Covering the Daily Digest while Duane Shank is taking a much-deserved long weekend, I read this chilling report of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's threats against the Catholic bishops in his country:
Once [the bishops] turn political, we regard them as no longer spiritual and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves.
We've had several reports on this blog from friends connected to the suffering in Zimbabwe, including a former intern Nontando Hadebe, but this unequivocal and direct threat by Mugabe conjured echoes of those who killed Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, Guatemalan Archbishop Juan Jose Gerardi, and other church leaders who were assassinated for defending their people.
Earlier this month, the Zimbabwean bishops issued an open letter titled "God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed," which courageously and unambiguously describes the violence and oppression of Mugabe's regime:
The consequences of such overtly corrupt leadership as we are witnessing in Zimbabwe today will be with us for many years, perhaps decades, to come. Evil habits and attitudes take much longer to rehabilitate than to acquire. Being elected to a position of leadership should not be misconstrued as a license to do as one pleases at the expense of the will and trust of the electorate.
As well as the colonial roots of the crisis:
The present crisis in our country has its roots deep in colonial society. Despite the rhetoric of a glorious socialist revolution brought about by the armed struggle, the colonial structures and institutions of pre-independent Zimbabwe continue to persist in our society. None of the unjust and oppressive security laws of the Rhodesian State have been repealed; in fact, they have been reinforced by even more repressive legislation ...
Why was this done? Because soon after independence, the power and wealth of the tiny white Rhodesian elite was appropriated by an equally exclusive black elite, some of whom have governed the country for the past 27 years through political patronage. Black Zimbabweans today fight for the same basic rights they fought for during the liberation struggle. It is the same conflict between those who possess power and wealth in abundance, and those who do not; ... between those who only know the language of violence and intimidation, and those who feel they have nothing more to lose because their Constitutional rights have been abrogated and their votes rigged. Many people in Zimbabwe are angry, and their anger is now erupting into open revolt in one township after another.
Their letter includes a biblical mandate:
The God of the Bible is always on the side of the oppressed. He does not reconcile Moses and Pharaoh, or the Hebrew slaves with their Egyptian oppressors. Oppression is sin and cannot be compromised with. It must be overcome. God takes sides with the oppressed. As we read in Psalm 103:6: "God who does what is right, is always on the side of the oppressed". ...
We conclude our pastoral letter by affirming with a clear and unambiguous "yes" our support of morally legitimate political authority. At the same time we say an equally clear and unambiguous "no" to power through violence, oppression and intimidation. We call on those who are responsible for the current crisis in our country to repent and listen to the cry of their citizens. To the people of Zimbabwe we appeal for peace and restraint when expressing their justified grievances and demonstrating for their human rights.
Please pray for our sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe. Pray, as the bishops ask in their letter, that "those responsible for causing the crisis repent, heed the cry of the people and foster a change of heart and mind." Pray that such a transformation could occur peacefully, and without more violence and suffering. Pray with the bishops, as their letter concludes:
God Our Father,
You have given all peoples one common origin,
And your will is to gather them as one family in yourself.
Give compassion to our leaders, integrity to our citizens, and repentance to us all.
Fill the hearts of all women and men with your love
And the desire to ensure justice for all their brothers and sisters.
By sharing the good things you give us
May we ensure justice and equality for every human being,
An end to all division, and a human society built on love,
Lasting prosperity and peace for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.