Archbishop says ‘put God before politics’ amid Zimbabwe split

The head of the worldwide Anglican Church has said during a visit to Zimbabwe that Christianity should not be about politics but about God.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, told more than 15,000 mainstream Anglican worshippers gathered for mass at a city stadium yesterday that Anglican worshippers are constantly “tortured by uncertainty and risk of attack” and have endured “mindless and Godless assaults” in the southern African country.

He praised the worshippers for being “active and courageous” amid a bitter dispute between the followers of breakaway Bishop Nolbert Kunonga and mainstream Anglican Church worshippers.

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Kunonga, a loyalist of long-time ruler President Robert Mugabe, was excommunicated in 2007 by the main Anglican Province of Central Africa and the worldwide head of the Church. He was accused of inciting violence in sermons supporting Mugabe’s party.

The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has been divided since Kunonga’s excommunication. He has taken over the main cathedral, schools and the Church’s bank accounts.

The schism in the Church has left mainstream Anglicans without places of worship and they have experienced intimidation and alleged threats of violence.

Last month Kunonga took over Shearly Cripps orphanage which is home to at least 80 children and named after its founder, an Anglo-American missionary who died in 1952.

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A flawed ruling in August by Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court allowed Kunonga to retain control of Anglican properties until a court appeal by the mainstream Anglican Church is resolved. That ruling was made by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku who, like Kunonga, is an open supporter of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

“The property belongs to us because of the court judgments, Mugabe was not there in courts when we won,” Kunonga said when asked if the ruling was politically motivated.

Williams urged the worshippers not to be embroiled in violence or retaliation.

“Day by day, you have faced arrogance. We have been treated with so much contempt and scorned by the rich but we give thanks and praise to God for your patience, generosity and endurance,” Williams said.

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“It is not a building that makes the Church, but spiritual foundation.”

The Archbishop is expected to meet Mugabe today to discuss an end to the disruptions.

Meanwhile, Kunonga and his supporters demonstrated outside Harare’s main cathedral against Williams’ visit.

Kunonga insists he split from the Anglican Church because of its position on gay marriage.

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Leaders of the global Anglican Communion have condemned gay relationships as a violation of scripture. However, some individual provinces have decided on their own that they should move toward accepting same-gender unions. Mugabe is a bitter critic of homosexuality.

Kunonga claimed Williams’ visit to Zimbabwe is a “crusade for gays”.

“This is a demonstration against homosexuality. I told people to come and demonstrate if they wanted,” Kunonga said. “Rowan Williams erred by accepting homosexuality and that has broken up the Church all over.”

Meanwhile, the US Presbyterian Church has officially ordained a 56-year-old Wisconsin man as its first openly gay minister.

Scott Anderson of Madison was ordained yesterday at Covenant Presbyterian Church.