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'Churches cannot appoint or depose Mugabe'

18 Jun 2016 at 10:50hrs | Views
Over the past few weeks some church leaders have raised their heads over the political parapet commenting on socio-economic issues that Zimbabwe is facing and some of them last week convened a Press briefing calling for change of leadership in the country.

Leading cleric and veteran of national political engagements for the last two decades, Reverend Andrew Wutawunashe (AW), who is also chairman of Faith for the Nation Campaign, counsels that it is not the duty of the church to anoint or depose leaders but to act as advisors as well as offer prayers and guidance.

He also tells Political Editor Tichaona Zindoga (TZ) that churches must not act as political NGOs and pressure groups to impress their paymasters . . .

TZ: Zimbabwe is currently experiencing socio-economic challenges that have given rise to political voices in the church. Some church leaders met last week and made pronouncements regarding the politics of the country. You are a church leader, what is your assessment of these pronouncements?
AW: I must begin by commenting that problems in this nation, political, social and economic, have been a frequent occurrence in the history of our nation. I must make the observation that President Mugabe has acquitted himself well in many seasons of national crisis.

Whether it was seasons of economic crisis because of sanctions and other reasons; or it was political crisis or political dis- unity, it took bold steps of negotiating and coming to unity with people like Father Zimbabwe (Joshua Nkomo). Even in recent times when there were problems with the opposition, he took bold steps in coming up with solutions of even co-governing with his opponents.

The problems the nation has at the moment are much smaller than the problems that the President has surmounted and solved or led the solution of. And those problems were political, they were social, and they were economic. I might even dare to say that they were religious because even the churches themselves have really benefited from the stance of the President to facilitate the worship of God in this nation and to uphold religious freedom in every way that he could in his position as leader of the nation.

I must make the observation and say that when we look at the situation in comparison to today, yes, admittedly we do have problems, problems of cash shortages and other economic problems but these pale in their size and significance compared to the rivers that we have crossed thus far.

It actually baffles me as to why the answer and the solution in the view of certain church leaders to the problems now should be a stepping down of the President. It makes no sense. But, on the other hand, what I really feel we should be looking at as church leaders, we need to really redirect ourselves to look more carefully at the Word of God and what the role of the Church is in a nation as sanctioned by God.

The sanction of the Church comes from the Word of God, it does not come from populism or anything else. It must concur with the requirements of scripture and the direction of the scripture. The Church clearly does not have a mandate from God either to appoint or to depose the leader of a nation.

The role of the church, according to the Word of God, makes it very clear that it is God who appoints leaders, it is God who lifts up one and puts down another. So the role of the Church as put very clearly in the scriptures should be, first of all when God has appointed leadership, to affirm that leadership.

The affirmation of the Church to leadership, particularly leadership which also affirms godliness is a very important and critical issue for the cohesiveness and the unity of a nation. In the statement that was made by the churches, for example, there were concerns about factionalism but the statements themselves end up reducing the Church to a faction, which is not according to the scriptures.

So since there is a leadership with a leader appointed by God, a duly elected leader on top of that, if you want to look at democratic values, when the Church plays its role, it prays for that leader, affirms that leader, to be able also to affirm where he has done well and, thirdly, if the Church sees problems and has certain counsel that it sees it can provide as a solution to the problem, the role of the the Church is then a prophetic role.

The prophetic role is not to go to the public and pull down the leaders of a nation. The prophetic role of the Church is to engage the leader. Sit down in confidentiality, which is really a tenet of even our Afro-Christian consensus of our culture.

The Church is really in our council of elders and in our council of elders then the church should go behind closed doors with the President, sit down with him and bare all its concerns and recommendations and what it sees as solutions to any problems that are there.

And if it feels that it has any contributions that it can make, it then goes ahead to make those contributions.

TZ: Now you are the same body of the Church, how do we explain some organisations or church representatives taking a divergent role from what you are calling the prophetic role?
AW: I think there is a problem in Zimbabwe of the failure to distinguish between the role of non-government organisations, which have got paymasters to impress overseas, and these deal with the Government by posturing to the gallery and putting positions which are critical and have no nuance of patriotism.

When the Church gets confused by that thrust of the NGOs, it then tends to imitate them. What then happens is they also begin to speak exactly like those people, they are not engaging the leadership of the nation. They are speaking things which in the end become useless because they are not directing advice in confidence and contributing to solutions but are posturing to the gallery and impressing certain trendy opposition positions.

But then that is where the problem is and this is what I as the chairman of the Faith for the Nation Campaign, which is also an umbrella body for churches and which feels that the Church should be playing an important role in the cohesiveness and unity of the nation. I would like to speak into that and say to the leadership which has called for the stepping down of the President that it is not the biblical way.

We also as members, we have not heard this call coming from the churches or from cells. My own church, for example, and the few other churches I know which are members of some of those organisations, we didn't make any resolutions of that nature to say the President must step down.

TZ: Which leads us to the question that has historical and current relevance: Should the church not raise critical issues, because certain churches in different contexts have been accused of being complicit in support of the status quo?
AW: I think our own record or my own record in the affairs of the nation as a man of God has not been compliant in things that are of concern, but it has been engagements. I do not believe you can engage the leaders of a nation and the decision-makers through a newspaper or through calls that are clearly directed to the public.

