Friday, June 27, 2008

Zimbabwe: 'We are being persecuted.'

Date: Friday 27 June 2008
Subj: Zimbabwe: "We are being persecuted."
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

"Religious freedom" that is conditional on being a member of the State religion is clearly not religious freedom. "Religious freedom" that does not permit conversion is not religious freedom. Likewise, "religious freedom" that is conditional on political allegiance is not religious freedom.

What began in 2001 as government interference in Anglican affairs has developed into religious liberty abuse so severe and violent that "dissident" Anglicans -- that is most Anglicans -- in the capital, Harare, now risk death to meet together. And there is no reason to believe that Mugabe's religious repression and persecution will end with the Anglicans of Harare. If Mugabe manages to steal the election and take control of the Anglican churches of Harare he will doubtless move to control all churches of all denominations nationwide.

As policy analyst Dr J Peter Pham comments, "Mugabe's dealings in recent years with Zimbabwean Anglicans highlight the totalitarian trajectory of his rule." (Link 1)

There is a huge amount of anxiety over what will eventuate after 27 June 08 -- the day slated for the run-off presidential election. With religious liberty already being so seriously violated, what does the future hold? If Mugabe retains power, will everyone who does not worship according to his dictates be deprived of food, incarcerated or murdered? Will Christians who want to worship the Lord be forced to meet in secret "underground" house churches, while the dictator points to State-run cathedrals and says, "You are free to worship there!"


In Harare, thousands of Anglicans have been locked out of dozens of church properties. Why? Because the Anglican Church had the audacity (read: integrity and courage) to stand up to Mugabe's corrupt puppet-bishop, Rev Dr Nolbert Kunonga.


In 2001, Zimbabwean secret police secured the election of Nolbert Kunonga to the post of Anglican Bishop of Harare. Kunonga had been in the USA, teaching Liberation Theology in the Rev Sun Myung Moon's Unification Seminary in Barrytown, New York.

Dr Pham describes Kunonga's "election" as a "racially-charged campaign targeting the frontrunner for the episcopate, the white vicar-general of the diocese, Canon Tim Neill, who had earned the ire of the regime for denouncing its human rights abuses. (A letter from one government agency once warned the Oxford-trained cleric that he was 'applying for an early passport to hell.') Once enthroned at Harare's Cathedral of St. Mary and All Saints, Kunonga proceeded to turn his diocese into the 'religious' arm of ZANU-PF . . ." (Link 1)

Pham goes on to quote an April 2008 Christianity Today article by Anglican journalist and commentator Canon George Conger, which explains that after his election "Kunonga drove off the diocese's white Zimbabwean clergy and purged its ranks of those deemed disloyal to the regime, causing half of the African clergy to flee abroad. To fill empty pulpits, he began ordaining clergy without theological training – including some members of the secret police, Zimbabwe's vice president Joseph Msika, and two government cabinet ministers". (Full CT article: link 2)

Canon Conger was recently interviewed on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National "Religion Report". He told host Stephen Crittenden: "In 2003, a case was brought in Ecclesiastical Court against Dr Kunonga, charging him with a range of crimes from heresy to fraud, to inciting members of the secret police to murder ten of his clergy who were not toeing the line. A church trial was held in 2005 but the trial collapsed because the witnesses were afraid to return to Zimbabwe for fear of their lives." (Link 3)

But by October 2007, as courageous organised opposition was rising, Kunonga knew his power was waning. So, in a politically motivated stunt he moved to separate the diocese of Harare from the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa -- a grouping of dioceses in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe -- on the false claim that it was full of homosexuals. Canon Conger explains in Christianity Today: "In an interview with Voice of America on February 25, [Zimbabwean Bishop, Sebastian] Bakare said all of Zimbabwe's Anglican congregations had abandoned Kunonga, as had most of the clergy. There was 'no doubt' the schism was 'politically motivated', he said, as 'Kunonga wanted to deliver the Anglican diocese to ZANU-PF [Mugabe's political party]'."

