After the British-sponsored Lancaster House agreement, most whites and some black Christian leaders regarded the ensuing political battle between Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe Africa National Council (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union as one between the forces of Christianity and atheistic Communism. They strongly felt a vote for Mugabe would be a vote for the abolition of Christianity and only a vote for the bishop would ensure the continuation of Christianity in Zimbabwe.
The fears of these whites and black church leaders were not unfounded. In its campaign ZANU had expressed that its ideology was Marxist. Its guerrillas were armed by Communist countries and called each other “comrade.” The fact that some ZANU guerrillas had stopped church services and burned Bibles, saying that the teachings of the Bible were subversive to their socialist doctrines, added weight to the belief that ZANU espoused a Russian-style atheistic Marxism.
Before and during the elections, right-wing Christian groups and anti-Communist organizations had a heydey. They published all kinds of literature on the evils of Communism and the suffering awaiting Zimbabwe Christians in the event of a ZANU win at the polls. The press reproduced a ZANU calendar that omitted Christian holidays, and claimed that if Robert Mugabe came to power Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide would be abolished to be replaced by Marxist nationalist holidays.
The then Rhodesia-Zimbabwe prime minister, Bishop Muzorewa, told a public rally that a ZANU government would turn all churches into army barracks and that all people associated with the church would be brought before a military tribunal. He claimed his information had come from ZANU literature.
ZANU officials strongly denied that their party was anti-Christian. They pointed to their manifesto, which said: “The right of a person to believe in religion is a fundamental freedom. Accordingly, a ZANU government will respect and promote the role of the church and avoid completely interfering with the spiritual work of the church. The church and the state must thus feature as partners in the promotion of the welfare of human beings.”
Both Patriotic Front leaders Mugabe and Nkomo strongly denied that they were anti-Christian. The ZANU treasurer-general, Enos Nkala, claimed in a statement to the press that his party “was as Christian as Bishop Muzorewa, except for the collar.” He emphasized that the party was not antichurch, but many still remained skeptical.
Since Mugabe is a member of the Roman Catholic church and Nkomo is a Methodist lay preacher, the leaders of Zimbabwean denominations invited them to explain their stand on religion.
At a meeting, Nkomo and Simon Muzenda, vice-president of ZANU, repeatedly gave assurances that a government led by them would not interfere in ecclesiastical matters. Muzenda pointed out that there were few people in the country who did not owe their education to Christian missionaries. During the meeting, when asked by the church leaders to pray, Muzenda prayed for the blessings of law and order, justice and peace.
Some church leaders believed the appeals of these political leaders; others did not. They claimed that the assurances were just a political gimmick to gain Christian votes. Indeed, those who believed the politicians were accused of being naîve and ignorant of the facts.
When ZANU was swept into power with an overwhelming majority, some Christians prepared themselves for, and resigned themselves to, harassment and persecution. Others immediately pledged their support to the new government.
After waiting anxiously to see who would be elected president of the new nation, Christians were pleasantly surprised to hear of the election by Parliament of a Methodist minister, Canaan Banana, as president of Zimbabwe.
Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa of the Roman Catholic church accepted an invitation to pray and ask God’s blessing on the new nation as the British flag was lowered and the Zimbabwe flag hoisted during the conferring of independence by Prince Charles.
The next day Prime Minister Mugabe, the self-confessed Marxist, astonished and delighted many Christians by attending an interdenominational church service at which evangelical Bishop Hatendi of the Anglican church preached.
In an interview with Time magazine, which was also published in Zimbabwe, Mugabe explained his party’s policies and principles. “There are certain socialist principles we have that derive from Marxism,” he said; “but certain others derive from our own traditions—communal land ownership, for example. The concept of oneness, collective belonging, and ownership is as Marxist as it is a humanitarian concept. So what are condemned as Marxist principles are also humanitarian principles.
“In the case of Christian principles, Marxism, I suppose, vitiates Christianity in its being doggedly materialistic without allowing the role of a Supreme Being. The Christian would rather see order, where everything is by the hand of God, than a dialectical process. That is a fundamental difference in terms of socialist and spiritual thinking and belief, and this is where you must allow the freedom of conscience.”
After being sworn in as prime minister, Mugabe evidenced an exemplary attitude. He urged all Zimbabweans to forgive and forget the past and to love each other as brothers and sisters belonging to one nation. Missions are being urged to continue and to expand their work in the country.
In an interview, Bishop Joshua Dube of the United Baptist Church—an evangelical, one of the country’s finest biblical expositors, and a member of Parliament in Mugabe’s government—said, “We Africans have to be ourselves. We have to follow the dictates of our own culture and political realities. One does not have to be a capitalist to be a Christian. In fact, socialism is nearer the Christian ideal than the capitalism which enslaved and exploited our people for so long until they had to resort to violence to liberate themselves.”
