Is Zimbabwe’s Church Split Really About Gay Marriage?
In Zimbabwe there is a bitter and violent split within the Anglican Church in which lesbian and gay Zimbabweans are being used as a scapegoat.
Bishop Nolbert Kunonga was excommunicated in 2007 for inciting violence in sermons supporting President Robert Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF. His speeches are dominated by accusations that those who oppose him are homosexuals or support them.
But many believe that the split is really about money and power: Kunonga has taken over the main cathedral in Harare, schools and the church’s bank accounts. Last month the nuns at an orphanage with 80 children were evicted. Police have been accused of siding with Kunonga in the fight for properties as they reportedly rush to arrest his rivals while leaving his people to cause terror.
At the orphanage, the Rev. Richard Mombeshora said pleas for police to intervene to stop the takeovers were ignored. Visitors to the orphanage have since reported that children appeared not to have received regular meals and it was not clear whether qualified replacement staff had arrived.
“These people confess openly they don’t fear the law. So you just put your faith in God,” Mombeshora said, adding, “We don’t marry homosexuals here. We don’t approve of it at all.”
Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court has allowed Kunonga to retain control of Anglican properties. Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku is an open supporter of ZANU-PF.
In an attempt to change the situation, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, last week visited Zimbabwe. He told more than 15,000 mainstream Anglican worshippers gathered for mass at a Harare stadium that Anglican worshippers are constantly “tortured by uncertainty and risk of attack” and have endured “mindless and Godless assaults.”
He praised the worshippers for being “active and courageous.”
Kunonga and his supporters demonstrated outside Harare’s main cathedral against Williams’ visit because he said Williams’ visit was a “crusade for gays.” Inside, his supporters waved placards reading ‘homosexuals must die.’
“This is a demonstration against homosexuality. I told people to come and demonstrate if they wanted,” Kunonga said. “Rowan Williams erred by accepting homosexuality and that has broken up the church all over.”
Kunonga refused to meet Williams, telling Aljaeera English:
“I do not want to meet with someone who subscribes to homosexuality.”
Williams did meet President Robert Mugabe:
“We have asked, in the clearest possible terms, that the President use his powers as Head of State to put an end to all unacceptable and illegal behaviour,” said Williams.
“We deeply deplore the manner in which many of the historic assets of the church that include hospitals, schools have not only been seized by the breakaway group but are no longer being used for the purpose for which they were designed.”
Screengrab of Bishop Nolbert Kunonga AlJazeeraEnglish