SINCE taking over the reins of power, President Mnangagwa has mastered the art of lacing his speeches with biblical statements. I particularly like his simple but loaded statement: “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”
As a Bishop, to be honest at first I thought, President Mnangagwa was employing and deploying what Marxists call the “third face of power” or “invisible power” where ideology, values and beliefs reproduce class relations and conceal contradictions. Friedrich Engels argues that this “third face of power” or “invisible power” creates “false consciousness” among the working class. Italian communist Antonio Gramsci took these Marxist ideas further in his book “Prison Notebooks” asserting that a capitalist state is made up of two overlapping spheres – a political society, which rules through force and a civil society, which rules through consent.
From a Gramscian perspective, civil society is the public sphere where trade unions and political parties gain concessions from the bourgeois and is the sphere in which ideas and beliefs are shaped. This is the sphere where bourgeois hegemony is reproduced in cultural life through the media, the family, universities and religious institutions among other socialising institutions.
So Bishop Lazarus thought President Mnangagwa was just throwing in the biblical statements in his speeches for hegemonic purposes, but when the President and First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa took worshippers by surprise on Christmas Eve by attending a church service at Mabelreign Methodist Church in Harare, the Bishop was forced to pause and ponder. No wonder why this sermon is about that church attendance and nothing else.
The President didn’t just attend the church service – he gave us a brief history about his Christian life and went on to say something that sounds very familiar and something that most husbands do, especially on Sundays.
“I am a congregant of this church, I greet you all. We have come to this church which I grew up in. Most of you were not born yet in the 1940s. I attended this church before we migrated to Zambia which was still called Northern Rhodesia.
“We went to Kafue Mission, which is also a Methodist institution but I later left to join the liberation struggle. When we came back from the war I attended church services here briefly while staying in Tynwald but I stopped again . . .
“We are always arguing at home with the First Lady over church attendance. I am convinced that one can pray to God from anywhere and He will hear them, but she is of a different opinion. She wants us to join others in church. I will try to continue attending. I was persuaded maybe three times to attend church in Kwekwe. I am very happy to be here and hope we will continue to come here,” President Mnangagwa told worshippers at the Mabelreign Methodist Church.
It was good to see the President retracing his religious roots. His honesty kuti “we are always arguing at home” about attending church sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? How many times have we heard husbands saying “rega ndimboenda kunosiya madam kuchurch?” Kutodada nekunosiya madam kuchurch?
The part which really caught my attention from the President’s statement was when he said: “We are always arguing at home with the First Lady over church attendance. I am convinced that one can pray to God from anywhere and He will hear them, but she is of a different opinion. She wants us to join others in church.”
This is very true and some wives have since stopped going kuchurch because Bishop, Pastor or madzimai esangano keep asking “ko ivo baba mavasiyirei?” Or “baba vachawuyawo kuchurch riini?” What exactly does the Holy Book say about attending church?
According to the Holy Book, from the foot of Mount Sinai to the temple to the synagogue, we see Christians gathering together so that they can worship. Of course, President Mnangagwa is correct that we can worship God privately and through daily obedience, but there is something unique about worshipping in church.
Acts 2 vs 42 tells us that the first Christians met together regularly for teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer while on the other hand, 1 Corinthians 12 to 14 tells us that public worship is an important part of the life of the church.
Going deeper, 1 Corinthians 16 gives instructions for setting aside a collection “on the first day of the week”, suggesting that the church met for services of worship every Sunday.
Hebrews 10 vs 25 is even more direct as it commands us not to neglect meeting together saying; “. . . do not forsake the assembly of yourselves”.
There is even a word that refers to the formal gathering of God’s people for worship – episynagogen.
Ephesians 4 vs 11-13 says: “So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
So Mr President, the First Lady is very right. We should never “forsake the assembly of ourselves”. There is nothing like a Lone Ranger in Christianity.
As a Bishop I find it very reassuring that we have a God-fearing leader because Exodus 18 vs 21 says: “But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifty and ten.”
In addition, the Holy Book has so many examples that show the importance of putting everything before God. Genesis 42 vs 18 says Joseph won his brothers’ trust when he declared that he is a God-fearing man. According to Exodus 1 vs 17, it was because the midwives feared God that they obeyed Him instead of the authorities by sparing the Hebrew babies.
So with a God-fearing President tinoti Ebenezer even zvikarema or zvikarwadza Jehova anotirwira.
Can you imagine, of all the people, American President Donald Trump fears God? Yeah, that “tweeting President” with all his arrogance, anotoziva kuti zvese zvinotoda mwari.
A few days ago I was reading somewhere that Trump is America’s ninth President to be affiliated with a Presbyterian Church. Even though President Trump seems to have joined those “rega ndimbonosiya madam kuchurch” types of husbands, he was raised a Presbyterian and still considers himself one. He recently was quoted saying, “my religion is a wonderful religion”. Reports say as a young man in New York, he attended Marble Collegiate Church, a Dutch Reformed congregation, and in recent years, has been associated with Paula White, an evangelical megachurch pastor.
President Trump follows in the footsteps of former American leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower whose efforts led to the addition of the “under God” statement to the American Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. He is also the president who pushed for the adoption of the “In God We Trust” American motto in 1957.
Eisenhower was known for always starting his Cabinet meetings with a silent prayer. “Before all else, we seek, upon our common labour as a nation, the blessings of Almighty God.” This was one of Eisenhower’s famous statements.
I could go on and on preaching about former American leaders such as Grover Cleveland, Ronald Regan, George Washington and others, but I don’t want this to appear like an American thing. Even in Africa we have God-fearing leaders.
On taking over power in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta claimed that he reads the Holy Book often and vowed to rule the country through biblical teachings. Former Zambian leader, the late Michael Sata stunned many Zambians when on welcoming the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to Zambia stated: “I am very grateful for your coming to Zambia. We need lots of religious cleansing . . . this government shall be ruled on biblical terms. This government shall be ruled by the 10 Commandments.” Zambians knew how much their leader loved his tobacco pipe and this statement left them stunned because they never thought this “Cobra”, as Sata was known in some circles, was God-fearing.
A few years ago, Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni led his country in prayer and as I listened to him praying, I just said to myself “glory be to God.” He said: “Father God in heaven . . . we thank you for Uganda. We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft which are rampant in our land. We confess sins of shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal.
“Forgive us of sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism; sins of laziness, indifference and irresponsibility; sins of corruption and bribery that have eroded our national resources; sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness and debauchery; sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and revenge; sins of injustice, oppression and exploitation; sins of rebellion, insubordination, strife and conflict.” After this powerful prayer, he then dedicated Uganda to God.
Back home, we all know about the story of former President Mugabe and his rosary. Pese pavaifamba Gushungo and I am sure even up to this day, havasiyi rosary ravo pasi. And we all know that it was a yearly ritual for the former President to visit the Vatican.
But some pessimists will say “ahh, Bishop Lazarus, claiming to fear God, dedicating a country to God, throwing biblical statement in speeches and even attending church is not enough.” That’s true, but hey people of God, let’s not appear like saints and let’s not appear like we don’t know that it’s not an easy task following Christ while in public office. The interplay between faith and public office is not easy, especially considering President Mnangagwa’s hectic schedule.
Let’s celebrate the efforts by the President to anchor his leadership in God’s principles. To the First Lady, I say; “muchristo usanete. Baba ngavawuye kuchurch.”
Bishop is out!
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