Date: Sat, 12 Dec 1998 15:51:22 -0600 (CST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RELIGION: Mugabe Accuses Church Of Double Standards In Africa
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Mugabe Accuses The Church Of Double Standards In Africa
By Lewis Machipisa, IPS, 8 December 1998
HARARE, Dec 8 (IPS) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe Tuesday thanked the Church for its contributions in ending colonialism in Africa, but also reminded it of its "shameful" support for colonialism and apartheid.
"In Zimbabwe, as in most countries on the Africa continent. the Church played midwifery to colonialism and even recreated colonial relations within its own 'theocratic settlements'," Mugabe told delegates attending the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.
He said the Church often confused evangelisation with westernisation. "In our region and perhaps more than anywhere else, the Church at one time succumbed or even voluntarily "ceded' our God to colonialism and apartheid."
"The Church lent holiness to one supposedly (White) superior race and its high-handed, exclusionary structures of misgovernance," Mugabe claimed.
More than 4,500 delegates are attending the 12-day WCC assembly, which began on Dec 3.
Mugabe had been widely expected to condemn gays and lesbians but he was quiet about them in his address which lasted more than an hour. He, however, hit out at homosexuals as he left the University of Zimbabwe, venue of the WCC Assembly.
Asked what he thought of their participation at the assembly, Mugabe retorted: "I don't know about them. I came to address the World Council of Churches and if they have come as individuals to pray to enhance their moral entity as human beings and desist from the Gay way of theirs, well, well and good. This is the church. This is the organisation that can purge (cleanse) them."
Homosexuality is unlawful in Zimbabwe and President Mugabe has repeatedly condemned the practice and has described gays and lesbians as being "lower than pigs and dogs."
The issue of sexual orientation remains a contentious one as members were split on whether to allow them in the church. One delegate said that gays and lesbian Christians, were free to come to the church as it is a "place for sinners" raising objections as to what constitutes a sin. Gays and Lesbians were not officially recognised as participants at the assembly and attended as individual members of the public.
The WCC meeting, which ends Dec 14, is discussing African debt crises, the AIDS pandemic and try to find solution to the five-month conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
President Mugabe said he had gone to some length to give the delegates a feel of the history of the church in Africa "so we all can begin to appreciate the real challenges of ecumenical witness in an unjust and divided world."
"It is clear that the Church cannot absolve itself from the problems of history, the present and the future," he said. "It may, in fact, be correct to say that our experience of the church in this region is of both an erring and atoning institution at the same time."
During his speech, Mugabe appealed to the Church to help in his country's land reform programme.
He said while the successfull struggle for independence in 1980 had given the black majority self-rule, Zimbabweans still face numerous constraints which threaten their survival as an independent nation free to determine its own affairs. One such constraint relates to the unequal allocation of land in Zimbabwe.
"Brethren in Christ, we are still grappling with the same problem and asking the same questions (on land). Zimbabwe still finds itself in a peculiar situation where a mere 4,000 White commercial farmers hold half of the arable land in this country, while about 11 million Africans are hurdled in the other half," said Mugabe.
"It is not unusual to find individuals in this country owning four, five, six big farms, amounting to several thousands of hectares, when their black communal family counterparts have to toil on allotments of not more than five acres each," he said.
Mugabe said while Zimbabwe has vast tracts of land which are owned by absentee landlords, most of them British or South Africans, the 'true owners of this land, go without or with very little'.
"British Lords, British Companies, wealthy white South African families and companies have massive landholdings which they possess by dint of colonial history! Yet, we are made to appear unjust, more unjust that the absentee landlord or multiple owner of underutilised land when we demand land reform."
Mugabe hit back at the British media which last week accused him of "larceny, tyranny, brutality and racism" because of the land issue. "But who really should accuse who on this question of land?," he said.
"How possibly can the church stand as one in a society with such disparities: What sermon fits the landlord; what sermon is for the landless? Who between the social types does the Church and its priests choose and identify with?" Mugabe told the delegates.
The WCC assembly is expected to take a clear stand on the debt burden -- estimated at about 300 billion US Dollars -- which is crushing the social and economic life in African countries who now comprise the majority of the Highly-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). Among the 41 HIPCs, 33 are African.
Mugabe called upon the Church to help end the debt crisis. "The Council (WCC) should use its moral authority to appeal to the powerful nations of the West to agree to write off debts of Third World nations," he said.
The Zimbabwean leader, who is an avowed socialist, also urged the WCC to lead in calling the world back to sane and humane goals that edify God's image. "It is difficult to resist temptation to conclude that perhaps our world would have been a lot better, a lot safer if we had given communism both a spiritual and democratic God than accept rampant Capitalism as goldy," he said.
Formed in 1948, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, the WCC is an organisation of some 330 churches in about 100 countries around the world.(END/IPS/lm/mn/98)
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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