Are Churches our escape?

Hearing the dawn and evening choruses of ragged hymn-singing across our high-density suburbs and seeing the many groups meeting to pray, not only on Sundays, would make an observer expect that this was a strongly Christian country.

Then that observer would start to ask why our politics and daily life are so unchristian. He would not be the first to ask those questions, in this or any other country.

Karl Marx called religion “the opium of the people”, a drug for the spirit that deadens the pain of the injustices of life. Maybe our people sing and pray so loudly to create a place where they can forget day-to-day problems? There are some who do just this.

The trouble is that if you forget the pain of injustice and oppression, you lose your motive for changing unjust and oppressive situations. Your praying and singing has become a spiritual opiate, the spiritual equivalent of Zed or mbanje.

We can all name some well advertised preachers or some religious groups that seem to be selling escapism and making a big profit from it. These are not making a more Christian country or a more Christian world. They only try to snatch people temporarily out of the real world into a cosy bubble they call “Christian”.

But the real message of the Gospel is not a comfortable escape from reality. It warns us that following Christ in serving our neighbours will make us unpopular with those in power. Following Jesus means taking up your cross daily.

None of our churches are united in following the way of the Cross. Does that mean they are all distracting us from the real call of Jesus? No. It only means they are human institutions.

People ask “Why doesn't the Catholic church excommunicate Mugabe?” and fear of the consequences is not the only answer. You cannot purify any human institution perfectly by throwing out the biggest sinners. You can't throw sin out, because we are all sinners.

Even when Kunonga separated himself from the Anglican Church, he didn't take all the sinners, not even all the Zanu (PF) sinners, with him. We can admire the courage of the Anglicans who struggle on and try to support them, but don't put them on a pedestal above the rest of us as if by being perfect they could absolve us from fighting our own fight.

So we may have to live with our own churches, no church will ever be a perfect instrument of the will of God. A trade union or a political party may be better able to purify itself because it is easier to expel members who oppose the organisation's aims. Their aims are limited; the churches' aims are unlimited, so we all fall short. Our churches fall short, but we should keep challenging that.

Maybe we've been asking too much of our churches. They will always be, as Jesus said, fields where good crops and weeds grow, in competition and conflict till the end. And so will each one of us.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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