For example, one day, an opposition party marches and says the President must step down, then the following week church leaders arrive and say, President step down. That is not engagement. So I feel that far from being complicit, I am not calling for anyone to support the status quo, but I am calling on people to apply biblical principles in their engagement of rulers and leaders of the nation.

When we apply those principles we are all safe because we are doing things in a godly way. If anybody feels within the Church that somebody is a tyrant, we should go to the tyrant and tell the tyrant you are a tyrant and propose our prophetic idea, for example. I am not advocating in anyway that leaders should not be counselled and corrected.

Leaders have enough critics, that is the role of opposition parties. They have their own critics; they have people who will decry them. If the Church then takes the same role, and yet in the Bible, the Bible does not give the Church a mandate, incidentally even though we have to adapt to democracy, the Bible does not give the Church a mandate towards opposition political systems or anything.

It gives the Church a mandate towards the leadership, towards kings as it were, to be the counsellors and the assessors. So if the Church feels that there is anything wrong with a leader, the very first thing that the Church should do is not to purport to speak on behalf of a mass or anything, but to engage that leader. Incidentally, that leader is also a member of the Church, he/she is also a human being needing counsel from his/her spiritual overseers.

So that is why this is not being complicit, it is actually far from that. We seek to see that the voice of the Church does not end up being confused by the leader himself with the voice of his adversaries. Even if indeed our aim is to counsel wisdom and constructively help him to embrace and get corrected, the gallery is not the place to do it from.

TZ: Now coming to the present, what should the Church do to help to heal Zimbabwe in terms of the economy, socially and politically?
AW: Maybe before I address that, let me also address the issue of those leaders calling on the President to step down. This is on the backdrop of nearly a million, mostly young people, who on their platform were saying prayers, singing church songs, who are of course drawn from the church, massively demonstrating their support for the President in a democratic nation and showing that they are backing him.

In a way in that Million-Man March they became exemplary in a situation where fractiousness threatens the nation. They simply said, we cannot have unity unless we rally around a leader because the source of unity is always a leader. Now a church must learn to notice things like that and to affirm them and to have them in sync with what is coming also from the people because those people are of the Church.

Let me be bold enough to tell you that the people in the Million- Man March, the vast majority of them were church people. Even the culture we saw on that platform was a church culture and the unity that they achieved, we saw everybody sitting on that platform, the President, the Vice Presidents and others, in a show of unity and cohesiveness. It doesn't mean that there are no problems in the nation but it shows that some young people have made an effort to do their bit and the Church should notice that.

Now in the backdrop of that, the Church then goes another way and calls for something that is both dangerous and disregards completely the demonstration by the vast majority to back and support the President.

I feel actually that one of the most important things about the Church, the Church must be first of all be patriotic. It must not seek to be in a situation where it is trending with whatever is the modern way of opposing African politicians or African rulers.

That is not right because as the Church we are the salt of the earth. We must be part and parcel of our people and we should be sensitive to where they are going.

Coming to your question of what the Church's role should be seeing the problems we have. Given, as I said, that these problems are not news and they are not at their worst, we have been in worse situations before.

When the problems were there in the past, the first thing that the Church did was to loudly orchestrate a position of prayer and point to the Word of God. We pointed to 1 Kings 4 where Solomon was given wisdom to guide the nation economically so that everyone has an economic opportunity.

We said "Let's pray for our leadership that they may have the wisdom to do that". This in part is what gives birth to programmes like land redistribution. It is wisdom for a leader to realise that God regards the poor.

The first task of the Church is prayer and to direct the nation to say we have these problems, for example, if we have factions and disunity; if we have economic malaise and poverty; and if we have the problems of cash.

On Sunday, I called upon my church and said the Bible says in 1 Kings: "God gave Solomon wisdom to make silver and gold common in Israel." It means there was a cash shortage in Israel and God gave the man wisdom and solutions because the nation was looking to God in prayer.

In January, the President prayed for rain and rain came on the same day that we prayed for it. There is harvest today because the Church engaged this greatest of powers.

I would like to unequivocally say the organisations that are calling on us to ask the President to step down have not called us to prayer and it is ironic that the person who is calling us to prayer is the President again.

It is the President who is saying "Let us pray" and is not calling on us, church leaders, to step down for failure to make God move on things that should be in response to prayer. The response is to divine the solutions and mobilise the Christians to pray in churches.

The Church should be saying "Let us pray for our leaders to find the wisdom, for our leaders to find a solution to the cash problem, factionalism and disunity".

Ultimately, in the order of God, there is no anarchy. It is the leaders who have the clout to bring the solutions, not the Church being like a voice crying in the wilderness for the leadership to step down. So that is the second role.

I feel that the Church should convene think-tanks from many amply qualified people who are in the Church to come up with concrete ideas and contribute them and say: "A path like this could work."

The intervention of the Church leaders was sadly and glaringly lacking in any suggestion whatsoever of practical solutions. In the past, for example, when we had political conflict in 2002, I still remember leading delegations. I was asked to come and pray at the inauguration.

I would say to the President: "You are a leader. The answer now is sit down with your opponents." And we would go and engage him in that and engage the opposition in that. In the end, there was a handshake. It did not come because of asking someone to step down. It came because of proffering solutions. So I feel that these things must really be the role of the Church. And then, of course, the Church should very clearly preach the biblical principles of productivity. The future of the nation comes from a synergy, from the message of the Church and the rulers of the Church. That is what the Bible teaches us. The roles which are constructive are there for the Church.

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