Sharon Hofisi Legal Letters
So much of religion is real belief. Religion has the adhesive power that even regulators may not measure. I suppose, like all who love the lore of religion, I have to have a vested interest on media reports on intended legal moves that bear on religious freedom. Various religions have their own manuals for instruction. Islam has the Holy Koran while Christians have the Bible, and so on. The prophets are usually from Christianity. I may loosely group them under Zionists, Apostolics, Pentecostals and Charismatics.
African Traditional Religion has traditional healers. Their manual is not the Bible. Their beliefs are not based on the teachings of the Christian Bible. Their perception of the divine is also different from the perceptions of the Christians.
It may be a bit harsh if not unconstitutional for regulators to hunt down answers from those outside the religion to be so regulated. Christianity has a very rich history of prophetic activity.
Jesus himself was doubtlessly a prophet. Paul the apostle was symbolically advised by a prophet that he would be arrested in a certain place. The prophet bound himself to dramatise Paul’s arrest.
Regulations may yield positive results if applied effectively. The Christian manual — the Bible has a lot of regulations starting from the more than 639 regulations in the Old Testament. The danger of regulation arises from a failure to ask the right questions.
There is nothing wrong in registering one’s displeasures with prophetic activity.
Potential regulators are free to consider what is acceptable or unacceptable from such activity.
People who are following religious events will argue that congregants are being defrauded by prophets.
But that is not the only problem. A licence will not colour a prophet ethical. Regulations can be more dangerous than loosening the belts. Zimbabwe is a prophetic book, which every religious person can read. Those who are unbelieving can also weigh in and support regulation. That’s to be expected in a free society.
When we consider the mooted regulation, we must also look at the expected benefits of the move, lest we end up reciting an endless poetry of fear of the unknown. The Constitution speaks to the need for freedom of conscience. Put simply, religious freedom is part of the fundamental freedoms that are protected by the Constitution.
I read a lot about what the Israelite community did with its prophets. Those whom it did not understand like Jeremiah, it send to exile. Those who were like Isaiah were executed with saws. Those like Amos would be labelled seers. Those like Hosea would be described as “the man of the Spirit has gone mad, indeed the prophet is a fool”.
An argument for regulations may be premised on the need to have a society, bound by common criminal and civil laws and regulations. Even deific law suggests the need for a common code.
That code must, however, regulate those who are like-minded. People in African Religion cannot lead the argument on having the same code with Christians or vice versa. Zimbabweans are free to be bound by codes, which those bound to them can freely append their signatures to be so bound.
What moves those who want prophets to be bound must look at the laws of Zimbabwe and the instructing manuals of the various prophetic groups in Zimbabwe.
The views of these prophetic groups and their supporters must be considered first because they have the freedom to express their conscience.
Memory also plays a mind in this endeavour. Those who sever ties with prophets usually speak ill of the prophets.
In the Shona lexicon, we have been meant to understand that “kutaura zvepo hunge wabvapo”, loosely translated to mean that, “familiarity breeds contempt”.
Religion is where the society’s cement is, no wonder why social problems start with it.
It is very easy for regulators to blame religious leaders or groups for causing certain problems.
Elijah was considered a troubler of Israel. Micaiah Ben Imlah was branded an unfavourable prophet. Jeremiah was called a traitor.
As someone, who has dealt with some regulations, but always from a defensive side, it does occur to me that those outside a particular profession can either positively or negatively contribute to its effectiveness.
Judges may have a Code of conduct that benefits immensely from the legal fraternity. Lawyers may also have a code of conduct that benefits from non-lawyers.
Academics may have a code that is informed by non-academics. There is great justice in diversity.
With increasing concerns against prophets, regulation is not only burdensome, but it is a very controlling force.
Believers become shackled to certain mores or ethics that may be alien to their conscience.
This does not mean that prophets must be immune from prosecution or civil suits.
My worry is on regulating a religion you don’t understand. Matters of the heart and conscience are difficult to regulate. If you want to live as a traditionalist, non-religious or Christian, better be that.
There is nothing wrong if various church leaders come together to regulate the activities of the five-fold ministry-teachers, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and apostles.
The apostle Paul, himself a systematic theologian, who was also trained in religious law, exhorted the Corinthian church to solve the believers’ lawsuits using their religious hierarchies.
James the Lord’s brother also wrote an ethical treatise where he spoke about how Christians ought to solve their grievances before resorting to secular courts.
We have had Christian organisations such as the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, Apostolic Council of Zimbabwe and Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe.
Some of the Christian organisations have been engaging effectively with Government on matters affecting the church. Zimbabwe does not have a Ministry of Religion.
