FOR centuries, the role of the Church and religion has been that of fostering social cohesion, besides extolling worshippers to repent in preparation for the second coming of the Son of God, Jesus.
In essence, it is the role of the Church and aligned institutions to uphold moral values, promote nation-building, strengthen family unity and advocate peace.
Since time immemorial, religion has been a stabilising force in a world that is increasingly under siege from natural and man-made challenges like violence, wars, disease and societal disintegration.
Aside from upholding morality, the Church has also been instrumental in promoting education and health through the construction of schools and hospitals nationwide.
Covid-19, which is wreaking havoc across the globe killing thousands of people, has placed on the shoulders of religious leaders and faith-based organisations, the onerous task of saving lives and mitigating the spread of the disease.
It is because of the role of religion in society that Zimbabwe, like many other nations, has granted freedom and liberty to different religions to worship freely without hindrance.
However, liberty without wisdom and without virtue is ruinous. It is folly, vice and madness, without tuition or restraint, and can lead people astray, at a time they should receive wide counsel and guidance.
At a time when the Church should be actively involved in spreading the gospel of hope to soothe a nation reeling under the effects of Covid-19, some church leaders are doing the unexpected.
They are abusing the situation to grandstand on matters of national concern by discouraging their followers from accepting Covid-19 vaccines.
Taking advantage of people’s desperation and gullibility, the church leaders are taking to their social media platforms to dissuade their followers from taking the vaccine, spreading all sorts of conspiracy theories
This unscientific claptrap by some prominent church leaders is causing alarm and despondency in a clearly distraught nation, paralysed by fear and harangued by the effects of Covid-19 that have left more than two million people dead across the world.
One prominent religious leader took to Facebook to record a 35-minute audio denouncing the vaccine, saying it will have long-term side effects, and that those who take it will ultimately die.
Government has since called to order some church and community leaders trying to stop their followers from accepting Covid-19 vaccines saying only professional health personnel should comment on the jab.
It’s sad that misinformation and claptrap is sadly coming at a time when the country is seeking to rollout Covid-19 vaccines in the next few months as part of the preventative measure in its fight against the virus.
Suffice to say the decision by the country to roll out the vaccine is not being done in isolation, but is part of the global concerted efforts, including high income countries, to stop the further decimation of people by Covid-19.
It is against that background that the nation feels that such kind of comments, are highly irresponsible, mischievous and are bent on fomenting social disunity at a time when the nation should be moving in the same direction to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
During this time, the nation is looking up to church leaders and other religious organisations to be the vanguards of society through sharing credible information and standing up against rumours, hate and misinformation.
Instead of spreading malicious and unfounded information on the vaccines, the church and other faith based organisations can use this opportunity to actively engage the youth in developing messages on social media to ensure that churches become effective partners in raising awareness on Covid-19.
As it stands, Covid-19 has killed over 900 people in Zimbabwe and over two million globally sparing no religious, ethnic or racial group.
Harm, pain, and death are not selective. The paradox is not in any way meant to dismiss or minimise the importance of faith and the role of religion, but to show that virus is not discriminatory, hence the need to unite in the fight against the pandemic.
Instead of trolling global efforts and instilling fear among its congregants, the church and religion leaders should be proactive in dissemination information, taking advantage of their ability to shape values in line with their faith-based teachings.
They should be the ones at the forefront of raising awareness on Covid-19 because religious leaders and faith communities are the largest and best-organised civil institutions in the world, claiming the allegiance of billions of believers and bridging the divides of race, class and nationality.
Outside political parties, church leaders command the largest gatherings, and therefore should not feed their congregants with lies and prejudicial information, which is not in their best interest. Religious leaders should instead use their social position to speak out against misinformation and fear, to support vulnerable and fragile communities in times like these.
We urge church leaders to be the channels of hope and help unite the nation by sharing empowering information on Covid-19, while our political leaders work on securing the vaccine.