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Divorce in Johanne Marange Apostolic Church, women and household duties

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MATTHEW MARE

THE theology of Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (JMAC) teaches that property such as household utensils and beds are the only feminine property that a woman can claim to own.

In the event of a divorce, the prerogative is on the man to give what he chooses to in addition to kitchen utensils.

Women have absolutely no voice because the Bible says women should not speak and exercise authority over men. Interestingly, women are to blame for any divorce due to stereotyping as the biblical Eve who caused the fall of man.

The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1985 stipulates that, in the event of divorce, matrimonial assets are to be distributed equally (Matrimonial Causes Act, 1985:2).

The Act removed “faulty principle” of accusing one to be at fault for causing in the breakdown of the relationship as the grounds for divorce. While the secular laws had outlawed the “faulty principle” as early as 1985, JMAC leadership does not consider this legal position in its theology (ibid, 1985:3).

The church teaches that it is the only institution that can formulate laws that are divinely inspired. The aspect of divination is quite central in JMAC church, especially continuous revelation.

While the Matrimonial Act of 1985 clearly states what ought to be done in the event of divorce, JMAC remains defiant that the church is the final arbitrator in everything concerning the life of its congregant, from birth to death.

The philosophy of predetermination is very central in JMAC. The church is therefore found to be undermining and invalidating all the human rights treaties and conventions on children and women to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

If the state continues to ignore church authority, in the unforeseeable future, state authority would reverse the Westphalia treaty. The church still claims authority over the state and it is no longer vice-versa. Even when women feel their rights have been infringed upon, the JMAC bars them from seeking legal recourse from secular courts and the state.

JMAC women and household duties

Selective usage of scriptures is found to greatly inhibit women from enjoying their constitutional rights and privileges, an example of such being 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which reads, “… do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather she remains quiet” (1 Timothy, 2:11-12 ESV).

Women are thus, in the JMAC, relegated to the periphery of the church hierarchy.  Women are also not allowed to be formally employed by the government. Whilst women are confined to household spheres, the household duties are yet to be monetised in Zimbabwe.

The Equal Pay Regulations (1980:3), which provided for equal pay for equal work and also provided for half-an-hour’s time before and after lunch for breastfeeding, is not beneficial to the women in JMAC because household duties are not incorporated into the act (Equal Pay Regulations, 1980:3).

The theology of JMAC and the scripture are inhibiting women from the full enjoyment of their constitutional rights.

The scripture and doctrine of infanticide

The doctrine of infanticide is an old Jewish custom which shared common cultural traits with Africa Traditional Religion (ATR). In ATR, human sacrifice is one of the common belief systems. 

Prominent sociologist Émile Durkheim talked about cultural universalism, explaining that cultures might vary from society to society, but there are always some shared value systems.

It is this philosophical interpretation of culture that helped the formulation of such terms as universal culture. This cultural dimension is important, especially considering that African independent churches (AICs) derive most of their theological doctrines from scriptural literalism and culture.

At the core of AICs is the concept of worshipping through culture, with ATR standing in as an important canon from which they also read and learn.

The artifacts like mbiya (clay plates), muteuro (sacred water), nhombo (small sacred stones) are used in AICs as some of the sacred objects drawing some resemblance with the use of sacred objects in ATR.

The same way the Jewish culture influenced christianity, ATR influenced AICs. However, this thesis explored the shared value systems of infanticide as a human rights violation on children and mothers who are the most affected by bereavement.

While the JMAC is to blame for infanticide, at state level the Zimbabwean constitution has not adequately addressed the subject matter.

Unless the state is legally clear on the doctrine of infanticide, blaming the church as violating the rights and sanctity of children’s life would not be justifiable. Notably, Zimbabwe is a constitutional democratic state and human rights are interpreted from the perspective of the constitution.

There are a number of verses in the Bible where infanticide was not condemned and, in some instances, instigated by God himself through his angels. 

