At the cross roads

Anyone who has been closely following the situation in Zimbabwe, both in the church and secular world, must be wondering whether some form of spiritual intervention is likely in the near or distant future.

Background factors

From the human perspective things look gloomy, especially given the fact that by August 2005 the rate of inflation was pegged at 135%, unemployment was zooming above 60%, there was an acute lack of basic commodities. Corruption is rife, and the wanton destruction of human dwellings proceeds apace, whilst poverty seems to be the order of the day with about 6.5million people eagerly waiting for emergency food aid. Thus one poor man from the ghetto, whose only dwelling place was in the process of being demolished, continued to ask, his eyes filled with tears, the very simple and yet difficult to answer question, ‘Where is God and why has he forsaken us?’

When the secular world is in such disarray, one hopes at least for spiritual comfort in the Church of God. But not in what used to be the mother church of Zimbabwe, the Anglican Church. In the church of my childhood – in what used to be my fortress, my pride and my spiritual home – I see the Anglican Diocese of Harare led by the most controversial man of the cloth in the twenty-first century, the Right Revd Norbert Kunonga.

In the waiting-room

Here is a bishop who has conspicuously failed to live the Gospel of Christ. Why would a man of God give allegiance to a political figure and become a determined boot-licker to those who have prostituted both politics and religion, and who are totally oblivious of any notions of reconciliation, reconstruction, restructuring, repenting, let alone forgiving?

Norbert Kunonga is a man who was comfortably sitting in the episcopal waiting-room, confident of preferment to a vacant throne. He had abandoned his ministry in the church after failing to cope with the Gospel, and opted for a teaching job in the secular world – only to bounce back from the blackboard to the bishop’s chair in 2001. His election involved one of the most heated disputes in the history of the Zimbabwean church. Most Christians in Zimbabwe believe that it was politically influenced and rigged.

One of the reasons for the controversy was that the Elective Assembly of the Diocese of Harare had been deeply penetrated by the powers of evil and allowed itself to become critically divided.

Kangaroo court

Norbert Kunonga is in cahoots with almost every political figure in the country. Politically he dances to the tune of any convenient slogan, whilst in the church he continues to preach heresy. That is what I mean when I call the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe ‘a church at the crossroads.’

Attempts have been made to bring this man before what was purported to be an Ecclesiastical Court. It proved to be no such thing. It was a politically well-orchestrated kangaroo court set by the Archbishop of Central Africa. What reasons are there for supposing this kind of trial should be seen as a kangaroo court? Here are some:

Bishop Kunonga was supposed to have been brought to trial four years ago, but the Archbishop kept on citing the unavailability of a judge and prosecutor as the fundamental reasons for not bringing Bishop Kunonga to court. Many find the Archbishop’s claims frankly incredible.

The judge who was finally picked by Archbishop Malango is from Malawi, the very same country where the Archbishop is now resident. On paper he was said to be a competent and experienced high court judge and yet he failed to control a panel of lawyers in the recent flawed Ecclesiastical Court where Bishop Kunonga had finally been brought to trial. He abandoned the court as if he was confused by the lawyers and yet he had all the powers invested in him to control the proceedings of that court.

Bishop Kunonga is rumoured to have left this so-called court smiling, as if he had won the battle; and yet apart from the arguments from the legal representative, not one single witness was called to testify. The question is: Did the judge actually fail to handle this matter or was he acting in accordance with the politically-planned intention of abandoning the trial and leaving everyone in confusion?

God is not mocked

However, unknown to the judge, Bishop Kunonga and all their allies, is the simple fact that this trial is not over until it is over. It is my belief that justice is not justice until justice is done, and seen to be done.

So, to all those suffering, the persecuted and those who continue to pray for deliverance, I say, ‘Be strong and still, knowing that God heals. Let us now wait for ultimate justice from the One who is able to administer it, the Almighty, Saviour and Lord, even though the rest of the world-wide church continues to genuflect and adore the unprotected, blood-oozing wounds of Christ hoping for someone else to render first aid.’

It is my prayer that insofar as the Church in Zimbabwe is at the cross-roads, the Lord shall intervene and spare the righteous at a time appropriate to His word: ‘And the work of the righteous shall be peace: and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.’ [Isaiah 32.17]

Lameck Mutete was recently granted asylum in
the United Kingdom and is presently working as an incumbent, in the Church of England.


Dear Dorothy

Theatrical practice would seem to dictate that the standing ovation is de rigeur at the end of any performance nowadays. Over the last three weeks I have spent time and money both in London’s West End and New York’s Broadway, convinced that Australia is unhesitatingly following this unbecoming practice.

Aside from the occasional stage spectacular which quite rightly propels the audience to its feet, the ‘adapted popular music musical’ appears to be the culprit when it comes to indiscriminate ovating by encouraging the unsightly scene of dancing in the aisles.

