Pastoral Letter June 2008
Mt 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
There are two words which catch my attention in this passage connected to the environment we live in: Persecution and falsehood. The word falsehood according to Webster’s Dictionary means “lack of accuracy, deception, lying, incapable of telling the truth”. Persecution according to the same dictionary means “to afflict or harass constantly so as to injure or distress, oppress cruelly, especially for reasons of religion, politics or race”.
In his second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul describes a similar situation whereby he says, “Five times I received from the Jews the 40 lashes minus one, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers”. (11:24-46)
Matthew is writing his gospel when the small Christian community was falsely accused of being a forbidden sect that was doing things contrary to Jewish rituals. Sometimes they were accused of being cannibals eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood at their gatherings. Some of the accusers knew very well that there wasn’t such a thing as drinking blood and eating human flesh, but to simply say Christians were practising cannibalism was enough reason to persecute them. The source of persecution therefore is falsehood.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of me”.
In Zimbabwe today falsehood has almost become a national disease. Some newspapers and electronic media thrive on spreading falsehoods. They twist the truth for falsehood. All forms of persecution – torture, killings, arrests are done by those for whom falsehood has become a doctrine that keeps them to sustain their status quo.
Persecution meted against the powerless has existed as long as human beings have been around. It causes untold material loss and human suffering. No one chooses or wishes to suffer. Members of our Diocese are being persecuted on allegations by former members of our church that they are gays, lesbians or MDC. Some politicians and police officers have embraced thes allegations as truth and are out there to persecute the church of God. Our church buildings remain locked and are declared no-go areas by the police. Some police officers implementing the so-called “directives from above” have gone to the extent of forbidding us to pray even under a tree “because we are gays, lesbians or MDC”.
My dear sisters and brothers
The Bible tells us that the truth shall make us free. I invite you therefore to stand for the truth, shame the devil and shun falsehood. Falsehood they say thrives only for a short time, and shame remains attached to a liar like a shadow that departs only when one dies. For us in this Diocese falsehood levelled against us has a meaning, i.e. our faith is being put to the test. Those who are not strong enough will fall away.
The sight of helmeted riot police in front of our churches preventing the faithful from praying will go down as a shameful chapter in the history of our country which considers itself to be Christian. After all it is carried out by people who themselves are members of various denominations.
According to Matthew there is a reward given to those who stand firm and are prepared to accept the inconvenience of worshipping outside their church buildings, in private homes, schools halls, swimming pools and under trees. The suffering that we are going through becomes the fruit of courageous witness to our faith in Jesus who himself was falsely condemned to death. We believe in a God who has power to create something new that can burst out at his own chosen time – therein lies our hope. Meanwhile we remain steadfastly faced with people who have an astonishing capacity to fabricate falsehood and have become blind, aggressive, destructive and vicious. As it is said in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.”
Let us carry on with our pilgrimage. God – Immanuel – is with us.
Finally I have both bad and good news to share with you:
We could not celebrate our annual Bernard Mizeki festival this year because some former members of our church under the leadership of Kunonga made sure we could not get near the shrine for the whole of June. This was not because they have devotion or love for Bernard Mizeki, to the contrary. We are, however, grateful to the Bishop of Lebombo in Mozambique who provided an alternative venue at Bernard Mizeki’s Church, Chimoio where some of our pilgrims were able to go and join our sisters and brothers there in commemorating Bernard Mizeki Day.
The good news is that we continue to be supported and prayed for by many parts of the Anglican Communion. Apart from a message of solidarity and prayers from the Archbishop of Canterbury, we had three visitors in the past month, namely:
· the Bishop of Massachusetts, Tom Shaw, sent by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America
· the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba
· the Bishop of Tonbridge from the Diocese of Rochester.
All came to stand by us and have first hand experience of what we are going through in this Diocese. The presence of these brother bishops in our midst made us feel connected with the wider Anglican Communion and indeed the body of Christ. We would like to thank many of our brothers and sisters beyond our national boundaries who are holding us in their prayers and enable us to carry on with our mission to witness to the gospel of Christ.
18 June 2008