Following on from the first blog on the Thrive Ireland Conference held last month, this blog focuses on what we, as the Church in Northern Ireland, can learn about Christian advocacy and nation–building from a Zimbabwean perspective.
The need for a united and prophetic voice arose from years of oppression, murders and rigged elections in Zimbabwe. Added to these issues was the problem that there was no coherent opposition from churches to the violence. So it was vital that a platform facilitating a united Christian voice was established. This is why Rev Useni Sibanda, a evangelical pastor, along with 12 other church leaders, formed the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA). Despite the risks to their life and safety, these church leaders were prepared to speak out about the social challenges they faced.
Speaking about his experience, Rev Usensi, shared the vision of ZCA as having a prosperous, peaceful and just nation where everyone can belong and share resources. Rev Useni focused on the need for the Church to be salt and light when it comes to advocacy. To advocate for a society that had suffered unfair elections, ZCA used the campaign ‘Saving Zimbabwe’ to call for legitimate elections and a new constitution. The Christian Vote Campaign mobilised Christians to think more deeply about who they are supporting in elections and offered a set of principles to compare alongside candidates running for office.
How can Christians in Northern Ireland be salt and light? We live in a fallen world but at the centre there are people who desire real change and transformation. People who are tired of the way things were or still are. This is where advocacy is introduced. Although it is a secular term, we are reminded of Queen Esther who stopped at nothing to get the king to listen to her and saved her people in the process.
Rev Useni highlighted the importance of keeping things at a local level in order to build momentum upwards. It was noted that starting at ground level by mobilising a community to campaign for the changes they want to see is what politicians respond to. If the government structures are called to account by those who are directly affected by them, people will take more notice, meaning a national dialogue will be influenced by community dialogue. This often means more coming from local communities than from those at the top of faith organisations or churches. However, the role of such leaders is to engage with, facilitate and support the work of those on the ground.
The Church in Northern Ireland has a theological responsibility to work for the common good – a theology of engagement. Through this engagement at local level we can call for transformation alongside those most directly affected by the issues. Working alongside communities emphasises the worth the Church sees in them while also encouraging them to hold their politicians to account. Local level issues are these ‘low hanging fruits’, as Useni sees them, that can make way for lasting transformation and impact on government because of a community that feels empowered.
I finish this blog on a lasting point made at the conference. The verse ‘I make all things new’ can also be translated as ‘I am making all things new’. With this in mind, while we live in a broken society, tolerating the hurts of the past and unsure of what is ahead, because of our belief in a gracious and loving God, Christian individuals and churches can share a united voice bringing hope to the hopeless.
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