Subsequently in November 2007 the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa removed Kunonga from his post as bishop of Harare on the grounds of schism. European-educated Rev Dr Sebastian Bakare (66), the former bishop of Manicaland (the region bordering Mozambique) was brought out of retirement to stand in for Kunonga. Kunonga challenged the Church's decision in Harare's High Court.

In January 2008 Harare's High Court upheld the Anglican Church's right to govern its own affairs, but ruled that Harare's Cathedral be shared between Kunonga and Bishop Bakare. On 10 February, Kunonga, in defiance of the court order, barricaded himself inside the Cathedral along with some 40 members of the ZANU-PF youth militia. In early May the Supreme Court dismissed Kunonga's appeal. Furthermore, Kunonga has now been formerly excommunicated by the dean of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.


State-orchestrated violence against Harare's Anglicans has since exploded. Mugabe's police have seized all the Anglican property in Harare and marked "dissident" Anglicans as traitors.

A New York Times report dated 16 May describes the violence: "The parishioners were lined up for Holy Communion on Sunday when the riot police stormed the stately St Francis Anglican Church in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital. Helmeted, black-booted officers banged on the pews with their batons as terrified members of the congregation stampeded for the doors, witnesses said.

"A policeman swung his stick in vicious arcs, striking matrons, a girl and a grandmother who had bent over to pick up a Bible dropped in the melee. A lone housewife began singing from a hymn in Shona, 'We will keep worshipping no matter the trials!' Hundreds of women, many dressed in the Anglican Mothers' Union uniform of black skirt, white shirt and blue headdress, lifted their voices to join hers.

"Beneath their defiance, though, lay raw fear as the country's ruling party stepped up its campaign of intimidation ahead of a presidential runoff. In a conflict that has penetrated ever deeper into Zimbabwe's social fabric, the party has focused on a growing roster of groups that elude its direct control -- a list that includes the Anglican diocese of Harare . . .

"At St Paul's Church in the Highfield suburb of Harare, the congregation refused to budge and kept singing 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo' when a dozen policemen entered the church on May 4. But the commander radioed for backup, and soon more than 50 riot police officers arrived, the church's wardens said.

"Hundreds of parishioners were then drummed out of the church to the deafening beat of baton sticks banging on pews. People began taking out their cellphones to photograph the policemen who had forced them out.

"The officers then charged into the scattering crowd, batons swinging. 'Even myself, they hit my hand,' said a stunned seamstress. 'They said, "Go back to your homes. You are not supposed to be here".' "

Bishop Bakare tells the New York Times: "As a theologian who has read a lot about the persecution of the early Christians, I'm really feeling connected to that history. We are being persecuted." (Link 4)

Massachusetts Episcopal Bishop M Thomas Shaw recently travelled to Zimbabwe on a "secret mission" to investigate and offer support to Zimbabwe's Anglicans. In an article published on 6 June, Bishop Shaw tells Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe that Anglican worshippers in Zimbabwe are routinely being arrested and beaten, churches are being padlocked by police, diocesan bank accounts have been frozen, and clergy vehicles are being seized.

Paulson reports: "Shaw said Zimbabweans told him that beatings, jailings, and intimidation by police using dogs and batons have become routine elements of Anglican life in Harare, the country's capital. He said one priest told him he has to sleep in a different home each night because of threats to his life; another priest was arrested the day after having lunch with Shaw, apparently for refusing to surrender a parish car. Shaw said he was told about a 9-year-old boy beaten in church, among many other stories of persecution and physical assault by government officials.

"'They [the government] literally have taken over all the [Anglican] property -- people have access to the property during the week, but on the weekends, when church is supposed to take place, if they go into the church to pray or to hold services, there are riot police that are there immediately,' he said. 'They've confiscated rectories. . . . They've tried to confiscate all of the parish vehicles, and it's practically impossible to buy a car or rent a car in Zimbabwe now, because of all the shortages, and so they take a car and they literally paralyse the priest from doing the pastoral ministry and taking care of people.'

"Speaking of a May 18 incident, Shaw said, 'There were between 80 or 90 riot police that came into this church to break up the congregation, and these people refused to leave, and even though it was a very threatening atmosphere, they just stayed there and prayed and sang hymns together for over two hours while the police were threatening them and pounding on pews and there were police dogs.'

