving pastor.
“They did say, ‘We can’t go back in there,'” said Page, referring to Pomeroy’s remaining church members. “It’s going to be a reminder of the horrific violence against innocent people.” Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, were not at the church on Sunday when 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire. But their 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, whom the couple adopted at age 2, was killed. An anonymous donor agreed to fund the construction of a new church, Page said. The convention’s North American Mission Board has offered to pay for all of the funerals even though Texas’ Crime Victims’ Compensation program would have done so. “We’re going to take care of our own people,” Page said. The church structure may be in danger after hundreds of bullets pockmarked the walls. Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. of Wilson County described a gruesome scene of “blood everywhere” inside the church.
“You wouldn’t think they’d want to relive that,” said Andy Wyatt, a resident of Sutherland Springs who built themed vacation Bible study sets for children at First Baptist Church though he was not a member. “They deserve something bigger and better. You want to start fresh, anew.” That sort of fresh start after a mass atrocity has a long string of precedents: Columbine High School, where 13 people were killed and 21 were injured in a mass shooting in 1999, was partially rebuilt, including the library where many of the victims died. The site of the World Trade Centre towers, destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, is now a rebuilt complex with new skyscrapers, a memorial and museum. The Nickel Mines, Pa., schoolhouse where five Amish schoolgirls were murdered in 2006 was torn down and rebuilt.
In Utoya, Norway, where 69 people, many of them minors, were killed at a church youth camp in 2011, one of the buildings where victims died was preserved, encompassed by a larger building with a memorial and interpretive centre. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the site of the 2012 shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, was demolished and rebuilt. It reopened last year. None of those locations were houses of worship, which are meant to be sacred spaces where people turn to the divine to find peace, calm and transcendence. They are also supposed to be places where people can be comforted, supported and healed, not terrorized and murdered. Worshippers may feel the need to reclaim their sacred space. But that can be done in different ways.
Michelle Walsh, who teaches courses at Boston University on trauma and theology, studied a Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church as it recovered after a lone gunman killed two and wounded seven during a children’s play in 2008. Pews were realigned, walls were repainted, a curtain filled with bullet holes was removed but saved. A week after the killings, the church rededicated the sanctuary in a service that included blessing the spots where the dead fell and the hanging of a plaque. The whole thing concluded with a hymn, “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door.” “I have said sometimes there is a fierceness for survivors who say, ‘We have survived this and we have a faith that survives even in the face of something like this,'” Walsh said. “It is a reclaiming and it is a marking of a place as not just a place of death, not just a place of loss, but of life.”
Other houses of worship have found ways to reclaim without rebuilding. After nine people, including the pastor, were killed during a Bible study in the basement at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, church members hung pictures of the victims on the walls and continued to meet on Wednesday nights, their open Bibles before them. Their historic sanctuary was unaffected in the shooting. And when six people were killed and four were wounded inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., in 2012, worshippers did not abandon the sanctuary and even preserved some of the bullet holes. “It frames the wound,” Pardeep Kaleka, son of former temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, who died in the massacre, told The Associated Press. “The wound of our community, the wound of our family, the wound of our society.”
But in the case of the Sutherland Springs church shooting, it may be that the crime was so massive that rebuilding is necessary, said Steven Sewell, a Christian grief counsellor who often works with churches experiencing trauma. “Sometimes what happens in churches, that experience trauma, is they stay in the same place physically and spiritually when really it is impossible,” he said. “No one wants to be known as ‘that church’ where ‘that bad thing’ happened. So their rebuilding is what I like to call hidden greatness. That even in the midst of all of this tragedy, there is a hidden miracle that will come out.” In any case, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs will have to rebuild much more than its sanctuary. About half the congregation, including all its Sunday school teachers and many of its band leaders, were among those who perished, Page, the SBC official, said the pastor told him.
NIGERIA’S VICE PRESIDENT SAYS THE CHURCH IS THE KEY TO PROGRESS
The vice-president of Nigeria has called on Christian leaders in the country to ignore claims of an “Islamic agenda” and instead focus on a “Christian agenda”. Yemi Osinbajo was addressing attendees in Lagos at a conference tagged “Towards a Better Nigeria”, organised by Nigerian pastors. The Christian vice presidents comments came as Christian leaders criticised the Federal Government’s issuance of a non-interest Islamic bond, better known as sukuk which enables people to have access to credit. He said: ” The US, UK, China and South Africa have all used the Sukuk.” Nigeria became a member of the Islamic Development Bank in 2005 and the first two directors were both Christian, which Mr Osinbajo said makes him feel “lost” when people talk about an Islamic agenda. He said the problems the West African nation can be linked to the failure of Christian leaders taking their “rightful place”.
He went on to say: “We focus our minds on what we call the Islamic agenda. We look for it everywhere. “But where is the Christian agenda? We are too divided as Christians to have an agenda. The key to the unity and progress of Nigeria is in the church.” Mr Osinbajo also called for corruption to be dealt with. He said: “There is no nation on earth that would survive under the weight of corruption that our country had gone through. Nigeria’s elite, regardless of political, religious or ethnic differences, are driven largely by the same motive.” “They are selfish, unprepared to make the sacrifices that leaders of successful societies make. High-level corruption knows no bounds “We have to address the issue of corruption pointedly. The system is corrupt. Corruption is generally the rule in our society. This is a time to build. We can become Africa’s most productive nation in the very near future.”
ZIMBABWEAN BISHOP SPEAKS ON RESIGNATION OF PRESIDENT MUGABE
The Anglican bishop of Harare said the resignation of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is a momentous time in the country’s history. Mr Mugabe wrote in a letter which was read out in parliament: “My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power.” Mugabe was in power for 37 years. Most Rev Chad Gandiya said the resignation is “history in the making” and there is a huge sense of relief. He said: “Since independence we’ve known no other. There’s great jubilation in town as I speak. “There are great expectations from the general population. “God has given us a chance and we must use it profitably for all the people of Zimbabwe and not just for a few people.”
Bishop Chad added that he was happy the issue had been resolved peacefully, and hopes the peace continues as the country looks forward to new leadership. He said: “We need to embrace change and move forward without vengeance. “You’ll have those who want vengeance, that’s not the Christian way. We need to be forgiving, we need to move forward and build our country together. “It’s up to those that are coming in as our leaders to either ride on the wave of this excitement and do great things or destroy it for themselves.” Mr Mugabe, who had been the world’s oldest head of state at 93, said that proper procedures should be followed to install new leadership.
Attempts by Somalia’s government to be effective in overcoming its decades-long battles between warlords was dealt another blow by the bombing in Mogadishu on 14 October, which killed 358 people and wounded scores more. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but authorities say that it bears all the hallmarks of Shabab, the local Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group. The question arises of how the group has remained so strong and tenacious? Who are its members? What is its attraction? Shabab retains support mainly in rural areas where government services are absent. Most recruits have little or no education, including religious education. They have grown up surrounded by conflict. What little experience they have had with the state has often involved harassment and discrimination. This cycle of destruction will continue until the restoration of human rights and due process improves.
Please pray for:
. the Somalia Christians that remain in the country to grow in their faith and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, in spite of the persecution they are experiencing (The Bible, 1 Peter 1:6-9).
* Christian missionaries and aid agencies as they minister to both the physical and spiritual needs of a population traumatized by long-term conflict (The Bible, 1 Corinthians 9:19-22).
* the Somalia government to root out its corruption and develop a conscience about its responsibility to the Somalia population, especially in rural areas (The Bible, 2 Peter 2:17-19).