By Desire Ncube
Sexual manipulation of women has become rampant in the Church and aspiring pastors should be thoroughly examined to curtail such abuse.
Congregants should also raise alarm whenever “holy men” hide behind the Scriptures to win sexual favours. This was said by Anglican Church Harare Bishop (Central Africa Province) Chad Gandiya in a frank discussion on sex scandals rocking the Church.
He also spoke of how Anglicans in the capital have set up a “Gender Desk” to help victims, and the rigorous vetting that would-be priests go through.
For years, various churches across the globe have been grappling with improper conduct involving some of their leaders.
Though statistics are not readily available, Zimbabwe’s courts and church tribunals have handled their fair share of such cases. Most accounts have culprits abusing their immense influence to push sex as a gateway to prosperity and spiritual healing. The victims are largely vulnerable women desperate to escape problems.
RGM End Time Message Church leader Robert Martin Gumbura is serving a 40-year jail term for rape and possessing pornographic material. Bulawayo-based Kingdom Rulers International Church founder Greatness Tapfuma will spend 25 years behind bars for sexually abusing and spreading HIV and Aids to girls in his flock.
Elsewhere, ex-Christian Heritage New Zealand leader Graham Capill was imprisoned for sexually abusing married women and girls below 12 years old.
Numerous other cases include those of William Kamm — an Australian religious sect leader who was sent to prison for a string of sexual attacks on teenage girls. Bishop Gandiya said some clergymen were fixated with their “pastoral calling” and seemed to despise training that equips them with interactive skills like dealing with female believers.
“One cannot assume to know everything overnight. One needs to be trained on handling and relating with church members. Sexual harassment and manipulation have become rampant and this is a matter of concern in this country.
“It’s no longer a matter for those in authority alone; it’s now a matter for you and me. Regardless of where we are — in church, at home or work — we should take care of each other.”
The Anglican Church, said Bishop Gandiya, tests the “calling” of all aspiring priests to avoid recruiting potential offenders.
“Our clergy believe they have been called to minister to the people of God. When they say that ‘we have been called’, we interview them at what we call a Selection Conference. We invite other clergy, psychologists, educationists and a family (lay) person.
“These representatives help us discern the calling and this is in the interest of the church. As the chief shepherd, I make sure that those who qualify have a good reputation. We vet them, even if they claim to have received a calling. This has gone a long way in reducing not only sexual violence, but many other ills that the clergy might be involved in.”
The Bishop also said: “All matters of that sort are handled by a court with professional people. God created us with brains and we should use those brains. There are things that we can clearly see; for instance, that this is no longer the Holy Spirit speaking.
“If we ignore that, it’s an insult to God. One can see — clearly — that some things are insane. Unfortunately, our people just nod in agreement and get abused at the end of the day. Honestly, can the Holy Spirit say, ‘Remove your garments?’”
On the Gender Desk he said, “Last year, we created a Gender Desk to prevent abuse in the church as we had noted that congregants can be abused but may fail to complain or report. This can be done due to lack of proper structures and channels.
“Anyone is free to approach that desk — women, men, boys and girls. This desk is independent. I am the Bishop, but do not chair it. A team of qualified legal practitioners and church members work there. I think we have done enough to publicise it throughout our structures.”
Harare-based theologian Dr Innocent Sibanda said Gospel ministers who abuse congregants were not of God, and encouraged churches to formulate policies that protect the laity.
“A number of married women are being lured into sexual relationships with ‘holy men of God’, while others are being raped. Zimbabwe is struggling to arrest the worst sexual scandals by ‘holy people’ as many people have a tendency of blaming and overlooking adult victims.
“These are the forgotten victims of sexual abuse by priests, pastors and prophets — neglected by the media and overlooked by church activists. It’s unfortunate though, that we have many wolves in sheeps’ clothing. As a result, desperate people are falling prey.”
Dr Sibanda added: “In some cases, the titles ‘pastor, apostle, bishop, reverend and prophet’ are being used to amass wealth and gloss over evil. Years back, we knew that for someone to be a minister of the Gospel; he or she should have received a calling from God.
“But these days, the case is different. If someone discovers that he or she speaks fluently and is charismatic, he or she declares themselves a minister of God.
“According to 2 Corinthians 11 v 13-14, ‘For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.’
Titus 1 v 16 says, ‘They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.’” The Sunday Mail