ZHOCD is an Ecumenical Platform Not an Individual Person
….. In Response to Jamwanda’s Comments: An Insider Perspective
By Dr Tinashe Gumbo
My Ecumenical Background
I have been in the ecumenical movement for almost two decades now. I got to know that ecumenism, is when Christians who belong to different Christian denominations work together to develop closer relationships among their members for the promotion of Christian unity. In an ecumenical platform, key decisions are made collectively and once in the public domain, no one member can be singled out as having been the sole decider over an issue. This is what happens in the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD). Reader, you may also want to note the existence of other ecumenical platforms beyond Zimbabwe, such as the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA); All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC), in order to fully appreciate the work of ecumenical bodies.
This brief article is motivated a) indirectly by my obligation to educate the public about ecumenism in Zimbabwe b) directly by the need to respond to the words of one, Jamwanda, whose twitter account is purported to be run by a Senior Public Official, regarding the latest ZHOCD Statement on the partial reopening of Churches. While the statement was generally accepted by the public as objective and evidence-based, one, Jamwanda singled out Rev Dr Kenneth Mtata and unfairly attacked his person over the same statement. Yet, the statement in question is a collective product of ZHOCD not a single leader.
The views expressed here are purely mine and should not be linked to any institution associated with my name professionally, academically or socially. However, I need to indicate that if indeed, Jamwanda’s account is run by the purported Official, it is very unfortunate because I admired the Official so much as I was growing up because of his intellectual capacity. Today, I felt compelled to respond to some utterances channelled through this twitter account.
The ZHOCD is an ecumenical platform that brings together four mother bodies namely theZimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), and the Union of the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa (UDACIZA). Together, these Christian bodies represent more than 80% of the Zimbabwean population (ZHOCD Consensus Call Proposal, 2021). This makes it a major player in Zimbabwe’s public life. The platform has its origins in the Heads of Denominations (HoD), a loose coalition established in the early missionary periods when the various heads of denominations came together to coordinate their policy in engagement with the state and in sharing perspectives on how missionary work could be executed.
The current leadership of the ZHOCD makes decisions collectively and by consensus. The political leadership (the Bishops: Mangwiro, Khanye, Muparutsa and Ndlovu) and the General Secretaries offer policy guidance to the Church in Zimbabwe on critical national issues affecting the membership including public health.
The ZCBC is the current Chair of the ZHOCD through Arch Bishop Ndlovu, being deputised by the EFZ represented by Bishop Muparutsa while the ZCC is the Secretariat. The greatest strength of the platform is its geographical and numerical spread. The local structures of the ZHOCD are known by various names within the respective ecumenical bodies. These are local ecumenical fellowships, local peace committees, ecumenical environment champions, ecumenical health champions, ecumenical communicators and ecumenical researchers. These are dotted across the country, ready to inform any key ZHOCD national decision. The technical team of the platform offers the technical support to the local structures as they fulfill their daily tasks.
Ecumenical COVID-19 Work
When the world was hit by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the Church quickly consulted its members through the ecumenical bodies for a thorough scenario mapping exercise. This informed how the Church would prepare its membership and the public at large in dealing with COVID-19. The Church went on to raise awareness in order to prevent the spread of the virus. The leadership of the Church has continued to encourage members to be fully vaccinated and remain compliant to all COVID-19 protocols. This was and is being extensively done through the Church structures and its networks including the media.
The Church further implemented its treatment care and support interventions through provision of pyscho social support to its members as well as materially supporting its mission hospitals with protective personal equipment. WASH and other humanitarian interventions were fulfilled. Meanwhile, the Church also assisted the public through analysing and simplifying the various key policy and legal instruments crafted and implemented by the Government. It further offered to give policy support through participation in official structures such as the COVID-19 Taskforces at local level. Above all, the Church coordinated its members across the country for effective and efficient response to the pandemic including turning Church premises into COVID-19 Isolation centres. This work has continued for almost a year and a half now. This background information is crucial for one to understand the latest ZHOCD statement on partial reopening of Churches.
Statement on Partial Opening of Churches
On the 11th of August 2021, the Government announced that Churches could physically meet for worship on condition that only those fully vaccinated should be in attendance and that services are conducted with full compliance to the World Health Organisation regulations. The Church responded through a statement advising its members to comply. However, the communication was also meant to make some recommendations to the Government based on some clear theological and practical considerations made through consultation with the congregants. The Church communication was well received by stakeholders, including the Government, media, private actors and individuals.
