Examining Johanne Marange Apostolic Church’s cardinal belief system, human rights imperatives
THE abuse of women and children is a front-page item globally.
Religious-linked terror groups use women and children as political pawns and human shields. Children have always been victims of history both in the secular and ecclesiastic. The issue of child rights is a historical subject matter and states are grappling to mitigate the abuse of children’s rights in all spheres of life.
To demonstrate the importance of mitigating child abuse, the study identified in history major world disasters in which children were key victims. Majority of the girls died during world disasters, with some minors forced into marriages, raped and human trafficked.
The Vietnamese war of 1944-1945 claimed over two million lives, a majority of whom were children. It was also noted that 1.5 million people mostly children have died as a result of human sacrifice in the Aztec culture and no known prosecutions took place.
The 1983-85 famine in Ethiopia claimed at least one million lives and most girls were abused in refugee settlements.
The study used these statistics to justify why this chapter was dedicated to children’s rights and their sustainable livelihoods considerations.
The study is not against the theology of Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (JMAC) in its entirety but it is concerned with those aspects of the theology that violate the rights of children.
The criteria of identifying whether the theological practice, ritual and teaching is a violation of Human Rights was by subjecting these elements to the constitution. The constitution was an important document on this study since Zimbabwe as a country is a constitutional democratic state.
For years, women and children in religious sphere are being exposed to heinous acts of abuse including statutory rape, forced virginity testing, forced marriages, which deprive the girl child the right to fair treatment in the sphere of access to education, health care, child policies, political determination, amongst others. The impact of these theologies includes, pregnant women giving birth at shrines, malnutrition and high infant mortality rates.
Children in JMAC are not benefiting from most government policies due to JMAC’s theology. The theology presents the church as a sojourner on this earth and that the world is the kingdom of Satan.
The government being a secular entity is viewed by the church as part of the earthly kingdom. The church believes that the only laws that govern it are the 10 Commandments, which the church teaches were given to humanity by God himself.
In the JMAC theology, the 10 Commandments are superior to the constitution that was made by blood and flesh. The 10 Commandments are believed to have been written by God himself and were handed over to Moses in their original form.
The church teaches that God is still manifesting himself through the Holy Spirit and continuous revelation. Thus, God directs his church in real time and the role of the state in its theology is very limited.
The state is only tolerated in line with Roman 13:1 and through that verse the church teaches that, the state is the subject to the church, since the church is the representative of God on earth. In terms of hermeneutics, the African independent churches (AICs) and JMAC employs literalism when interpreting the sacred scripture.
The AICs largely refer to Old Testament verses where kings would go to man of God and prophets for guidance, protection and intercession. JMAC strongly believe that the state is the subject of the church, and that it must seek God’s face and repent from its wayward/worldly deeds.
The church obeys the state to a limited extent. This background was meant to give a brief theological exposition which perhaps helps to explain why JMAC children are not benefiting from government’s social policies designed to uplift children.
The JMAC formulated most of its theologies and teachings in the 1930s as a reaction to colonialism and its various manifestations. Schools, clinics and hospitals came along with colonialism; hence the Church taught and protested a lot against these.
The protests and boycotting of these institutions was part of the decolonisation process and political theology more than they had anything to do with spirituality. The role of Old Testament prophets who were statesmen, political figures, liberators, advisers, healers, intercessors, messengers and prophetic figures influenced the political theology of JMAC.
The church’s major teachings against the state were part of the protest against colonisation and the demand for independence. Of note is the rationale of continuing with protest theology and political theology under changed circumstances.
The country is no longer under colonial rule. The majority of churches of Western origin have Africanised, de-racialised and indigenised to the effect that they are now led and run by the indigenous people claiming autonomy from the West.
Is it still valid, therefore, to talk of Western churches in Zimbabwe? With the attainment of Independence and changes which took place in once Western churches, JMAC theology should have revised some of its theologies. The basic tenet of any theology is that, it must be contextualised to adapt and conform to changing and changed circumstances. It is the assumption of this study that the JMAC theology is behaving as if the post independent Zimbabwe is a colonial government.
On the other hand, the state’s approach to JMAC is that of voluntarism where the church has the right to choose to or not comply with the government’s directive. Reports from scholarship, non-state actors, state agencies and individuals were deliberately ignored by the government which is looking at AICs from a political angle.
The ruling Zanu PF considers AICs as its key and reliable political voting constituency. In turn AICs seem to enjoy state protection and immunity which enable them to violate laws and policies with impunity. There is a “new normal”, meaning doing things the wrong way but still be considered normal. It is a fact that children and women in JMAC are not benefiting from the government policies, and are having their rights deprived by the church.
The state turns a blind eye to such human rights violations and instead showers the church with praises when key government officials visit their shrines and attend their passover ceremonies.
Under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the government has the legal obligation to protect, promote and safeguard the rights of the vulnerable societies.
Not much has been written on how much government policies aimed at uplifting the livelihoods of the vulnerable children are benefiting children in AICs, particularly JMAC. The waywardness of the church is clearly captured in the 1648 treaty of Westphalia, which created states to regulate the behaviour of the church.
Thus, the state must take necessary measures to ensure that, children in AICs are also benefiting from their social policies. There is a relaxation on the part of the state, to control and regulate the church. The seriousness of the state is seen in its policies, laws and more importantly enforcement.
A case in point is that there are no stringent conditions for the registration of churches to ensure that before any church is allowed to register; its constitution must be submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to check its compliance with the constitution. All existing churches would also submit their theologies for rationalisation and realignment with the constitution.
This will be in line with the doctrine of ultra vires in the constitution which states that any practice, law or belief system inconsistent with the Constitution is invalid to the extent of its inconsistence.
This is to say, the church, like any other legal person, has the duty to abide by the conditions set out by the national constitution. This thinking was triggered by the fact that, since 1930s, when the church was formed to date, no JMAC child has benefitted from the government’s social policies.
The strict and extremist JMAC theology is blocking children from benefiting from the government’s social policies.
This comes at the backdrop a government that is apparently watching haplessly as its policies are not impacting positively on the women and children in JMAC. The violation of child rights through church doctrines is a cause of concern in Zimbabwe despite that there are a plethora of laws and programmes which are meant to promote children’s rights.
Zimbabwe at a theoretical level has done well as far as ratification or acceding to international child rights instruments is concerned which, in turn, has been complemented by domestication of international instruments and protocols on child rights.
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.