"'Sunday I went to this really poor township, and over 400 people were worshipping in this yard of this person's house, spilling out into the road,' he said. 'It was an unbelievable experience. The enthusiasm, the joy that these people have is pretty profound.'" (Link 5)

Today the Anglican churches in Harare are locked to all but those who support Mugabe and his puppet-bishop, Kungona. The situation for "dissident" Anglicans is further complicated by the fact that in mid May, police invoked security laws and broadened the ban of public rallies to included public prayer meetings. Pastor Useni Sibanda, a spokesperson for the group called Churches in Bulawayo, told Ecumenical News International on 20 May, "We were told last week that churches are no longer allowed to hold prayer meetings in the open except on church premises." (Link 6) This is a difficult thing to do when you are locked out of your church.

On 20 June the Anglican Journal reported: "In recent weeks, police have raided offices of human rights and church groups, including the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe, and Ecumenical Support Services, and arrested a number of their workers. After the attorney general refused to prosecute those arrested, they were cleared of charges and released." (Link 7)


In early June, the Bishops of the Province of Central Africa issued a "Pastoral Message" in which they express their deep concern and dismay at the marked escalation in violence and called upon the perpetrators of violence to respect the law.

"As bishops we are also pained to hear that members of the Anglican Diocese of Harare are being denied to pray in their church buildings. We are concerned that their right to worship enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe as well as the Article 18 of the UN Charter on Human Rights is being violated. This mirrors the persecution of Christians of the Early Church and in this context we remind the perpetrators that now as then God still triumphs over evil.

"As bishops, we pray that the right of the people of Zimbabwe as spelled out in the constitution be upheld, that the judicial system as a reservoir of integrity, without respect of persons in its judgment and ruling, be guided by the spirit of justice and equity. That the law enforcement agents carry out their professional duties to defend shared values. The political parties respect the will of the people regardless of whether the results of the elections are in their favour or not.

"We offer this prayer for sanity and resolve to bring all people in Zimbabwe to the realisation that we are all God's children, created in His image to love one another.

"As bishops we commend all God's children in Zimbabwe to His mercy that they may live in love, justice and peace.

"In closing we offer this prayer to all:

"Lord, you asked for my hands that you might use them for your purpose.
I gave them for a moment then withdrew them for the work was hard.
You asked for my mouth to speak out against injustice.
I gave you a whisper that I might not be accused.
You asked for my eyes to see the pain of poverty.
I closed them for I did not want to see.
You asked for my life that you might work through me.
I gave a small part that I might not get too involved.
Lord, forgive my calculated efforts to serve you
Only when it is convenient for me to do so,
Only in those places where it is safe to do so,
And only with those who make it easy to do so.
Father, forgive me, renew me
Send me out as a usable instrument
That I might take seriously the meaning of your cross." (Link 8)

This Pastoral Message and prayer was issued by the Bishops of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa. It was signed by 15 bishops, all of whom have a clearer image and more profound understanding of the cross of Jesus Christ now than they ever did previously. May the hopes of the Zimbabwean Church remain anchored in the knowledge that that cross is now empty, for the cross is not only a symbol of transitory suffering on the path to eternal glory, but of the redemption of suffering itself.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) Zimbabwe's Runoff Rip-off
J. Peter Pham, Ph.D. 24 June 2008

2) Thug Bishop
By George Conger, posted 3 April 2008

3) Zimbabwean Anglican excommunication
4 June 2008, Radio interview with Canon George Conger

4) Zimbabwe's Rulers Unleash Police on Anglicans
New York Times, 16 May 2008

5) Bishop finds flock tormented in Zimbabwe
Boston Globe, 6 June 2008

6) Zimbabwe police ban open-air prayer meetings
22 May 2008.

7) Churches call for prayers as election-related violence escalates in Zimbabwe
Ecumenical News International, 20 June 2008

8) Anglican Communion News Service. 3 June 2008
Pastoral Message issued by the Bishops of the Church of the Province of Central Africa
On the Crisis in Zimbabwe: "I Have Heard The Cry of My People"