By Kudakwashe Gwabanayi
IN 2005, apostolic sects’ leaders made a departure from the expected by making a landmark decision barring polygamy in their churches.
The ruling was a major boost for the anti-Aids campaign as polygamy has been found to fuel the spread of HIV and Aids and is a deep-rooted practice in the apostolic sects.
Last week, the apostolic sects made yet another landmark decision.
They heeded the call for circumcision and agreed to embrace all other methods that would protect them from HIV infection.
Could this mark the changing times in the sects’ doctrines or is it because the HIV scourge has hit them so hard?
More than 70 leaders of the apostolic sects under the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa (UDACIZA), an umbrella body for Apostolic and Zionist churches, agreed that circumcision, together with protection, was the way forward.
Founding president of UDACIZA Bishop Xavier Chitanda of the Johanne Masowe sect said the umbrella body was formed after a realisation that if positive change had to be achieved among Apostolic and
Zionist churches, a participatory approach had to be adopted.
The Government, in collaboration with National Aids Council (NAC) and Population Services International (PSI), reached out to UDACIZA leadership at a workshop in Harare.
PSI country director Mrs Kumbirai Chatara described the workshop as a success in all senses as the leaders responded positively.
“We made an emphasis that they would lose their future generations if they fail to protect them now,” she said.
“We encouraged them to instill in the youth the discipline of abstinence before marriage. If they are to marry they should first have their partners tested for HIV and should stick to one partner.”
Mrs Chatara said that her organisation was not against the idea of polygamy but insisted on what she termed a “clean polygamy”.
“We encourage people to minimise the number of their sexual partners despite their religious beliefs,” she said.
“Should a need arise we strongly advise that the partner be tested for any infections and also that the youth and everyone else should refrain from casual sex and sex before or outside marriage.”
The apostolic church leaders said they now wanted more educational programmes about HIV.
Bishop Edmore Ronjesani of New Testament Apostolic said they were very happy that they were being recognised.
“In other previous programmes like immunisation, measles treatment and family planning, we were not approached because the handlers of the projects had preconceived thoughts about us,” he said.
“The fact is that we live in the same world with everyone else and we are affected by HIV as much.”
The bishops were in unison that it is time they actively took part in HIV prevention programmes.
They pledged to disregard some of their beliefs that have nothing to do with the word of God.
Archbishop Lovemore Nyamombe of Zviratidzo Zvevapositori read Leviticus 3:12 which talks about the circumcision of a newly born baby boy.
The verse says: “On the eighth day, the boy is to be circumcised.”
Archbishop Nyamombe said the verse was a call for the apostolic sects to be saved from the HIV pandemic.
“We cannot afford to ignore the fact that HIV has become our everyday problem just like everyone else in the country and any opportunity to fight it, like this one, should be used fruitfully,” he said.
Archbishop Nyamombe said many children and other church members had easily succumbed to sicknesses that were sexually related.
Apostolic sects have stood accused of refusing modern medicine to treat various ailments.
In fact, many of the apostolic sects’ leaders are known to bar their followers from seeking medical treatment at conventional medical centres.
Bishop Washington Guveya of Nyenyedzi Nomwe said it was obvious that many of their followers were “perishing because they lack knowledge”.
“Many of us in these churches have resorted to polygamy for different reasons,” he said.
“What is painful is the stubborn fact that not all of us have remained faithful in our multiple relationships. It is about time we took the initiative to protect ourselves and our children.”
Bishop Guveya said promiscuity within apostolic sects could not be ignored, as there were testimonies of both men and women who had been caught wanting.
His views were supported by Reverend Edison Tsvakai of Zviratidzo Zvevapositori, who gave an example of 12 women married to one man in Buhera.
The man, Rev Tsvakai said, had fallen short in satisfying the women as it would take them days to have a time with him and the wives ended up looking for “boyfriends” who would be with them when the husband was away.
“These are some of the situations that we have been exposed to that have made us realise that we need to take heed of this call,” he said.
“It may seem so easy for most of us to be faithful, but we are all prone to sin.”
Women who attended the workshop welcomed the move and said it would help reduce HIV prevalence in their husbands and children.
Susan Dube, the Bishop of Holy Baptised Apostolic Church, said the call for circumcision should be taken without any restraint.
She quoted Luke 2:21 which says: “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”
“This is something that has always been prescribed by the Bible and I think people had just overlooked it,” said Bishop Dube.
While some members of the apostolic sects seemed uncomfortable with the “operation” aspect of the circumcision, the majority of them agreed that it was worth undertaking.
“Some of our churches discourage us from using hospital utensils,” said one of the delegates.
“We are not allowed to have any of our body parts cut off, so we do not know if there are any means of doing this without going to a clinic.”
But Archbishop Edison Vashiko of the Gospel Apostolic Church said some beliefs led to deaths among church members.
“The pandemic is closing in on us despite where we stand with our beliefs,” he said.
“All of us should support this initiative.”
PSI communications manager Ms Patience Kunaka warned the delegates that circumcision was not a “passport” to unprotected sex.
“All we are saying is that circumcision will reduce the chances of you contracting HIV in the event that you have unprotected sex by at least 60 percent,” she said.
“We are encouraging church leaders and members to make use of condoms as they protect you from infections.”
The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare is promoting male circumcision as part of measures to reduce HIV infection and has since opened male circumcision clinics in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Mt Darwin.
It is estimated that around 10 percent of Zimbabwean men have been circumcised either through the clinics or traditional methods.-The Sunday Mail