The Catholic Biblical Quarterly (2013:123), a journal, says King Herod killed 14 000 infants below the two years old in Bethlehem and its surroundings. Herod ordered his army to behead children with swords, smashed others against stones, trampled some underfoot, and strangled others with their hands (ibid, 2013:124). It is further alluded to that, the cries and wails of the mothers rose to heaven, lamentation, and bitter weeping as had been prophesized, Rachel weeping for her children (Jeremiah, 31:15; St Matthew, 2: 18 ESV).

In addition, Exodus 12: 29-30, at midnight, the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt from the first born of Pharaoh that sat on the throne, to the first born of the captive maid in the gudgeon, and the first born of all cattle (Exodus, 12:29-30 ESV). And Pharaoh rose up by night, and his servants, and all the Egyptians and there was a great cry in all the land of Egypt, for there was not a house in which there was not one dead.

The scripture does not condemn the killing of children by the angel. The Bible portrayed God as perpetrator of infanticide through his angels. Questions can be asked on whether Pharaoh, who in the Bible is portrayed as Satan was, instead, sincerer than God.

The doctrine of God as omnipotent, omniscient and all-loving becomes questionable. Pharaoh, whom the scripture portrayed as evil, had to let the Israelites go to avert the deaths of more children by the angels. 

In Zimbabwe, children and women are victims of both theology and the secular laws. In The Chronicle newspaper dated 25 May 2019, a 19-year-old Happiness Ndebele from Nkulumane suburb strangled and slit her newborn baby’s throat (Chronicle, 2019:2).

The case was heard by Bulawayo magistrate Stephen Ndlovu before the Western Commonage magistrates’ court. Ndebele was sentenced to 36 months in prison which were then suspended on condition that she performs 210 hours of community service at a local primary school (ibid, 2019:2).

The death of children in Zimbabwe is on an upward trajectory and the gruesome murder of a seven-year-old Tapiwa Makore of Murehwa in 2020 is a classic example.

In Zimbabwe, children’s homes and streets are full of dumped children and the state, through its departments and structures, has not effectively addressed the issue.

This clearly indicates the extent to which the rights of children are not fully protected even by secular laws.

In JMAC there is no sanctity of the life of children to whom the church teaches that “vana zvidhina” meaning children are like bricks. Legally, the Infanticide Act (1991) replaced murder charge with infanticide, meaning mother can kill their newborn babies due to neo-natal depression, rejection by boyfriend/husband, parents and/or relatives.

In this Act, newborn babies are not considered human beings and are not fully protected theologically and even by secular laws. The life of children is endangered at both state and theological levels.

This research has noted that the rights of women and children theologically are determined by the relationship between the state and the church. The study also noted with concern that both the state and the church are human rights offenders and both view the human rights discourse as a Western civilisation which is being imposed on Africa.

The state is, however, not consistent with regard to human rights. It seems only to advance human rights discourses as far as it is advancing its own interests and becomes antagonistic if it is at variance with the human rights dictates.

The scripture, especially the creation narrative, demeans women as architects of the fall of humanity; and there are incidences where kings would indiscriminately kill children and where God would send angels to kill the Egyptian first-born child.

While the scripture might have demeaned women and children’s rights, the 1648 treaty of Westphalia gave the state the powers to control the church.

The research proposes “two sides of the same coin theory” and in this theory the church and the state are one and the same thing insofar as the rights of women and children are concerned.

While the 1684 Treaty of Westphalia empowered the state to control the church, the religious nature of Africans makes them submissive to the church authority. It is a taboo in Africa to defy God or gods and, more so, religion played an insurmountable role in the liberation war of many African states.

This is further compounded by Africa’s cosmological viewpoint where the divine is the one who puts and dethrones leaders from power.

Almost all African leaders consult mediums or God upon their ascendance to power.

In Africa, no leader can rule without the endorsement of the divine and they also strongly believe that no person can be a president unless the spiritual world has endorsed it. This makes it most unlikely for an African state to condemn religion, worse still AICs whose origins are embedded in African values. The other problem emanates from the fact that people’s tradition or value system is a source of law formulation (Dugard, 2010:45).

About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD. He is also doing another PhD and has 12 executive certificates in different fields. Professionally, he is a civil servant and also board member at the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe.

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