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Mugabe's State Religion

Mugabe's State Religion

by Mark Tooley
May 28, 2009

The following article originally appeared on the the FrontPage Magazine website, and is reproduced with permission.

Mugabe's puppet pseudo-Anglican Archbishop of Harare, having hailed the Zimbabwean dictator as a "prophet of God," still claims ecclesial power, even as faithful Anglicans, as of May 3, have elected a new, legitimate bishop for Zimbabwe's capital city.

Leftist religious groups like the World Council of Churches, guided by Liberation Theology, funded Robert Mugabe's Patriotic Front insurgency in old Rhodesia and celebrated his 1980 accession to power as divinely ordained. Of course, like other church-backed Marxist guerrillas, Mugabe quickly revealed he's more despot than populist.

Nearly three decades later, the octogenarian Mugabe still clings to power, though now compelled partly to share it with the opposition leader who likely defeated Mugabe's party in the last election. Like all aspiring totalitarians, Mugabe's regime resorted to creating church puppets as part of its continuing grasp for power.

Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga of Harare was elected in 2001. Critics allege his elevation was engineered by Mugabe's secret police, the CIO. Kunonga's gushing and self-serving support for Mugabe's dictatorship, rewarded in 2003 with a $2 million farm stolen from its owners, became so strident that the Anglican Primate of Central Africa deposed him in 2007.The U.S. banned the puppet archbishop from entering the U.S. because of his coziness with the Mugabe dictatorship. In 2008, Kunonga was excommunicated by the Anglican Province of Central Africa. With backing from Mugabe's regime, Kunonga has steadfastly insisted he remains the legitimate bishop. He has created his own new Anglican Province of Zimbabwe, seizing Harare's cathedral and other church properties, whom he staffed with his own handpicked, newly created clergy. Congregants faithful to the authentic Anglican church were met at churches by padlocked doors or, in some cases, police bludgeons. By most accounts, Kunonga had little support among most Anglicans, and even some Kunonga-manufactured priests later returned to the Anglican Communion, complying with instructions from the legitimate interim bishop to rip up their clerical collars in front of their congregations.

The Anglican Province of Central Africa, after de-recognizing Kunonga's authority, declared the Harare episcopate empty, and in 2007 appointed a new caretaker bishop, whom the Mugabe regime persecuted. The interim bishop and his supporters endured. His installation as caretaker Bishop of Harare, held in a Harare sports stadium, was attended by 15,000 people. Now a new, permanent Bishop of Harare has been elected, despite a delayed election seemingly caused partly by church precautions against covert interference by Mugabe's secret police. Meanwhile, "Archbishop" Kunonga still is disputing a ruling from a Zimbabwe high court that his followers and the authentic Anglican church must share church facilities in the Harare Diocese. Faithful Anglicans, when attempting to worship at the churches, in compliance with the court ruling, were sometimes tear-gassed, beaten and arrested by Zimbabwe police. In April, followers of the legitimate interim Bishop of Harare sliced the padlock off Harare's cathedral doors and worshiped there for Easter. The Zimbabwe Supreme Court is now deliberating over the church properties.

Chad Gandiya, who has worked for an Anglican missions group in London, is the new legitimate Bishop of Harare. He faces a perilous challenge. Recently, a reported crowd of 100 Anglican loyalists had a fracas with Mugabe loyalists at an Anglican church in Manicaland, requiring police intervention. The Bishop of Manicaland Diocese, Elson Jakazi, is another Mugabe devotee. Early this month, a delegation from the Anglican Province of Central Africa, led by a Zambian bishop, met with Zimbabwean Prime Minister and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, with whom Mugabe now is supposed to share power. The prelates explained that Bishops Kunonga and Jakazi, who also has been excommunicated, no longer have any official status within the Anglican Communion.

Mugabe-controlled media often portray the Anglican situation in Zimbabwe as merely an unfortunate spat between two theological factions, rather than a battle almost completely created by the regime. Mugabe loyalists claim the legitimate Anglican Communion bishops are puppets of the West and promoters of homosexuality, while portraying themselves as defenders of theological orthodoxy. But Global South primates within the Anglican Communion, while steadfastly conservative on sexuality issues, have defended the Communion's prerogatives in Zimbabwe.

Earlier this year, the primates of the Anglican Communion, meeting in Egypt, commended the "faithful witness of the Christians of Zimbabwe," especially the Anglicans ostracized from their churches. They pronounced Mugabe "illegitimately holds on to power" and were skeptical about the power sharing arrangement, given Mugabe's "systematic kidnap[ping], tortur[ing], and the killing of Zimbabwean people."The bishops urged Mugabe's departure and the return of democracy.

Lest there be any doubt, the Anglican bishops also reiterated they "do not recognize the status of Bishop Nolbert Kunonga and Bishop Elson Jakazi as bishops within the Anglican Communion" and called for the full restoration of Anglican property to its rightful owners within the Anglican Province of Central Africa.

Thirty years ago, the World Council of Churches (WCC), which included the U.S. Episcopal Church and many Anglican bodies, funded and touted Robert Mugabe's guerrillas as the liberators of Rhodesia-Zimbabwe. Today, groups like the WCC are mum about expressing public remorse, the Christian virtue of repentance. Perhaps the WCC's defense is that it supported political movements and regimes far more horrible than even Mugabe's tin box tyranny.

---Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

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