One evening in September of 2018, Tichafa Maregere, drove to his rural home in Zvimba to formally introduce his wife, Maryline and relatives who had accompanied her for a traditional custom that follows a customary marriage ceremony.
After going through the traditional rituals that evening, celebrations later came to a surprising halt when Tichafa’s father made a call to a fellow church elder.
“My brother, I call to inform you that tomorrow I am not coming to church because I have special visitors. My son has brought home his wife and in-laws for introductions.
“Just in case you might think I have switched allegiance and crossed over to Madawo’s faction. I am still with you in the Chiangwa faction,” said Tichafa’s father before hanging up.
“This Apostolic Faith Mission in Zimbabwe (AFM) issue is affecting our values and social relations as a people here in Zvimba. I have a friend who lost his mom here and because when the church split he went to the Madawo faction, many people in Chiangwa’s faction did not pay their condolences.
“If we fail to be religious, let us not fail to be human.”
In the New Testament, the book of James advises that “pure and undefiled religion before God and Father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their tribulation and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Tichafa’s father adds: “These are difficult times for me and I hope the situation changes sooner for the purpose of keeping the people united.”
The littered history of splits in religious denominations appear to be influenced and instigated not by ordinary members, but mainly church leaders, writes Ian Sumner in a paper that explored the problem of Christian behaviour.
“When Christians split, they passionately hate each other because they fear to be ostracised from their group, hence they take orders as they come without weighing if that is good for their spiritual nourishment or not,” writes Sumner.
A 2019 High Court judgment by Justice David Mangota declared Reverend Amon Madawo the legitimate AFM in Zimbabwe leader before Reverend Cossam Chiangwa started his own church with his sympathetic followers, the AFM of Zimbabwe.
Since then, all sins of the flesh recorded in the book of Galatians have manifested, including “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying”.
In 2019, a young pastor who had qualified as a theologian in 2017, was deployed to Hurungwe in the Zvipani area by the Chiangwa leadership to administer spiritual guidance at a church that had for long been under the stewardship of a Madawo-backed pastor.
“Kudenga kure (the journey to salvation is arduous). I witnessed first-hand the breaking down of relations,” said pastor Joseph who has relocated to Botswana and vowed never to serve in Zimbabwe.
“Not church relations or social relations, but blood relations. Uncles were no longer talking to the nephews and nieces because of the split in the church.
“The pastor I replaced only left with five families at an assembly that had over 200 members. Relations were so much strained that members were not greeting each other. Overally, there were intricate political moves by elders against the pastors and vice-versa and as a result people abandoned the principles of loving the neighbour and praying for another to advance personal interests.”
At an assembly that was in the same area pastor Joseph was, a poisonous pellet was crushed and spread underneath the pastor’s doorstep and when his toddler child inhaled it, she got sick and was admitted in hospital.
“I will not be a pastor again in Zimbabwe,” Pastor Joseph adds. “At 32, I was just too young to witness that and I will try something else from here and unlikely to join ministry in Zimbabwe.”
French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal famously said “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
Over the past years in Zimbabwe, factionalism in Christian denominations has provided ugly conclusions.
In 2019, eight members from the Guta raJehova Church in Zvimba were arrested and arraigned before a court of law for public violence which led to the destruction of huts at the church’s shrine.
The two factions were fighting for control of the church’s shrine in Hlohla Village, leading to one member being injured after he was attacked with a slingshot.
Warring factions were led by Mr Allan Zimuto and the other by Mr Thompson Manhenga.
“I have seen politicians fighting, but honestly, they have proven better than people we call Christians,” said Mr Isaac Murembwa, a lecturer of religion and philosophy at a local university. “If you attack a politician today, he or she will be protected from abuse by colleagues.
“They will make sure their colleague feels at home. When it comes to religion, it is your colleagues who will hang you.”
To Mr Murembwa, most of what religious leaders do is driven by selfish interests and has nothing to do “saving people and pointing them to God.”
His view is parallel to what Dr Everisto Mapfiro of the Revelation of Grace ministries thinks.
Dr Mapfiro says people should consider Christians as human beings who can also falter.
“Christians are human beings who can also falter,” Dr Mapfiro. “I, however, think people should also stop following leaders to church, but understand Bible doctrines so that they make independent decisions.
“Some church leaders also take advantage of the ignorance of their congregants. Congregants just follow orders like sheep going for slaughter, yet that has a detriment to their spiritual life.”
As said by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the insensitivities around Christianity are to some extent that “religion is an opium of the masses.”