Uncritical response

The image of bus loads of blue-rinsed lady lawn bowlers gyrating to ‘Dancing Queen’ at Melbourne’s Mamma Mia, or beer-bellied head bangers boogying on down to Freddy Mercury at the conclusion of London’s We Will Rock You is frightening enough. However my nerves were not helped in New York the other week when I was unable to give sedentary applause because I could not see the stage for a sea of trans-Atlantic bottoms giving their all for Tim Curry at the end of Monty Python’s Spamalot.

I am not suggesting a move to the complete silence that concluded the Chinese dance troupe I attended in Canton over twenty years ago. (Mandatory as no decent communist country could allow performers to be praised more than any other comrade.) Nevertheless I do feel that we need more realism in our responses.

Boo-ing the goose

At the end of last year the Puccini Festival was brought out to Melbourne for a performance of Turandot. Aside from the planning bungles which delayed the production by some weeks, Maria Dragoni in the title role was quite atrocious. So much so that I felt compelled to bring some continental realism to the proceedings and, much to the shock of my companion that evening, threw out some raucous ‘boos’ at the curtain call.

Imagine my delight when the Australian newspaper not only confirmed my view that Dragoni was ‘out of tune, out of time and out of breath’ but that ‘her curtain call was greeted with muscled boos.’ My pride was somewhat deflated when my opera companion insisted that he had been the ‘muscle’ whilst I had simply been the ‘boo’!

There was a hint of realism last week ‘Off-Broadway’ (particularly at the not-to-be-missed musical Altar Boyz) where only the random aunt and boyfriend felt it necessary to rise.

Honest responses seem to be hampered firstly by the manipulation of the theatre business, but also as a result of an unrealistic view of the audience that nothing can be better than the present moment.

Friends of Dorothy

Such a situation is not the sole domain of thespians. Politicians likewise create this image. The noticeable domination of ‘Dorothy Dixers’ at Parliamentary Question time both in this country and in the United Kingdom is more than frustrating. (A Dorothy Dixer being a question asked by a government member to allow the Government to eulogize on its own work and criticize the opposition. The phrase comes from the American journalist who wrote the majority of questions to her own column Dear Dorothy.)

Thus there is the weekly asking of questions along the lines of ‘what is the Government doing about X and is the minister aware of any other policies.’ Government members are in effect drawn into a perpetual standing ovation regardless of their own views.

The acknowledgement of failure appears to be unthinkable in our society today. Student examination results are said to be increasing year by year to a situation which will soon be untenable let alone unbelievable. Government ministers no longer seem to have the ‘buck’ stopping with them.

Senator Amanda Vanstone, Federal Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, seems unlikely to fall on her sword as a result of her department’s myriad failures – which include, among other things, the mistaken deportation of one Australian citizen and detention of another by the Department of Immigration.

Amanda would be more likely to lose her portfolio not through her department’s bungling, but rather as a result of her poor choice of words when she attempted to reignite a republican flame and spoke of the Queen as ‘Sweaty Betty’ opening the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne next year!

Jesting Pilate?

We all have examples of church authorities unable to present the truth as it is, regardless of failure. Whether it be endless spin applied to falling communicant numbers or the sweeping of divisions under the carpet, diocesan officers lead standing ovations in the front pew day after day and hide the truth from those who do not stand to applaud with them.

Yet it is the Church, inspired by the folly of the cross, nourished by the weakness of her saints, and laying in the dirt of the Via Dolorosa, which should be the one institution that should be able to say it as it is.

There is a time to laugh and a time to cry. There is also a time to applaud and a time to boo. There is, however, never a time to pretend that things are other than they are. After all, is it not the truth that will set us free?

Philip Murphy


Between or within?

Osama is happy for you to believe in the clash of civilizations. Frankly, I would not trust Osama as far as I could throw him. But what of Bernard Lewis, the famous Islamist, who also believes in the clash of civilizations? Bernard Lewis believes that the Judaeo-Christian West always was and always will be at odds with Islam. Well, maybe that is the first thing we thought when we saw the destruction of the twin towers. But with the London bombings it is dawning on us that it is not so much a clash between civilizations as a clash within civilization. And that is a very different thing.

The nature of jihad

Of course a clash within civilization is not what Osama wants you to believe. He wants to turn the crass theory of clashing civilizations into a self-fulfilling prophecy. He wants Christian versus Muslim, a jihad against the West. But we should not buy this bogus nonsense. The truth is that for the good Muslim jihad is mostly a struggle within the soul, like the Christian struggle of the spirit with the flesh. Jihad may also be used of a crusade but this is strictly regulated. Such a crusade must be properly authorized and on no account may it hurt non-combatants.

So much for Osama’s pseudo-religious jargon. It is bogus, a smokescreen for what really motivates him, the same thing that motivated Lenin. And what did Lenin believe? He believed that he was the legitimate heir to the Jacobins and like the Jacobins he used terror to remake society. Osama, of course, does not say as much, but this is where we have to look for his heart of darkness. Not to the East but to the West. This is the fundamental point.

