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Magaya Debate: Judge not, that ye not be judged

By Irvine Chiwara

OPINION – No one on Earth is a deputy Jesus Christ or a representative of the Holy Spirit. Why then are Walter Magaya and Mapostori behaving like they are? The feud between Magaya and Mapostori has been exacerbated to passing judgment of Satanism on one another.

Walter Magaya
Centre of the Storm: Prophet Walter Magaya

The title of this article, although taken from the Bible (Matthew 7 v 1), is not, I am afraid, calculated to tell much about my own views on religion.

It is in part, however, inspired by an excerpt from the teaching by a Zimbabwean preacher – religion or denomination isn’t identified nor is it necessary for present purposes – in a video clip on YouTube, in which he says ‘Mwari haaite zveChurch, anoita zvaMwari.’

Very wise words indeed and particularly so if one considers them in the context of the ongoing feud between Magaya and Vapostori. In particular, there were two articles recently published on Nehanda Radio on this issue.

The first article, with the title ‘A response to Magaya on Vapostori’, was written by Madzibaba Tawona, a member of the Apostolic faith – Johane Masowe weChishanu – who discredits the Bible as not the true word of God and says his church instead follows instructions given to their founder by God in a dream.

The second article, entitled ‘Madzibaba Tawona got it wrong on Magaya article’, is a response by Innocent Ngwaru, a Christian, who argues for the Bible and Jesus, and in essence discredits the Johane Masowe Apostolic faith.

This topic is invariably controversial, but I found the articles rather interesting. It is significant to note that in both articles the authors seem to share the belief that there is one God, but attack the other’s faith as false. The vigour with which they defend their own churches led me to ask this: what exactly is a church?

In the two articles, each writer defends his respective faith as dogma, and seem to me to suggest that anyone who doesn’t follow those teachings is lost.

In fact, in bold and unsupported statements, Madzibaba Tawona claims any reader of the Bible to be ‘an illusionist [who] needs genuine help to stop wasting his living years reading from an obsolete book’ and Innocent Ngwaru responds by accusing the Johane Masowe church of condoning a variety of criminal acts, including ‘marrying under age girls and raping women.’

Both writers appear to claim, therefore, that they go to their respective churches to gather with other ‘enlightened’ ones. In essence, they both view a church as a group of people united by their strong beliefs.

It is this view, I suggest, which gives each article a ‘holier than thou’ tone and thereby causing each writer to appear intolerant of another’s church and beliefs. Not surprisingly, I disagree with the approach in both articles and I take a rather dim view of the flowery language used in the articles.

By way of an alternative suggestion: a church can be, and perhaps even demonstrable from the two articles, often is, a group of people who unite together in order to preserve beliefs which, simply because they are not based on any solid and visible evidence, are not held strongly enough to be sustained without the constant reassurance that’s provided by gathering with others who share those beliefs, or indeed by converting non believers so that they too come to share those beliefs.

An unpopular view? Perhaps, but it is not at all rarer than some would think. The problem, I find, with attempting to discredit each other’s faiths and churches is that it ignores a fundamental point of any religious belief, which is that there is no solid and scientific basis to it.

Let me illustrate this point with examples from the two articles; not important in themselves for what I seek to prove but sufficient nonetheless. Madzibaba Tawona argues that the ‘true’ word of God was revealed in a dream, but of course he does not provide any concrete evidence to prove that there actually was a dream and that the message in the dream was from God. How can he do so when such evidence does not exist? It is enough for religious purposes that he, and fellow Mapostori, believes it to be true.

Similarly, Innocent Ngwaru argues that the Bible is the true word of God and to prove his point he quotes from the very same Bible he seeks to show its authenticity. Again, this is simply because there is no external solid evidence to support that the message in the Bible is indeed the true and only word from God. For him, and fellow Christians, it is enough that they believe the Bible to be the true word of God.

Why then, one wonders, do these two writers spend time attacking one another’s church when they themselves can’t provide any solid and tangible evidence to support their own views? The idiom about glass houses come to mind here.

The first step, in my view, is to understand that any religious belief is a phenomenon of life. Churches and religious beliefs must learn to co-exist under the conditions of the present existence. The solution is not to pretend to be holier than everyone and attack other people and their beliefs, as the Magaya and Vapostori saga has sought to do.

In my view, a true religious quest entails the search for the truth and the divine way of life amid the ambiguities and uncertainties of life. It is inevitable that people will have different views and beliefs, and therefore tolerance of divergent views is a necessity.

Of course some people will ridicule as ungodly any tolerance that advocates respect for another’s religious beliefs and willingness to allow those beliefs to co-exist alongside the ‘absolute’ truths. However, that tendency of people to view different customs and beliefs through the lens of their own church and to make judgments based on those standards can only breed hostility and extremism.

In a diverse society, as ours, it is inevitable that from time to time views, beliefs and rights of some members of society are not compatible with those of others. In that event, it seems to me ill advised to fight about the messenger and not concentrate on the message itself.

I am sure that both Magaya’s denomination, and indeed the entire Christian community, and Vapostori all agree that the ‘true’ word of God, from whichever source they believe, teaches people, amongst other things, to have love, peace, kindness and self-control. Those traits were conspicuous by their absence in the two given articles and indeed in the ongoing utterances of Magaya and Mapostori.

To accuse one another of criminal behaviour and of being evil is neither Godly nor does it make one’s church better than the other’s. The obvious ramification of such loose talk and level of intolerance is that, as the rest of the saying in the title goes, ‘for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged.’ My suggestion to members from both churches is that ‘Mwari haaite zveChurch, anoita zvaMwari.’

Irvine Chiwara is a UK based Zimbabwean lawyer

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