Asked by this reporter how he as a Christian could justify the use of violence by the Patriotic Front, the bishop said, “This war was justified. Fighting was the only way to smash the evil and unchristian system we were living under. History, even biblical history, is full of God’s people going to war, with a clear conscience, to fight against satanic forces and to establish their national freedom and integrity. White Zimbabwean Christians are the ones who should be ashamed and repentant. They are the ones who supported the evil racist system and forced us to take up guns. If they had practiced true Christianity, the loss of life would have been unnecessary. You know yourself that we tried all peaceful means, but failed.”
Asked how he would justify the killing of missionaries, the burning of Bibles, and the stopping of church services by ZANU members, Bishop Dube responded, “I do not justify that, though unfortunate incidents are to be expected in a war situation. After the elections I had a number of former guerrillas come to stay with me. I asked them why they did these things. Their answers showed that they had no specific orders from our high command. However, they equated Christianity with colonialism. Some of them explained that while they were in the bush some missionaries told the Christians to have no part in the revolution. They forbade them to feed and clothe us, who were fighting for their freedom. We therefore had to eliminate them because they collaborated with the enemy. Some of the missionaries were inducted into the army as reserves and actively fought against us. These had to be eliminated, for they were the enemy.”
Asked what these guerillas thought of the churches now, in view of the party manifesto that encourages the active role of the church, Dube answered, “Many are indeed regretful and remorseful. I talked to a group from the evening until 2 A.M. the next morning. I explained to them that Christianity has nothing to do with capitalism, imperialism, or even democracy. I told them that Christianity is the message of God reaching down to sinful man and offering him free salvation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, full stop. Nothing more, nothing less. And you know what? Some of them decided to become Christians, and I went to church with them the next day. The sickness of Christianity here was that whites used it to support the cruel minority status quo.”
Dube believes that Zimbabwe is on the threshold of a spiritual revival that will sweep across this scenic country, which a few months ago was a bloody battlefield.
It appears that Christianity is alive and well in Zimbabwe. Some still skeptical Christians, however, have chosen to take a wait-and-see attitude.
There is intense speculation in Latin America on how the papal prohibition on political activities by Roman Catholic priests, as announced in North America, may be applied there. More than 100 priests are estimated to have played roles in guerrilla movements over the past two decades. Two priests now hold cabinet posts in Nicaragua. A Vatican spokesman has stated that the “role of the priest is to be an evangelizer and not a politician. But political roles can be justified in a temporary manner in special circumstances.”
The South African Council of Churches announced last month the appointment of an independent auditor after internal auditors failed to account for the use of more than $900,000 during 1978. The funds unaccounted for were part of a relief fund established in 1976 after the first disturbances in Soweto and were to be used to relieve hardship of those involved in the unrest. The money came primarily from overseas churches. A former council employee, Bishop Isaac Moekoena, was recently charged with fraud, and dismissed.
Most of the 25 United Methodist missionaries and their families left Liberia last month after Bishop Bennie D. Warner threatened from the neighboring Ivory Coast to overthrow the new regime. Warner, vice-president of the ousted Tolbert government, escaped assassination because he was attending the UM General Assembly (May 23, p. 42). Warner left the assembly April 22, and announced a government in exile from the Ivory Coast on April 28. He surfaced on April 30, in Houston, Texas, where he insisted he had not been in Africa since his arrival in Indiana for the UM General Assembly. Confronted on May 2 with a tape recording of his Ivory Coast news conference remarks, Warner admitted he had lied. Deciding his countercoup plan was not feasible, he applied for U.S. asylum.
“Perhaps the world’s worst refugee problem” is what the United Nations High Commission for Refugees calls the plight of nearly 1.5 million refugees from Ethiopia that have inundated Somalia. An average of 2,000 ethnic Somalis a day—overwhelmingly women and children—are entering Somalia, driven by Ethiopian air attacks on Somali camps in their territory and by drought. Well-run camps, administered by the UNHCR and the Somali government, house 680,000 of the refugees. Somalia, a poor country itself, is eager for more assistance such as that being provided by World Vision, Food for the Hungry, and the Mennonite Central Committee, including food, water, shelter, and medical care.
The son of Iran’s Anglican bishop was assassinated last month. Hassan Dehqani-Tafti’s 24-year-old son, Bahrain, was ambushed, shot, and killed by unidentified assailants while driving home from his college in Tehran. Last October the bishop himself, a long-time convert from Islam, was detained for several hours by armed members of the Islamic revolutionary committee in Esfahan.
Evangelical relief agencies and CARE have probably gotten more seed rice into the hands of Cambodian (Kampuchean) farmers than the ponderous UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross. According to the May 2 issue of the Far East Economic Review, the private agencies have delivered some 10,000 tons directly to farmers who have come to the western border—a haphazard but inexpensive and effective method. By contrast UNICEF and ICRC have shipped by sea and air 30,000 tons to Phnom Penh and the port of Kimpong Som at much greater expense. But the Review called its distribution “highly suspect” because of limited transport capability and other problems. In the race to deliver seed rice before the monsoon rains ended the planting season this month, World Relief Corporation with World Concern, Compassion, the Mennonite Central Committee, and TEAR Fund of England have used the western “land-bridge.” World Vision has participated in air delivery to Phnom Penh.
