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Allowing Only Vaccinated Congregants in Church Problematic: Zimbabwe’s Christian Leaders

The Flag of Zimbabwe. Courtesy Photo

The reopening of churches only for congregants vaccinated against COVID-19 in Zimbabwe is problematic, Christian leaders in the Southern African nation have cautioned. 

In a Thursday, August 12 statement, the leaders under the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) welcome the August 11 announcement to reopen churches after their closure in July but describe the move to prevent those yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as one that raises “theological and practical challenges.”

“Though welcome by the churches, this staggered opening of Churches on the condition of being vaccinated raises both theological and practical challenges,” members of ZHOCD say.  

Theologically, they explain, “the church is an open and welcoming space for everyone with no restrictions. No one qualifies for church service as it is a place of God’s grace.”

For this reason, ZHOCD members continue, “the church will find it very difficult to turn people home because they do not have a vaccination certificate.” 

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The practical challenge, on the other hand, is because “less than 10 percent of the population has been vaccinated,” the Christian leaders in Zimbabwe go on to say in their August 11 statement.

“There is a group of citizens that does not get vaccinated due to age or because they have not yet had a chance to be vaccinated,” they explain, and add, “It will be difficult for the Church to deny people to receive the means of grace simply because they have not been vaccinated when access to this vaccination is restricted.” 

On Wednesday, August 11, Zimbabwe’s government spokesman, Nick Mangwana, announced the reopening of places of worship for “only those with evidence of being vaccinated”. 

Mr. Mangwana said that religious leaders found in breach of the government directive would be arrested.

Zimbabwe has recorded 118,754 cases of the pandemic including 4,047 deaths and 94,925 recoveries. 

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In their statement, ZHOCD members who are drawn from the leadership of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa (UDACIZA) and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) offer recommendation to address the uncertainties for a smooth reopening of places of worship in the country.  

They recommend that the Ministry of Health and Child Care provides “the detailed protocol for reopening Churches clarifying all the grey areas such as how the license affects those below the age of 18 who are not being vaccinated.”

ZHOCD members also recommend that places of worship be included in the National COVID-19 Taskforce so that they can contribute to decision-making from their experiences.

“Decisions relating to the church could be enriched if church representative bodies were consulted before the announcement,” they say in their August 12 statement shared with ACI Africa. 

The Christian leaders also note that religious leaders have been committed to minimizing the spread of COVID-19 in places of worship by promoting the health protocols issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

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“The church has demonstrated from the beginning of the pandemic its commitment to minimizing the spread of infections. Inspired by its theological commitment of care for one’s neighbor and the sanctity of life, the church has promoted the WHO measures of putting on the mask, keeping social distance, and sanitizing,” they say. 

ZHOCD members urge religious leaders to “demonstrate leadership and responsibility” by following the WHO health protocols if they choose to open their respective places of worship.

“We are confident not only the church, but wider society will be opening up sooner than later if we contribute to the minimizing of the spread of the virus,” they say. 

ZHOCD members also encourage Zimbabweans to avail themselves for COVID-19 vaccination saying, “getting more people vaccinated should contribute to herd immunity.”

As regards to the low in-take of the vaccine, ZHOCD members call upon the government to “continue to follow the persuasive route to get the population vaccinated.”

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“We believe that persuasion and clear information sharing should remain the main tool to achieve this target,” they say and promise to do their part in convincing the masses to get vaccinated. 

“ZHOCD calls on its members to continue praying for the nation and the world to find healing and to discern appropriate actions as we continue to deal with this virus and its effects,” ZHOCD members conclude.