Yours truly had to violate Covid-19 regulation on intercity travel, to drive all the way to Lower Gweru with a church pastor in tow. As a family, we had exhausted every avenue to convince our 76-year-old mother to get vaccinated.
“Over my dead body!” my septuagenarian mother would declare whenever the idea of vaccination was suggested to her. Her strong conviction on the life-saving vaccines was formed after a church elder, in his sermon, put forward the theory that the vaccines belong to a process of control that will lead to the application of the mark of the beast.
Another speculative view that the gullible Mbuya Shumba had swallowed hook, line and sinker was that the substances used to produce the vaccines were unclean, hence those who get the jabs becomes impure as well.
It did not take any effort for the pastor to convince the old woman. Unfortunately a number of congregants from that particular church had succumbed to the novel pandemic, on account of some wrong Biblical interpretations. May their dear souls rest in eternal peace.
This all illustrates the power that the church wields in society.
It is one agent of socialisation that has tremendous influence on the character of society.
The church leaders, especially those from the contemporary churches, are held in veneration that even parallels the one bestowed on God himself. What a man of God says goes. It is sacrosanct and it’s abomination for man to challenge the man of God.
It is this relationship and deification of church leaders that call for the later to be thoughtful in whatever they do and say. They should grasp their calling to influence people for the greater good of the society. They must realise that whatever they do or say has seismic and snowball effects because they enjoy higher levels of public trust.
However, gullibility is not a Christian virtue. The Bible itself calls people to “live not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15).
Since the advent of the contemporary churches, which some prefer to call gospelneurship, people have been disproportionately fooled by conspiracy theories.
There have been claims of curing people of HIV. These untested claims have forced some patients to default on their life saving drugs resulting in their undue demises. There have also been some bizarre incidents in churches.
Around 2015, a South African pastor, Lessego Daniel of Rabboni Centre Ministries ordered his congregation to eat grass, claiming that he could change anything into food.
The same pastor also instructed his congregants to drink petrol claiming that it can miraculously turn into pineapple juice.
In 2000, up to 600 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments sect in Uganda committed mass suicide in a sealed church.
This was after their leader, Joseph Kibwetere misled them that the world was about to end.
This is the danger with congregants who follow their leaders like flies which follow a corpse into the grave.
Such a corpse-and-fly relationship is taking root in Zimbabwe and can gravely retard the fight against the pandemic. Emmanuel Makandiwa of the UFI church courted controversy when he said that his followers were protected from coronavirus and that the vaccines distorted people’s DNA.
Being as charismatic as he is, his utterances contributed to vaccine hesitancy and reluctance among his followers.
Fortunately, the preacher made a volte-face this week. He advised his congregants to follow what doctors were saying. That was a progressive about face although his first unproven statements might have caused fatalities already. It is never too late though as that new proclamation is set to save lives.
However, Makandiwa must not hide behind the finger and make the about turn without repenting. He must tell the whole world that he erred and that way, it will carry weight.
He transgressed by spreading unproven conspiracies which is tantamount to bearing false witness. It is a sin, according to the Bible.
Churches must complement the government in the fight against Covid-19 by urging their members to embrace vaccines, adhere to Covid-19 guideline measures and even source vaccines for their congregants. Church leaders must also dispel a bumper crop of conspiracy theories within their congregations.
Many churches are doing this. For instance, the Seventh Day Adventist General Conference recently gave a guideline where they answered concerns, allay fears and resolved some of the myths and rumours about the vaccines.
The pandemic had generated speculations related to end time events and misinterpretations of the Bible in the SDA church.
There are, however, some churches, especially open air churches, that are still defying lockdown measures as they are still gathering in the bush or at their leaders’ homes in their numbers with no masks.
These are fuelling fresh spikes of new cases of the disease.
Churches are the least expected institution to give the Government a headache. Maybe night clubs. There are also claims within these apostolic sects that they can cure the disease.
As much as the freedom of worship is enshrined in the Constitution, Government has to chip in where national interests are at stake.
Religious liberty prevails in abundance in Zimbabwe, but it should be exercised with due diligence to foil catastrophic upshots.