It is about time Christian leaders fought poverty and oppression

Zimbabwe’s Roman Catholic bishops issue a Pentecostal pastoral letter specifically asking Mugabe to be a good boy at election time. What a waste of time! And why do all Christian denominations, not just the Catholic Church, indulge in such pointless pleas to African governments? Is it so they can be “seen to be doing something” by their congregations, even though they know perfectly well that such posturing will achieve nothing because Africa’s ruling elites simply ignore them?

Robert Mugabe

It is about time Christianity does what it should have done right from the end of colonialism, which is to do its duty in leading African citizens out of oppression and extreme poverty and into true equality of lifestyle with the West, just as Moses led the Jews out of Egypt and into the Promised Land (well, eventually they got there).

It ought to be totally unnecessary – but sadly it is – to remind all Christian leaders of whatever Christian denomination that they, like all Christians, have a Christian duty to stand against oppression and injustice, a responsibility that is clearly laid out in the Bible, never mind in terms of common humanity and decency.

Yet I find it hard to credit that there is an opposing view saying we as Christians are told by the Bible to sit idly by and watch God’s Children being oppressed, kept in extreme poverty and even tortured and murdered. This view is breathtakingly insulting to Jesus and the apostles who were extremely radical and vocal in their opposition to oppression, and without whose sacrifice (as well as that of countless early martyrs) there would be no Christianity today. One can expect the oppressors and those who seek to justify their lack of courage to preach this false view of Christianity. But what one cannot excuse are the Christian leaders of all denominations – not just Roman Catholicism – apparently subscribing to this view by their lack of action.

But that is not the end of it. Christianity owes a debt to every African citizen for another reason. From the start of the Atlantic slave trade hundreds of years ago, Christianity played an important part in consolidating Western exploitation of Africans. Indeed, some Christians actually claimed that slavery was a good thing because it exposed ignorant Africans to the Word of God! Other Christians believed Africans did not have souls, which of course meant that White slave owners could treat them as no better than beasts of burden with a clear conscience.

Even the Christians who did think Africans had souls saw them as a more primitive form of humankind. This not only gave colonialists ethical support for their treatment of Africans, Christianity used this as justification for a massive invasion of Africa by its missionaries. We know most of these had honest motives and were simply acting out of misplaced Christian charity, and large numbers died of disease or were mutilated and martyred in what they saw as a Divine Calling to help Africans. But this in no way excuses the harm they did. Among other things, all the way through colonialism, Christianity could have fought the colonial masters. It didn’t. Instead, and I know without meaning to do so, it helped to keep Africans subjugated to Western exploitation. And today it continues to allow the subjugation of Africans by repressive governments, and to allow the suffering of extreme poverty pan Africa.

So, apart from its Biblical responsibility, Christianity’s history in Africa also means it has a huge moral and humanitarian obligation to do whatever it can to reverse the damage it has done, to ensure that Africans are taken out of poverty and into full equality with Westerners, and to do so with a sense of urgency because the time is now long past when such action should have been taken.

You might by now be thinking that I am anti-Christian. I am not. I love my belief, but I am deeply ashamed and filled with pain by its behaviour where Africa is concerned, and this article is a call from my heart to the hearts of my fellow Christians.

Repression and poverty will only be defeated both in Zimbabwe and pan Africa when a critical mass of each nation’s OWN citizens jointly force their own governments do to what is necessary. Christianity is in the perfect position to organise, motivate and lead such a movement because African men and women are the most religious and spiritual people on Earth, and this gives Christianity immense power over their hearts and minds. Indeed, in sub Sahara, Christianity has more potential power than all the African governments combined, and that is even without the added strength of the Vatican, and European and North American Christian denominations and evangelical movements (but of course, if they will enter the fight, it will be over even sooner).

So make no mistake, African Christianity on its own easily has the power to organise an effective mass-African movement to take African citizens out of poverty and repression and into equality with the West with extraordinary rapidity. 90% of Zimbabweans are Christian, so if its denominations united in opposition to the current ruling party, they would easily be strong enough to depose it, and on their own they could transform the lives of all Zimbabweans almost overnight. And success breeds success: if Christians throughout sub Sahara saw what Zim had done, they, too would unite against their governments.