Christian contacts with China are inching forward. This month Seattle, Washington-based World Concern sent a medical team to Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province at the invitation of its public health officials. The team delivered donated medical equipment and performed demonstration surgeries, and lectured in hospitals and medical schools. Goshen (Indiana) College has negotiated the first student exchange program with the University of China at Ch’eng-tu (Chengdu) in Szechwan (Sichuan) Province. After studying the Mandarin dialect this summer, 20 students will spend their study-service trimester (August through December) in the People’s Republic. In return, eight Chinese teachers of English will study at Goshen for a full academic year.
Vladimair Poresh, cofounder of Christian Seminar, has been sentenced by Soviet authorities to five years in labor camp and three years in internal exile. Poresh, 31, was editor of the Russian Orthodox group’s journal, Obshcina (“Community”). Arrested last August, he was charged with anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, and sentenced in Leningrad in April. Poresh was raised in an intellectual, atheistic family and both his parents are members of the Communist Party. But his views changed after he went to Leningrad University. He was baptized in 1974 by Dimitri Dudko (now also imprisoned and awaiting trial).
North American Scene
The entire faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission has sent a letter to Reader’s Digest, protesting publication of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ads, which they called “Mormon deceptions.” They appealed for a ban on such ads, citing “truth in advertising” laws. Said the professors: “We wince when we see that reputable Reader’s Digest has been manipulated as an instrument for the proselytizing strategy of the LDS.… Reader’s Digest should separate itself from the spread of this heresy.”
Two surprise moves have radically altered the configuration of the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative-liberal skirmishing just before annual meetings this month in Saint Louis. Adrian Rogers, elected last year to his first one-year term as SBC president (presidents traditionally serve for two terms), faced no organized opposition. But last month the Memphis pastor announced he would not stand for reelection. He denied that his decision was linked to the controversy surrounding a biblical inerrancy coalition that championed his election. The coalition, pledged to cleanse the SBC of “creeping liberalism,” has been headed by Judge Paul Pressler of Houston and Paige Patterson, associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. Last month First Baptist Pastor W. A. Criswell announced that Patterson was withdrawing from leadership of the coalition.
Two Roman Catholic priests have dropped out of U.S. congressional races in obedience to directives relayed from Pope John Paul II. They are incumbent Robert Drinan (D. Mass.), a Jesuit, and Robert J. Cornell of Wisconsin, a former congressman and a Norbertine. The Pope is not opposed to social activism, but believes that ordained clergy should focus on moral issues and avoid partisan entanglements. A spokesman for Apostolic Delegate Jean Jadot, the Pope’s representative in Washington, acknowledged that “in the strictest sense” the directive does not apply to nuns and will be enforced only for elective office. “But,” he said, “the spirit of the [church canon] law is another matter.”
CHRISTIANITY TODAY was named Periodical of the Year for 1980 by the Evangelical Press Association at its annual convention last month in Chicago. Will Norton, Jr., chairman of the University of Mississippi Department of Journalism, whose faculty did the judging, said that “no other publication has shown the depth and balance of CHRISTIANITY TODAY in providing personality features, trend articles, and fresh news articles.” Awards of excellence by magazine categories were also made: denominational, The Banner; organizational, Decision; youth, HIS; missionary, World Vision; Christian education, Youth and Christian Education Leadership; Sunday school take-home, Freeway.
The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. last month sued Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church for withdrawing, seeking control of its property, records, and name. Three other churches also left the Philadelphia Presbytery during the last three months. One is the 250-member Korean United Church of Philadelphia, which voted overwhelmingly to secede. The presbytery’s fastest growing congregation, it was about to purchase its own center-city church building. Pastor I. Henry Koh reported that members refused to contribute to the building fund after the ownership issue arose. Although that was the issue that “forced” the church to leave at this time, Koh and his elders perceived the denomination as “drifting towards liberalism.”
A son of atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair apologized publicly for his part in the “destruction of the moral fiber” of American youth last month. In a letter published in the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, 33-year-old William J. Murray deplored “the part I played as teen-ager [named as plaintiff in the 1963 suit] in removing prayer from public schools,” calling it “criminal.” He said he deeply regretted his part in streamlining the operation of Mrs. O’Hair’s Society of Separationists in Austin and in editing “her anti-God magazine.”
Carl F. H. Henry was elected president of the American Theological Society last month. Former editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Henry is currently lecturer at large with World Vision International.
Acquitted of murder conspiracy charges last November, Fort Worth millionaire T. Cullen Davis last month stepped to the front of the First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas, declaring publicly his decision to place his faith in Christ. Davis, who has been at the center of three sensational trials in the past four years, was introduced in March to evangelist James Robison by Jim Bradshaw, a Fort Worth candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. His third wife, Karen, said that three intensive weeks of ministry by Robison and others preceded Davis’s decision.
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