Zimbabwe's Anglican Church gives a bad name to religion

May 31, 2011

The civil war that has taken place in the Zimbabwean Anglican church for some years now can only be described as bizarre. Regardless of which side is 'right,' it is astonishing to see the two sides go at each other with a ferocity that is usually only seen in politics.

From the outside looking in, there is very little to suggest that the warring factions are of composed of people who are members of the organization because of any sense of humbly seeking the divine.

There has in the last several years in Zimbabwe been an explosive growth in 'pentecostal' churches of many flavours. The depth and sincerity of their versions of faith have recently become a talking point as a result of the excesses of many of the 'new' indigenous churches.

Zimbabwe's 'old' directly-Europe (or US) descended churches are often thought of as losing ground to the new churches by being dull and increasingly out of touch with the energetic and 'charismatic' ways of worship of the pentecostal churches. But they were also regarded as being stable and 'responsible,' with training and accountability systems most of the new churches lack.

And then the Zimbabwean Church of England threw that popular stereotype out of the window by the outbreak of the sordid infighting that has raged for several years now.     
 the saga has had so many twists and turns that it has been hard to keep up with it. But Mugabe Ally Escalates Push to Control Anglican Church in the New York Times provides some of the background to the civil war.
The heading gives the story an overtly political angle that makes one question its objectivity from the beginning. Poor Mugabe has many sins to answer for, but I am not sure he can be blamed for the Church of England in Zimbabwe blowing itself to pieces like it is doing, although the shrewd politician would not be beyond taking advantage of it if given the opportunity.

But the church factional leader who is the subject of the article also gives a very poor accounting of himself as a supposed 'man of God.'


Nolbert Kunonga, an excommunicated Anglican bishop and staunch Mugabe ally, has escalated a drive to control thousands of Anglican churches, schools and properties across Zimbabwe and southern Africa.

“The throne is here,” declared Mr. Kunonga, who has held onto his bishopric here in the sprawling diocese of Harare through courts widely seen as partisan to Mr. Mugabe. He has also been backed by a police force answerable to the president, whom Mr. Kunonga describes as “an angel.”

Chad Gandiya, who was selected by the Anglican hierarchy in central Africa to replace Mr. Kunonga as bishop of Harare, said he was baffled by the support for Mr. Kunonga from state security services since the church that Bishop Gandiya leads is apolitical: “It’s not Kunonga we find at the church gates, it’s the police. It’s not Kunonga who drives us out, who throws tear gas at us, it’s the police. When we ask them why, they say they’re following orders.”

Anglican leaders here who have refused to submit to Mr. Kunonga’s authority say they have been subjected to death threats, spied on by state agents and blocked from worshiping in their churches or burying the dead in Anglican cemeteries.

In a three-hour interview in his office, Mr. Kunonga, a portly man with a gravelly voice, scoffed at the idea that he or his allies had sought to have anyone killed. In fact, if he had wanted anyone killed, he said, it would have been Bishop Gandiya, his rival as the legitimate bishop of Harare.

But there was no need for violence, Mr. Kunonga said, because he was already winning the legal battle to control church properties.

“You must have a very good reason to kill people,” he said. “Being a political scientist, I know who to eliminate if I wanted to physically, and to make it effective. I’m a strategist.”

Mr. Kunonga’s aim, he and his adviser, the Rev. Admire Chisango, said, is for their breakaway Anglican church to control about 3,000 churches, schools, hospitals and other properties in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi — a treasure accumulated since Anglican missionaries first arrived in what is now Zimbabwe during the 19th century.

Mr. Kunonga, who earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from Northwestern University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary outside Chicago, says that his success in controlling church properties is due to the persuasiveness of his legal arguments in court, not Mr. Mugabe’s influence.

“I’m superior intellectually and from a legal point of view,” he said. “I’m very superior to them.”

He vociferously supports Mr. Mugabe, and like many loyalists, he has been richly rewarded. The ZANU-PF government bestowed on him a prized commercial farm confiscated from white owners. Mr. Kunonga argued that his forebears had lived on that very spot for centuries and that he was just repossessing what was rightfully his.


Even taking into account the fact that Ms. Celia Dugger's husband Barry Bearak has been a 'guest' of a Zimbabwean police cell and would be no fan of anything to do with Mugabe, Kunonga comes off sounding extremely arrogant and sinister all by himself. 

The goings on in Zimbabwe's Anglican Church give a very bad image of the state of religion in Zimbabwe, unfairly or otherwise. The fighting is bad enough, but the attitude Kunonga displays; the open, boastful contempt he freely expresses for his disagreeing fellow church members is chilling.

Lord have mercy on Zimbabwe's lost, unchristian Church of England.

The Zimbabwe Review 


Post a Comment