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Message from Church leaders to the Christian people of Rhodesia

Message from Church leaders to the Christian people of Rhodesia
5 June 1969

The Christian faith involves a concern for every human relationship. This includes the relationship created by life together within one political body under one government. We cannot therefore agree with those who say that Christianity has nothing to do with politics. A country which professes to uphold and defend Christian principles must always be willing to let its political life be examined and judged in the light of God’s will. Christians in Rhodesia must look carefully at the proposed constitution and ask whether it accords with their faith. With this in mind let us look at what the Bible says about the State, about humanity, and about racial distinction.

The Christian Concept of the State

According to the Bible the State is based on a God-given authority used for the service of the whole people, both ruled and rulers. When the ruler acts rightly as a servant of God and a shepherd of the people, his rule makes for peace (the true well-being of every member of the state).
Both the Bible and history show that governments tend to think of themselves as masters rather than as servants.[2] In every age safeguards against tyranny have to be discovered. In European and in African societies the safeguard of rule by consent of the ruled has been developed. A broad based adult suffrage is necessary for this.

The Christian View of Man

The Biblical view of man is that he is created in the image of God as a free and responsible person. His freedom can lead him to extremes of selfishness and cruelty. Yet with the help of God he is capable of  almost unlimited development.  It is God’s will that every man shall grow to the full structure of his humanity as measured by Christ. Because of this every man has value and artificial restrictions on his development are intolerable to the Christian conscience.
When God revealed himself to the world, he did it through the human life of Jesus Christ, and his coming as a man is the highest honour of humanity. Any attack on the honour or dignity of man is an attack on all human honour and dignity. A man who is despised is still free to believe his humanity has value, but the man who despises him has denied the value of all humanity, including his own.

The Christian View of Racial Distinction

There is a great deal in the Bible that bears directly on the problems of race. The proclamation of the Gospel creates a multiracial community “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues”.The tensions of creating such a community are reflected in the new Testament writings, but Christians believe that in Christ God has broken down the walls of division between man and man. All human differences of race or tribe or nation lose their divisive significance through the reconciling work of Christ.

The following points of the proposed constitution must be examined in the light of God’s word:

A. The Consent of the Governed

The proposed constitution would offer no certainty to any section of the population that their opinions would be represented. African representation would be so limited that legislation could be passed and even the constitution amended without the consent of the vast majority of the population. No safeguard of African opinion is provided by an initial representation of sixteen out of sixty-six members of the House of Assembly with only eight elected by direct vote.The arbitrary selection of income tax as a criterion of the number of seats open to Africans is unjust. It represents neither their contribution to the total tax revenue, nor the contribution of their labour to the economy as whole.
Provisions for the disqualification of voters and candidates are a potential tool of tyranny.The grounds on which a person may be detained or restricted (and therefore disqualified) are listed as “national defence, public safety or public order”. These are not defined. The establishment of an impartial tribunal has the appearance of giving the right of appeal, but its decisions can be overruled by the Head of State.
The opportunities for the consent of the governed are also limited by the use of chiefs to represent Africans. We believe that few Africans would choose chiefs as their representatives in modern government. Moreover, because they are paid by the government, chiefs might be under pressure to speak for the ruling party rather than for their people. No government that wished to rule as the servant of the people would be satisfied with these proposals as a basis for its power.

B. Basic Rights

The proposed Declaration of Rights would offer little protection. No court would have power to pronounce on it. The Head of State, the Senate and the House of Assembly could set it aside “in the national interest”. Once more we have an undefined phrase, and it would rest with those in power to decide what it meant.
Freedom of expression is necessary for the protection and proclamation of the truth, for the curtailing of the abuse of power, for ascertaining the will of the governed, and for the free preaching of the Word of God. Under the proposed constitution all media of communication would be subject to government regulation. By such means governments have been able to distort public opinion to their own advantage.
The Senate, the proposed guardian of the Declaration of Rights, will have only limited powers to delay legislation inconsistent with the Declaration. The composition of the Senate will mean that even this limited protection could be controlled by the ruling party.
The Declaration of Rights is concerned only with laws and not with executive and administrative acts. This would put the individual to a large extent at the mercy of government departments and officials.
These powers constitute a threat to every person who publicly dissents from the views of the ruling party. They contradict the Christian view of man as a responsible person with rights that no government can justly deny.

C.Racial Distinction

In the proposed constitution a minority of less than 6 percent of the population would initially have more than 67 percent of the members of the Senate and House of Assembly of their own race. Even if in the distant future the African section of the population were able to contribute more than the European in income tax, Africans would gain only parity of representation.
The possibility of friendship, co-operation and understanding between races is limited by the land tenure provisions of the proposed constitution. In effect they limit the basis on which members of different races will be able to live together to that of master and servant.
The country is to be divided into European and African Areas of approximately equal size. At present this means an average of about 180 acres for each European and 10 acres for each African. No provision is made for future changes in the proportion of the races.
Racial divisions are regarded as so important that separate voters’ rolls must be created.
The proposals to entrench separation and discrimination are a direct contradiction of the new Testament teaching that race, like all other human distinctions, has lost all divisive significance, and should not be used to regulate relationships between man and God and man and man. The Christian responsibility to love accepts no barriers and cannot be defined or restricted by legislation.
We have tried in this letter to give guidance to the responsible Christian in judging the Proposals for a new Constitution for Rhodesia.
We are aware that for some there may seem to be a clash of loyalties, but we affirm that the Christian loyalty to God and to His will as revealed in Jesus Christ must be supreme. The moment has come when this loyalty is at the test.
May God guide us all, and may His blessing rest on Rhodesia.
Issued by the following leaders of Churches and Christian organisations in Rhodesia:
Rt. Rev. Paul Burrough Anglican Diocese of Mashonaland
Mr. G.C. Grant United Church of Christ
Rev. Leaslie Gready Bulawayo Council of Churches
Rt. Rev. Aloysius Haene, SMB Catholic Diocese of Gwelo
Rev. Peter Hall Salisbury Council of Churches
Rev. H.H. Kachidza The Bible Societies of Rhodesia
Rt. Rev. Donal R. Lamont, O. Carm. Catholic Diocese of Umtali
Most Rev. Francis W. Markall, SJ Catholic Diocese of Salisbury
Bishop A.T. Muzorewa United Methodist Church
Rev. A.M.Ndhlela Methodist Church, Christian Council of Rhodesia
Rev. E.T.J. Nemapare African Methodist Church
Rev. J. Pelling United Congregational Church of S.A.
Rev. Ignatius Prieto Catholic Diocese of Wankie
Rt. Rev. Adolph G. Schmitt, CMM Catholic Diocese of Bulawayo
Bishop S. Strandvik Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rt. Rev. Kenneth Skelton Anglican Diocese of Matebeleland
Rev. Horace Thomas Presbyterian Church in Mashonaland