The Sunday Mail
WHAT has gone wrong with the church of today? While it is not unique to have misunderstandings; public fights over resources and attempts to overthrow each other for leadership positions seem to have become too common in today’s churches.
Washing of dirty linen in public was rarely heard of back in the day. One would even wonder if there was any dirty linen to wash — that’s how discrete and disciplined the church was.
Church members would not drag each other to court, neither would they protest against their leaders.
But that was then.
Now, it is a different story.
Church members and their leaders are now confronting each other in the midst of sermons, holding public protests or, at worst, dragging each other to the courts.
And at the centre of the increasing feuds has been church properties and positions.
The Johanne Marange Apostolic Sect, Anglican Church and the AFM in Zimbabwe disputes are well documented and have spanned for years.
For five years since 2007, the Anglican Church operated under two factions — the Anglican Church Province of Central Africa (CPCA) headed by Bishop Chad Gandiya and the ADH led by Bishop Nolbert Kunonga. The fallout emerged after ADH withdrew from the CPCA following differences over homosexuality.
For those years, a quest to control church assets and followers resulted in nasty fights with congregants aligned to factions in the country driving each other out of church buildings. Masses were being held under police guard.
The Pentecostal world is also no stranger to conflicts and AFM in Zimbabwe has headlined the media due to such public conflicts. Recently pastors, deacons and elders took the president of the church, Rev Ashper Madziyire, and his executive to court challenging his re-election.
Court battles have characterised AFM in Zimbabwe over the years. In 2008, the Belvedere assembly dragged its pastor to court for promoting unbiblical practices. In 2009, church members were at loggerheads with Rev Madziyire who was also their overseer due to alleged misappropriation of funds.
As far back as 1992, leadership wrangles took root in the Johanne Marange Apostolic Sect led by Noah Taguta resulting in legal battles for church ownership and regalia.
In 2013, two sons of the late founder of Zion Apostolic Faith Mission Church — Bishop Pedzisai Shoko — were locked in a legal battle to take over leadership of the church after their father’s death the previous year.
And in the Evangelical Church of Zimbabwe (ECZ), a leadership wrangle spilled into the courts after incumbent Bishop Benson Makachi had been accused of attempting to influence the outcome of the election for new leadership.
Former Zimbabwe Council of Churches secretary-general Reverend Solomon Zwana said ecumenical bodies need to develop mechanisms to help churches deal with conflicts.
READ MORE: Battlefields in Zimbabwean Churches
“As ZCC the stance that was taken is non-interference in churches. But when I left discussions were on-going to review the constitution which had no provision to deal with such cases,” Rev Zwana said.
Rev Zwana, however, said wrangles in churches can be dealt with depending on their nature but most have been a result of a quest for power and the failure to handle leadership transition.
“When it is a case of finances there are clear regulations laid out in the churches’ constitutions on how they are supposed to be handled that includes a financial audit. In many churches under ZCC, the clergy are not involved in the handling of finances.
“A lot of churches, however, have not done well with leadership transition. It also has to do with access to resources, positions are no longer about serving but opportunities to access benefits. Years back such positions didn’t have too many benefits so now because of the resources the positions become attractive,” added Rev Zwana.
He also highlighted that pastors should go back to the basics — concentrating on their calling.
“Pastors should not starve but there has to be an emphasis on serving. There are internal church grievance mechanisms and going to courts has to be a last resort,” added Rev Zwana
Bishop Ambrose Moyo of the Ecumenical Church Leaders Forum said they have met and done an introspection leading to a conclusion that churches need to engage seriously in peace building.
“As an organisation we solve conflicts through engaging the parties because sometimes we find that they need a facilitator. Hence we bring them together to resolve their issues non-violently.
“When churches come to us we give them conflict analysis tools and when they apply them they just realise that the conflict they allude to are just leaves. They actually will need to go to the roots of the tree with the different parties involved,” Bishop Moyo said.
The Ecumenical Church leaders Forum is open to leaders of any denomination and operates through local peace committees which mediate between conflicting parties in the churches involved.
Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe leader Bishop Trevor Manhanga said feuds have always been experienced in the church but the frequency has increased.
“Church wrangles are not necessarily a new phenomenon. What we are seeing is an increase in the number of these disputes that are being taken to the courts for resolution,” said Bishop Manhanga.
Bishop Manhanga added that a lack of maturity has resulted in churches washing their dirty linen in public.
“There is a lack of maturity in addressing matters. Secondly there is a lack of clear and workable dispute resolution mechanisms in some church structures.
“I must state, however, that no matter how good a constitution may be if the people that implement it are carnal and do not behave in a Biblical manner, the good constitution falls flat. The key is to teach people in the church what they are expected to do in the face of disputes,” highlighted Bishop Manhanga.
People in the church, Bishop Manhanga said, must be taught that disputes will always be there but there was need for them to be aware of conflict resolution mechanisms.
“One should be able to compromise and not always want to have his or her way prevail. Disputes should also be resolved as soon as possible, do not allow them to fester for long. It entrenches people’s positions, making resolution difficult.
“In addition to that, we need to build good relationships. It is easier to resolve matters where there is a relationship. Lastly, follow the Bible which all Christians claim they follow, but do not. If we lived what we read in the Bible we would never need to go outside of the church circles to have disputes resolved,” Bishop Manhanga said.
Against this background, Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe which has a membership of over 300 Pentecostal and Evangelical churches will this week hold a meeting for heads of denominations where a code of ethics and conduct document will be handed to them.