The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe leader, bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, says he will retire in December of next year after the church complained about his stance on same-sex marriages.
Two church members, Mr Peter Musuka of the Chisipite circuit in Harare East and Mr Kelvin Chitowo of the Chinzanga circuit in the Mutoko – Mudzi District, filed a High Court application through their lawyers Hofisi & Partners Commercial Attorneys on November 10, 2023, seeking the mandatory retirement of the bishop who is over 68 years in terms of the church’s Book of Discipline.
They are seeking the High Court to declare that local churches vote and decide on disaffiliation by December 31, 2023, if they do not agree with the church’s position on homosexuality.
In addition, they want bishop Nhiwatiwa barred from interfering with the right to disaffiliation.
Bishop Nhiwatiwa filed his Notice of Opposition on November 24, 2023, through his lawyers Chihambakwe, Mutizwa and Partners. His opposing affidavit was deposed to by Theophilus Pharoah Gambe, through special powers of attorneys granted to him by the church leader on November 21, 2023.
Bishop Nhiwatiwa argued that had it not been for COVID-19, the elections would have been held in 2020.
“But the Central Conferences whereat election of the bishop take place have been postponed beyond the respondent’s (the bishop) control. The elections for the succession of the respondent is now set for 5 to 9 December 2024 in Maputo, Mozambique. The Central Conference which comprises of a number of countries sets its own calendar and the respondent is not the one who conducts his own succession process. Thus, it is now known to the church that in October 2024 the annual conference in Zimbabwe will convene to nominate the candidates for the office of the bishop to succeed the incumbent; the top three to emerge from the nomination conference will then participate in the election to be conducted in 2024 in Maputo, Mozambique.”
On homosexuality, he denied supporting the practice.
“For the record and avoidance of doubt, the respondent in his personal capacity and the Bishop does not and has never supported homosexuality. The respondent during his tenure has led the Zimbabwean church to vote against the petitions seeking to amend the Book of Discipline to allow same-sex marriages at the General Conference,” he argued.
He added that the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers the practice incompatible with Christian teaching. He claimed that the prevailing position is that the church does not condone homosexuality as it regards it to be incompatible with scripture. He submitted that in Zimbabwe, the laws of the land do not accept same-sex marriages.
The subject of homosexuality is taboo to the membership of the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe.
On the alleged violation of the congregants’ right to disaffiliation, he denied preventing any local church from holding a church conference. He argued that the right under paragraph 2553 (disaffiliation) is accorded to collective congregants of a local church not to a single individual. According to him, no local church in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area has sought disaffiliation and applicants have not exhibited any mandate to approach the court to seek the relief being sought on disaffiliation.
He also raised several technical issues in his opposition. For example, he pointed out that the congregants should have enjoined or cited the church as a party to the court case. He alleges that the applicants have not exhausted internal remedies provided in the Book of Discipline. He argued that the two applicants lack locus standi, that is, the right to make the court application for the remedies sought. He pointed out that the application for an order on disaffiliation was “moot” as by the time the matter will be heard in court it will be after 31 December 2023.