Acton Institute Powerblog

Evangelical Silence and Zimbabwe

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Every single day courageous and faithful Christians in Zimbabwe are suffering and dying through their resistance of the brutal reign of president Robert Mugabe. You would never know this is true from the lack of interest or response of conservative Christians in America. Of all the causes that are taken up by the Christian Right I have not heard a single voice lifted on behalf of the church in Zimbabwe and their struggle to resist the reign of terror led by President Mugabe.

In January, eight high-profile Christian leaders were arrested by security forces as they, and hundreds of supporters, opened a new office of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, an international agency that promotes non-violent resistance to Mugabe’s rule. But Mugabe’s government continues to crack down on this resistance as the nation faces total economic and social collapse. Zimbabweans struggle to survive with an inflationary rate of 1,700% as well as widespread unemployment and profound poverty. More than 3/4ths of the people live in poverty, unemployment is at 80%, and hordes of people are escaping to South Africa as refugees. Mugabe has led the nation since 1980 and every call for political and social reform has been met with more force and resistance. Other African leaders are complicit in allowing this to happen, including the president of neighboring South Africa.

Thankfully, the Lutheran World Federation has called on the international community to respond. And the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, with 75 million members in 216 countries, has also urged action by a pan-African Union to act to end this oppression. I support the actions of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches as a Reformed Christian.

While the Christian Right struggles to "rescue" America it almost universally ignores the plight of the poor and oppressed around the world, as well as in our own country. Evangelicals are rarely heard from when issues like Mugabe and Zimbabwe rise to international attention. Why? Could it be that what I have called our "America-centric" mindset is in fact a form of worldliness? Could it be that we simply don’t care about profoundly Christian concerns beyond our own land unless they represent efforts to win individual souls to Christ through our flawed approaches to mission?

Look, I believe the free-market is needed to help Africa lift itself up economically and to experience and practice real freedom. But the free-market will not work when the leadership is corrupt and the economy is a disaster because of oppressive governments. The problem is simple–most of the world doesn’t care enough to do anything about Zimbabwe. While we fight a war in Iraq, ostensibly to build freedom and to protect our own national interests and what we believe to be peace in the Middle East, we treat places like Zimbabwe as unimportant at the very best. To my mind, something is very wrong with this picture. Evangelicals need to join their Catholic and mainline Lutheran and Reformed brothers and sisters in resisting Mugabe and fighting for true reform in Zimbabwe. If we will not defend the helpless and the weakest then our witness will be blunted and our prophetic edge, if we still have one left, will be lost entirely.

Pray for Zimbabwean Christians. Better yet, do something about Zimbabwe if you have an opportunity. Your brothers and sisters need you to truly love them. Talking about politics is easy, doing something that saves lives and cultures is what really matters. Consider James 2:12-26. I don’t hear much serious preaching on James in our conservative churches. I fear that I know why. We are American Christians first, and kingdom Christians second, if at all. We love the message of faith, but we shun works of mercy and compassion when it costs us something. Something is very wrong with this picture.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

John Armstrong John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."


  • Ruben

    I used to be one of these Evangelicals but I am no longer. Your criticism is entirely appropriate. I wished everyone would learn to be ‘kingdom Christians’ first, and realize that righteousness and justice cannot be achieved through political means. It is first and foremost through voluntary, non-governmental initiatives and entrepreneurship inspired by our faith that we can make a difference. The State is not the instrument by which we are supposed to be spreading the Word. Evangelicals tend to lean to the Left when it comes to economics, at least here in Europe. There’s an aversion to individualism and the Capitalist market economy. In fact, you’re a ‘heretic’ for favoring it. Individual liberty is frowned upon, after all, Christians should enforce their values on non-believers through political means, shouldn’t they? Of course not! I have never understood the reasoning behind all this. Clearly, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and confusion concerning what a (true) free market is, how it functions and what it requires, as well as the principle of liberty. Therefore, I’m thankful that the Acton Institute is making these efforts to educate people on all this because for a long time I thought I was like the only Christian favoring a free market even from a ‘religious’ point of view. Now I know that I’m not alone and you’ve inspired me to devote even more time to studying these matters. Thank you!

  • ChrisB

    There are many reasons why evangelicals, as a group, don’t pay attention to one thing or another. But one that needs to get more attention is simply the fact that there is so much more to pay attention to today. So while we’re busy concerning ourselves with saving souls, abortion, the poor in the US, global warming, the slave trade, child sex workers, Iraq, Afganistan, Sudan, … sometimes there just isn’t room for something else.

    Ok, some pay more attention to one thing than another. Some focus hard on Sudan; some more on inner city poverty. That’s ok. You want to take the lead on Zimbawe? Go for it. Someone needs to do it.