That ministry would have been best placed to work with other line ministries to engage churches on issues such as prophetic activity.
I suppose regulating prophecy is not as easy as it seems. Even Gamaliel, an adherent and fundi in the Jewish law once warned those who wanted to regulate Christians that they risked fighting with God.
It is axiomatic that true prophets in various religions or countries tower head and shoulders over their contemporaries-Muhammad in Islam; Moses and various prophets in Israel, or Samuel Mutendi, Emmanuel Makandiwa, Walter Magaya and others in Zimbabwe.
Those who consider certain prophets to be false have the Bible as their instructing manual.
Prophetic experience has never been understood by those who operate outside the realm of the Spirit.
The prophet is not the author of society’s problems, his or her audience is. There is a culture of working the prophets day and night out in our society.
Vanhu vanoda kushandirwa, literally, they want the prophets to provide instant solutions.
No wonder why those who are fond of personal prophets or prophetic fathers have been seen to venerate prophets beyond human imagination.
The audience agrees to accept declarations and decrees; agrees to be thrown into a world of make belief; agrees to seed to the prophet; agrees to buy the prophet’s arsenal; agrees to shout with the prophet and agrees to everything.
It is very easy for bystanders to consider the shouts to be part of emotionalism, hysteria, or spiritual machinations.
We risk some bus stop diagnosis. The congregant gives all her details willingly. They agree not to touch the anointed of God. They agree not to oppose the man of the spirit. The man of the robe is right in their minds.
They will tell you boldly that Moses was venerated by Caleb as a Man of God and Servant of God.
These titles were used by Caleb to convince Joshua to fulfil the Mosaic promise that Caleb was to get his inheritance for bringing positive response concerning the land of Israelite’s promise.
Samuel troubled the conscience of a rich man’s son, Saul.
Saul knew that there was a Man of God in the city. He was enjoined to find something to give Samuel. This created an atmosphere of prophecy for Saul. His fathers’ lost donkeys were found. Saul understood that Samuel had an extraordinary quality of attraction — the anointing of God.
I can spend a year citing why true prophets in Israel were consulted. It was religiously proper for Israelites to be confused by prophets. They even asked Moses this pertinent question, “How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken”.
Moses gave them various criteria for identifying a true prophet.
He warned them against putting their trust in a prophet’s powers of prediction.
In Deuteronomy 13, Moses made it clear that predictions and dreams were not authentic marks of a true prophet.
The individual consultant is supposed to understand that God could be testing him; worse still, if that prophet calls the consultant to worship other gods besides Yahweh.
The Israelites were warned against soothsayers, black magicians, augury, and other practices.
Regulators and policy givers must consider the supporters of prophets as policy influencers before coming up with State policy that may appear to be impulsively imposed.
Admittedly, Christians have also had their fair share of controversies.
Some churches train their own prophets. Others follow the Old Testament way of prophetic experience, which usually has the theophany or divine visitation — popularly called a prophetic call.
However, it is clear from the Bible that prophecy is shown in 1 Corinthians to be a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Paul the Apostle gave the purpose of prophecy as meant to edify the church. Christians were advised to strive to have the gift of prophecy.
In this wake, the role of the divine must be left to believers of a particular religion.
Christian prophets cannot be forced to be registered under traditional healers association to practice as such. They are free to do so under a membership organisation that subscribes to Christian ethos.
The Christian groups, who do not use the Bible as their manual of instruction, can also choose either to register under traditional healers association or their own membership organisation.
The Bible clearly envisages a situation where ethical considerations for Christians are better served by Christians themselves.
Even philosophers advised their contemporaries to separate between rationalism and divine revelation.
They warned that divine revelation must be left to believers.
This dovetails with the age-old belief, which dominated Abrahamic faiths such as Judaism and Christianity that prophets are mouthpieces of the divine.
Further, the Bible warns Christians about the need to distinguish between true and false prophets. In light of the above, various media reports on the need to regulate Zimbabwean prophets throw interesting light on the different views that religion play in a society. While Marxists may see it as the opium of society, religion remains ‘the’ cement of society.
I have reason to believe that religious beliefs speak to the fact that an individual is free to express what he considers to be the connecting link with his or her deity. The Godhead is difficult to understand.
Those who study theology know this fact; mortals cannot study God.
They only understand the attributes of the Godhead such as mercy, kindness, patience, steadfast love, and salvific grace.
If the contention for regulating prophets emanates from the need to protect Zimbabweans from being fleeced of their money by men of God, then the regulators have to consider what the God of men has taught mankind on such issues.
To be continued…
Sharon hofisi writes in his personal capacity; feedback sharonhofiigmail.com.