However, Jamwanda decided to take a different route through his or “her” social media account. As cited in one of the online publications, Jamwanda responded to the statement through a direct and personal attack of one of the Clergymen within the ZHOCD ranks and files, Rev Mtata who is the General Secretary of the ZCC. Jamwanda equated Rev Mtata to the Biblical Pharisees who are known for their hypocrisy. He or “she” acknowledges that Rev Mtata was part of the first crop of Church leaders who positively received the vaccination exercise when it was adopted by Government. However, Jamwanda presents that move by Rev Mtata as “privatising salvation and long life” by the ZCC General Secretary. Without giving evidence, Jamwanda further accuses Rev Mtata as having political ambitions, of being selfish and having failed to provide leadership to the Church. Most damaging was the accusation that Rev Mtata advised his constituency not to respect the Government directive on partial reopening of Churches on condition of full vaccination. This is not true, and even Jamwanda himself or “herself” knows that! Kusvibisa munhu for nothing. But why?
Rev Mtata’s Clear Record on Vaccination
For the record, after he had been vaccinated, Rev Mtata encouraged Church leaders to follow suit voluntarily. Indeed, the public will be reminded of Rev Mtata’s public utterances on his personal and even official ZCC twitter handles, encouraging the public (beyond the Church) to be vaccinated. He presided over a number of conferences and seminars where he raised awareness regarding the need to give vaccination exercise a chance. Moreover, after issuance of the latest ZHOCD statement, Rev Mtata went public on both print and electronic media to explain the Church’s communication. Even the Vice Chairperson of ZHOCD, Bishop Muparutsa appeared on our television during news time explaining the Church’s statement on 12 August. Records will certainly prove Jamwanda wrong on his or “her” accusation.
To single out Rev Mtata as the sole composer of the ZHOCD statement is tantamount to reducing the whole ecumenical platform to an individual. This can’t be! Some generous historians have provided evidence which shows that each time ZHOCD reacts positively to Government pronouncements, Jamwanda quickly comes in to spoil the party, particularly through targeting Rev Mtata’s person. The reason is not yet known though! What could be the background to this personal “hatred”?
Remember, in ZHOCD decisions are made collectively and by consensus. In any case, all ZHOCD statements are informed by consultative processes. On 12 August 2021, on behalf of the Church, I personally led the ZCC side of the ZHOCD platform in consolidating the feedback from the Local Ecumenical Fellowships, while my counterparts did the same in their constituencies. This is the data that subsequently informed the final ZHOCD statement, one which for me was well balanced and providing critical recommendations to Government. The statement acknowledged the need for the congregants to comply with the Government regulation but also raised concern that the Church should have been consulted by the authorities before publicly announcing the conditions for Church reopening. These are legitimate concerns that did not deserve Jamwanda’s negative comments targeted at an individual member of a whole platform.
Paragraph 3 of the ZHOCD statement says: “Theologically, the Church is an open and welcoming space for everyone with no restrictions. No one qualifies for Church service as it is a place of God’s grace. The Church will find it very difficult to turn people home because they do not have a vaccination certificate. However, would it be responsible to meet in an uncontrolled environment where possibilities of spreading the virus are high?”
Clearly, this is an objective point put across by the Church. This is supported by an equally objective point in paragraph 4 where practical challenges are raised. Of critical importance though, is the fact that the Church provided progressive recommendations in paragraphs 5.1 to 5.5 targeted at the Church and the Government. There is absolutely nothing in the statement where one advises congregants to disregard the Government directive. Thus, Jamwanda’s personal attacks at Rev Mtata were unfortunate, unsubstantiated and at most unfair.
Yet, I am particularly impressed by the level of accountability and transparency being exhibited by the current ZHOCD leadership. The General Secretaries, Rev Mtata, Pastor Blessing Makwara, Father Fredrick Chiromba and Rev Edison Tsvakai will go down in history as a team that has managed to nurture ecumenism in Zimbabwe. The team always consults its political and grassroots leadership on any decision that has to be made. Some of us have actually enjoyed working under the current ZHOCD leadership as we continue to promote the lightness and saltiness of the Church in Zimbabwe.