Code of ethics will arrest moral degeneration

Opinion Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
IT is most refreshing that the churches have decided to have a code of ethics for all pastors of all those denominations affiliated to the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ). That should have been an integral part of the founding document of that organisation, that is to say, of the EFZ. However, it is better late than never as the code will help to arrest the moral degeneration that has been a tragic characteristic of a number of churches since the country’s attainment of independence in 1980.

It is most pleasing that the leadership of each EFZ – member church has seen and accepted the wisdom of adopting one code of ethics. The EFZ is made up of about 500 churches some of which are run by a centralised administrative system headed by bishops, an Episcopalian kind of governance. Some have a congregational type. Whatever the kind of governance, one thing is central to the teaching of the Christian church: that is morality, a word whose meaning has a wide variety of shades ranging from decency, righteousness, justice integrity, probity, uprightness to fairness.

It is according to one or more of these shades of meaning of morality that people look at and judge the behaviour of every church member, as well as the whole range of leaders from catechists, deacons, evangelists, pastors up to bishops, and in the case of the Anglican Church, right up to the archbishop. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, we have cardinals and then the pope right to the highest rung of the ecclesiastical ladder.

A notorious drunkard can urinate on the pavement and noone will raise eyebrows or talk about it. Why? Because drunkards are usually, if not always, associated with such atrocious public indecency. But if a well-known church member were to answer nature’s call at the very same spot as the drunkard, the community would actually be flabbergasted, and would loudly criticise not only the church — member, but the church as a whole, an example of what the Ndebele language refers to as “ziwonelwa mvu inye”.

“People of the Book” are regarded as bearers of enlightenment, not only in spiritual but also in moral terms. The principles they preach are in the Book, and the example they are expected to emulate is Jesus Christ. It is according to those biblical principles that every Christian church member is judged by members of the public. By public here we are referring to people whose opinion if publicly expressed on an issue of interest and value to the church, can either help or harm it.

In this case, we are talking about people whose publicly expressed opinion on the behaviour or utterances of church leaders can damage the church’s image. The EFZ code of ethics should be understood in this context. We have had several incidences of rape involving pastors some of whom have been convicted. Others have been acquitted. By the way, an acquittal does not always mean that the accused did not commit the crime. Lack of evidence may result in an acquittal.

Whatever is the court’s outcome, the mere fact that a pastor has been arrested for rape or fraud, theft or assault with the intention to cause grievous bodily harm or whatever else, damages the church’s image. And, we should hastily add, by the church we should understand the entire Christendom and not one particular denomination. The EFZ represents the church as a whole, even those denominations that may not be members of the organisation for whatever reason, historical or doctrinal.

They too use the textbook of all Christian organisations, the Bible, and they too are expected to show a biblical respect for decency, justice, integrity, probity and righteousness, that is to say for morality. Thus the EFZ code of ethics applies to them as well just as an immoral behaviour by any pastor adversely affects every church, even those that are not EFZ members. This brings us to a rather controversial aspect of the multiplicity of church denominations.

I live in one of Bulawayo’s peri-urban areas. Within a radius of about three kilometers of my house, there are nine church groups, all of different denominations, and four of these, the Roman Catholic Church, the Seventh Day Adventist, the Jehovah’s witnesses, and something called Ithemba Lesizwe have well built structures that are cared for by resident workers. The others hold their services in the bush without any ablution facilities.

That may be regarded as unimportant by some people. However, it is important as it reflects the attitude of the leaders of those groups to public health. In Bulawayo, there are more church denominations than the number of fingers and toes on the human limbs Several former factories have now been turned into centres of worship where gullible people, especially women, are told about miracles that are more heard about than seen.

With the national economy being what it is these days, a large number of very desperate people will surrender themselves to the unscrupulous hands of some of these charlatans. Women are more vulnerable than men, hence the need to impose a code of ethics. Lest some people may think that immoral and fraudulent behaviour is new and occurs only in Zimbabwe, it is useful to refer to a few incidents of immorality in other countries.

In 1974, a French Roman Catholic bishop was found dead on the door-steps of a brothel in Paris early in the morning. A post mortem indicated that he had died of a cardiac arrest caused by very high physical exhaustion. The building was a notorious haunt for cheap prostitutes from various European countries. None of the prostitutes living in that old red — light double — storey building owned up. We can most reasonably conclude, of course, that he had gone there not to pray or bless the ladies of the night.

In 1953, in Cape Town, South Africa, a well-known Methodist evangelist fell slap-bang from inside a ceiling where he had hidden when the husband of a woman with whom he was having an adulterous affair unexpectedly returned late at night from a business trip. The story says that he had hoped to spend the night in the ceiling, but dozed off and landed on a table near the bed of the couple. On hitting the table, shattering it with his bums, he shouted: “Ndithunywe yiNkosi!”

That did not fool anyone and the sinful man was later excommunicated. Here in Zimbabwe, and at Lupane, to be precise, a rural school teacher who was also an evangelist was devoured by a pride of lions late at night while he was secretly waiting behind the cattle kraal at a village of a woman who was the leader of the local church’s women’s group (amanyano).

The woman’s husband was employed in Bulawayo, and went home only on some weekends. The immoral woman was heard by neighbours screaming unusually early in the morning after she had found the teacher’s head, feet, bits and pieces of bones and a bicycle behind the cattle kraal. Asked to explain what could have happened, she said the teacher-evangelist must have been trying to steal her cattle but was attacked by the lions! Her husband sought and got a divorce.

Local church members found it very difficult to believe that the teacher–evangelist could have been having an adulterous relationship with the manyano women’s leader. Both of them were known for their most passionate anti–immorality sermons. At that time, there was no code of ethics. If it had existed, it could most probably have positively influenced some of the church leaders of that time.

What we should all know, however, is that the real purpose of a code of ethics in a Christian organisation is to make those concerned develop a sense of self- control, a quality of character marvelously shown by Jesus Christ when he was in the wilderness for 40 days.

Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo- based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email sgwakuba@gmail.com

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