Hypocritical Church Leaders – Be Just, Serve the People
OPINION – Early this month, I promised to comment on the role of the Church in Zimbabwean politics. I wish to make a critical reflection of the Church in slumber and make recommendations to avoid religious hypocrisy.
The question whether the Church has a role in politics must be answered in the affirmative. There are deeper theological reasons for the Church’s concern in politics; I will spare the reader the exegetical and theological reflections, at least for the moment. However, it is imperative that this article addresses church leadership of any form, be they pastors, priests, lay leaders and above all bishops.
Firstly, the whole of Scripture and the later traditions of the Church make Church involvement in politics none negotiable. It entails the deliverance of women and men from all forms of oppression, as well as the extraneous chains that bind and enslave God’s people. This deliverance is not limited to nature, but involves liberation from the most ‘spiritual’ of enslaving realities such as hate, anger, insincerity, ignorance, fear and self contempt born of an inferiority complex or excessive pride resulting from superiority complex, through political power and material benefices or lack of, as poverty, political oppression and economic exploitation. The freedom of the kingdom of God is the liberation of the whole human person, body and spirit. It is liberation from sin and the material causes and consequences of sin. The kingdom of God involves the "knowledge of God’ in the religious, social, economic and political spheres and on the personal and national levels. To make this knowledge of God known in all these spheres and levels is the call and task of the Church.
Secondly, the Church plays a prophet role in conscietising politics, economics and all other spheres of societal operations. The argument that religion is a private affair and that it is concerned with the eternal and not the temporal and that it seeks only to instill values and never to challenge structures, is but nonsensical. The prophet Isaiah speaking in the name of Yahweh, demands political justice as a prerequisite to the acceptability of prayer. He spells it out, "Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17). Without this political requirement, all else according to Isaiah, is hypocrisy. What has been of the Church in the face of political idolatry by the present and past governments in Zimbabwe? The population has suffered at the hands of cruel political leaders with little challenge from religious leaders. The Church has been jam-packed in the trash-can because of her silence, and position of watching the game from the terraces. The president has on many times uttered that the Church leaders should stick to the pulpit, and the Church leaders seem to imbibe of such folly. Zimbabweans have been oppressed by the political leaders, while the Church has defrauded God’s people of representation.
If the mission of the Church is to be prophetic, how can it act differently given the obtainable political harlotry in Zimbabwe? There is violence rocking the suburbs of major cities, people in rural areas are threatened by the police, army and other state organs. Fear is written all over the people’s faces. Civil society leaders are arrested and charged with trumped up allegations, all because of political impunity. People have been tortured recently, some murdered and property destroyed, yet the holy Church has remained silent like a virgin at the market. Is the Church not abdicating her mission?
What the Church needs to realize is that Jesus’ preaching and attitude to life must form the basis of her preaching and attitude to life and the structures of life today. The Church should be influenced to respond in the way Jesus did during his days, and reflect on the scenario in contemporary Zimbabwe.
Thirdly, Jesus clearly detests the socially harmful role of the Roman stooge Herod Antipas. He refers to him scornfully as a ‘fox; because he is abusing his position. Jesus’ disgust is not only directed to corrupt political leaders, rather it is also aimed against the religious leaders of his time who behaved in the same way. The same is referred today to our religious leaders who are not challenging structures that are oppressive of the powerless population of this country. Such leaders are also ‘foxes’ because their silence manifests religious cowardice and corruption. Jesus’ warning to both political and religious leaders is the same: Be just, serve the people for this is the meaning of your position. Otherwise you are doomed (Luke 11:46). This is the legacy that Jesus bequeathed to his immediate followers and which they have bequeathed to us, the Church, especially the Church leaders.
Finally, what is more fundamental in this respect is the reaction that the preaching and actions of Jesus produced. It is an uncontestable fact that Jesus was executed as a political agitator (Luke 23:2ff). This is to say, in contemporary parlance, that Jesus "conscietized" both the poor and the rich (the oppressors and the oppressed) about their respective oppressive and dehumanizing situations. But he did more. While quite clearly rejecting political power to himself (Matthew 4:8-10), he nevertheless confronted and denounced, in no uncertain terms, its misuse by those in power in his day. In our day, our religious leaders have succeeded in not challenging the oppressive system. Our religious leaders have ignored the escalating violence, gross human rights abuse, manipulation of social and political systems. Church leaders have neglected the adulteration of the dignity of man and woman in Zimbabwe, yet pretend to be the messengers of the Word. Unlike Jesus, our religious leaders have sought comfort and ‘peace’ by not challenging the known sources of violence and oppression. Speak out and defend the dignity of the people, and the time for this is now!
Meet you at the Million People March, unless you are a hypocrite!
Capulet B. Chakupeta
Harare, (Street Pastor).