Roots of totalitarianism

The belief that the world can be remade by violence is part of the modern western inheritance. The industrial-style mass killings of the twentieth century were largely done in Europe, and done to transform the human condition. That was the motive. The regenerative power of violence is precisely what Osama believes in. We cannot really deal with any of this unless we can see that the sources of totalitarianism in the modern world lie in the West. Fundamentalist preachers of the Christian variety seem to be incapable of grasping this. They get caught in the web of their own religious rhetoric.

Franklin Graham, son of the more famous Billy Graham, plays right into Osama’s hand. ‘I believe Islam is a very evil and wicked religion.’ Well, how silly, how ignorant can you get? Where is the prophetic hope in that? That is not preaching. That is just slamming the other person. That is spreading paranoia. ‘Evil is out there. It never enters the citadel of my soul.’ It is the Manichaeism of Augustine. It is the religion Augustine grew out of, to become a Christian properly in all humility.

The truth is that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all share a doctrine of creation. The world is freely created by God and is created quite distinct from God. Man is not just a living being, he is created in the image of God. He occupies a special place in that creation. In Judaism, as later in Christianity and Islam, man is the inhabitant of two worlds, ‘Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being’ (Gen. 2.7). Man is the pinnacle of the natural order, the climax of God’s creative activity, and is also set apart from that natural order, ‘So God created man in his own image’ (1.27).

Islam and the West are historical twins whose resemblance did not cease when their paths diverged. Along with Judaism and Christianity, Islam belongs to a western monotheist tradition in which salvation is worked out in history. The Psalmist’s prophecy that God will take all nations to his inheritance is stated quite clearly at the beginning of our common Scriptures. The oddballs who destroyed the twin towers would have you forget all this. So easy isn’t it, to forget what we have in common and to think instead of the clash of civilizations?

No final solution

This is just how Hitler thought of the Jews. And he could count on the support of centuries of anti-Semitism. He masterminded a final clash which all but succeeded. You would think we’d know better by now. That is the problem. We all think we know better. While often what we have done is simply shift our prejudices elsewhere.

The horrendous nature of Hitler’s clash with the Jews did mercifully result in a turn-around – a kind of repentance. And so now, since the Holocaust, we talk about what we share – our Judaeo-Christian heritage. This phrase, Judaeo-Christian heritage, expresses what has always been an essential part of Christian prophecy, a prophecy that had been dead for so long that it took the murder of six million Jews to bring it back to life and to restore us to our senses.

Knowing Christ, the Christian knows, or ought to know, what to expect. He is always looking to the day when there will be one flock and one shepherd. Therefore, if he has an ounce of prophecy left in him, he should be talking about our Islamo-Christian heritage and eschewing all talk of the clash of civilizations. After all 40% of today’s European Union was at one time or another under Muslim rule. And Islam had its most fruitful, most productive and happiest time when it administered Southern Spain. The astonishing architecture is still there to be seen.

Let us say it again: ‘The clash is not between civilizations, it is within civilization.’ Hitler, the self-styled architect, was a product of Western enlightenment education. Likewise Osama bin Laden the engineer, Ayman al Zawahiri the paediatrician, and Mohammed Atta the architect planner, all are products of Western enlightenment revolutionary education.

It is no part of Islam that the world be remade by violence. Osama is an impostor. While escaping all Islamic restraint, he uses Islam as a justification. And we swallow it hook line and sinker. Ask yourself: why is Osama perceived as an authentic exponent of Islam, while it would not occur to anyone to see Timothy McVeigh as an authentic exponent of Christianity?

Ways of catching up

We need to catch up, and fast. The headscarf row did not explode France, now did it? The French refuse to allow enclosure within a community rather than preference for French public life. That is the principle they insist on. And it all went by remarkably smoothly. It seems that neo-fundamentalist Muslims in Europe do not want to return to the past. They react against the West but not in favour of traditional Islam. They are not trying to remodel France along Middle Eastern lines.

The evidence is that by accepting the headscarf law the Muslims have won the right to be heard on issues such as Muslim chaplains, Muslim burial practices, pork in school canteens and halal markets. And in a country which is rigidly opposed to multi-culturalism, or to any institution, religious or otherwise, coming between the state and the individual, the French are now actually considering more pluralism.

The attractiveness of fiery radical preachers may well wane if the Republic manages to extend meaningful opportunities under its own terms to the residents of the suburbs. So a little leeway in France, a little flexibility in a country which is historically anti-Catholic and anti-religious may soften a brittle situation: whereas in multi-cultural England exactly the opposite is required. There is so much space for practically any belief and practice that inflammatory preachers actually threaten multi-culturalism itself and are now quite properly being reined in.

Michael Shier