This is not a question of politics, and I agree the Church should not become involved in that. This is a question of an overriding Christian duty to fight oppression and poverty.

Undoubtedly, Roman Catholicism is and always has been the one to take the lead in this because it is by far the largest Christian Church and the one with the greatest assets. So it is the one that should reach out to all other denominations to create a combined mass African movement.

Instead, not just the Roman Catholic hierarchy but ALL Christian denominations are sitting idly by watching THEIR OWN congregations being abused and held in extreme poverty by their governments.

To make it worse, Christian NGOs and far too many White Christian priests, pastors and aid workers still persist in treating Africans as vulnerable people who are incapable of sorting out their own affairs, and who therefore need a White paternal West to support them. That is not being Christlike.

Christianity, it is true, does try to fight poverty, but it is only tackling the EFFECTS of poverty, not its CAUSES, and that is not fulfilling its Biblical duty. Yet there is an instrument at hand for them to use to eradicate poverty once and for all. Right now, all African Christian leaders, priests and pastors should be putting their full support behind the AU’s Agenda 2063 with its accompanying First Ten-Year Implementation Plan 2014-2023, educating their congregations in that, and putting pressure on all African governments to make it their priority.

Christianity is supposed to be a crusading religion. But in Africa, because it taught Africans to be subservient first to Whites and now to repressive governments, it has taken a disastrous turn. African Christians believe that prayer can take the place of action – it can’t. And that, with enough prayer, they can by some miracle escape poverty and repression. They can’t. I suspect that St. Peter at the Heavenly Gates finds himself battered by the outpouring of prayer rising up from all over Africa, but it is doing no good.

I know from my own experience the inertia that African Christianity causes. When I and my business partner tried to launch a business that would create thousands of jobs paying Africans the same wages as their fellow White workers are paid in the West, we met opposition from the ruling party because it needed its citizens in extreme poverty in order to keep itself in power. In fairness, we did get huge support from Christian leaders, priests, pastors and bishops. But what did that support consist of? Instead of the concrete action we needed, all we could get from them was “We will pray for your success”. Some churches even ran all-night vigils for us.

Now, we are both committed Christians. Despite this, we soon became very frustrated. And we reached the stage when every time someone said to us: “I will pray for you” or “I will get my congregation to pray for you”, we wanted to shout back: “We don’t want your prayers! What we need is your ACTION!!!!!!!!!!”

There is no doubt at all that, had they put their full Christian effort into action instead of prayer, our initiative would have won and the ball would have started rolling to get Africans out of poverty and into true equality with Westerners. Instead, the ruling elite won, we had to leave and yet another initiative in Africa failed.

We Christians need to change our attitude radically, and learn that prayer is NOT an alternative to action. As it says in in James: “Faith without deeds is dead”. We need to learn that action to oppose oppression and poverty is not an option, it is a Biblical Christian duty. We need to learn that action is in fact the highest form of prayer – using all the talents God has given us to make His world a better place in which to live. Or, in the case of Africa, using His talents to fight to free African citizens from exploitation and repression, to take them from poverty to equality with Westerners in terms of lifestyle.

But instead of being crusaders and people of action, we have become comfortable in our chapels and churches, in our Bible reading, in our praying and in our charitable works, and in the sort of toothless missives that the Catholic bishops have just fired off to Mugabe. But that is not enough to be a Christian! When St Peter meets us at the Pearly Gates, he will want to know: “What did you actually DO to help your brothers and sisters escape poverty and persecution?” And he is not going to be impressed if all we did was to donate food, clothes and blankets, or even indulging in all-night vigils of prayer.

Pastors, priests and Christian leaders, this is in your hands now. Become crusaders as Christ and His apostles did. Teach us that the greatest form of prayer is ACTION against oppression and poverty, not just prayers and a few good works (important of course though those are). And if you want to know what needs to be done, I can help you.

“I will judge you, each one according to his WAYS (i.e., his ACTIONS), declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 18:30)

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