When the Church Shares The Same Bed with Tyrannical Governments the People Suffer

The Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli taught us that the key to power is to hoard information. The best way to take advantage of people is for them not to know what is happening.

Most African governments have opted to control the flow of information in their countries so as to take advantage of their citizens. Corruption is rampant, bad governance, mismanagement of national resources is covered up as information on government and business deals are kept secret, or very little information is made available.

Nigeria is one example of a corrupt country but recently Zimbabwe has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. A recent shutdown of the internet and the long running stringent controls of the flow of information and the heavy handedness of the Zimbabwean government in dealing with dissenting opinions have drawn international focus on Zimbabwe. However, it is concerning that the church seems to be turning a blind eye on these abuses and violations of human rights.

When the government becomes the thief where do the citizens report?

Social science for eons has dealt with a hard and soft view of human nature, summarised in management literature as “Theory X” and “Theory Y.” While we would like to believe that people are naturally cooperative, want to make a difference and basically care about each other, we know that in larger and more impersonal relationships, people also can be exploitive and selfish. So, governance must harness people’s desire to cooperate and become involved with oversight that protects people from the actions of other. However, when the government and the church become the exploiters of the citizenry then we have a serious crisis. As is the case in Zimbabwe and indeed Nigeria which is in election mode right now.

More than often we see signs that our social institutions and organisations have lost their ability to accomplish key tasks, even as the urgency to do so rises. In fact, the intensity of feelings among different stakeholder groups seems to be a factor contributing to breakdown. More notedly, is how the church in Africa now seems to be competing with brutal governments in exploiting the poor and downtrodden.

The church has always held the governments to account

Indeed, the Christian church has always been involved in the transformation of society, especially as it took sides with the poor and oppressed. Worryingly, it seems the church has lost this focus, but somehow, throughout the ages, it has managed to sustain this mission responsibility. Today, more than ever, given the increasing poverty, violence and injustices particularly in Africa, the Christian church is called upon to embrace, engage and continue with its task of being an agent for transformation and change. The Church in Zimbabwe has been mute and largely inactive with regards speaking up for the poor. Lone voices have however, spoken up and stood up against tyranny. Some individual church leaders are doing the best they can to represent the church. Pastor Evan Mawarire has done his part in fighting for the people of Zimbabwe. While Doctor Sunday Adelaja has not only got involved in the political discourse in Nigeria, he has also castigated the abuse of congregates by church leaders.

The church must fulfil the gospel imperative of making the world a better place for all to live with justice, peace and harmony.

The Church must never condone human rights abuse

Citizens depend on large organisations, government, and community groups to accomplish large and complex tasks. But they cannot do that if they are paralyzed about the nature of their task and how to gather the resources they need and accomplish it. The differences and divisions in the body of Christ, the church have left them open to manipulation by the government. Thus, it is not clear who should decide, how the church should hold the government to account for human rights violations, and how to keep their focus and get things done without having to face the demands to change course.

Historically in Southern Africa for example the church has been involved in the establishment of society, though its contributions were not at all times positive.

Examples from South Africa

In South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church, in particular, used its economic and political power to secure the rights of the white minority, seriously impoverishing the majority black people in South Africa, and even providing theological justification for such economic and political policies by misinterpreting Calvin’s theology. This was evident in the policy of separate development which led to the rich white getting richer and the poor black getting poorer. This is a classic example of how Reformed theology was

used to perpetuate racial and economic injustice. Duchrow points out that we need to today understand and judge the theological positions of the Reformation and the resultant churches on the double criteria:

(1) are they life-enhancing?

(2) Do they follow the Bible in socio-historic precision, which means in terms of content, and contribute to liberation for justice?

This is precisely what Allan Boesak did in his academic contributions, preaching, church leadership and in his brief stint in politics. Particularly outstanding is his theological contributions and his pioneering efforts to interpret Reformed theology in the South African and African context. Given the devastating misinterpretation of Reformed theology and tradition in the justification of apartheid, Boesak managed to recapture the true essence of what Reformed theology is all about. His books Farewell to Innocence (1976) and Black and Reformed (1984), among others, are incredible attempts to cast a new light on Reformed theology while seriously engaging the black experience and context. This is further explored in his endeavour to connect the concept and quest for an African renaissance with Christian theology and faith which he does so well in his book The Tenderness of Conscience (2005).

Lessons from the past

In essence, living under apartheid the (ecumenical) church had no real choice but to fight for the majority of people who were poor and oppressed. In living out the gospel it attempted to transform society and enhance the quality of life of the poor and oppressed. In this sense the church has a history of being a transformation and change agent in South Africa.

In 1949, the Christian Council of South Africa (CCSA) started to protest against the apartheid laws imposed by the Nationalist Government in South Africa. In October 1954 a circular was sent to heads of churches and superintendents of missions to investigate their attitude towards the Bantu Education Act. The Committee believed that the Act would violate certain principles of education. This greatly stirred the Sharpeville incident in 1960, and the subsequent banning of black organisations. The result was the Cottesloe Consultation, led mainly by dissatisfied Reformed Christians reacting to racism, in December 1960 which attempted to address ‘Christian race relations and social problems in South Africa’.

Clearly, one can see from this that the CCSA was working towards the transformation of the human person and community, free from discrimination, racism, exploitation and oppression.

Assisted by the World Council of Churches, a Department of Inter-Church Aid was started in 1962, to collect and distribute funds for disaster relief and community development projects. In 1968 the CCSA became known as ‘The South African Council of Churches’ (SACC). The SACC became more and more a place where the Churches could witness together on the problems which faced them in South Africa – above all, the social and political problems produced by the government’s apartheid policy. They sought to address these as they witnessed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in South Africa.

Call a spade a spade

When the church comes together it can indeed, be a powerful agent of change and transformation. This is what Zimbabwe needs right now. Reverend Samuel Sifelani of the (Zimbabwe Council of Churches?) it’s time to call a spade a spade you cannot continue skirting around issues. The government has been on a murderous path and you should not burry your head in the sand with regards who is oppressing and killing the citizens.

The Church in Zimbabwe in particular and Africa in general needs leaders who side with the people. The trouble is the church has been overrun by charlatans who only care to line their own pockets even if that means sharing the bed with tyrannical governments.