The Zimbabwe government has announced that they are loosening lockdown rules for those wanting to attend church services, with the price of a vaccination needing to be paid in order to gather as a church body. Zimbabwe has been under a stage 4 lockdown order since June, the result of the rise in the delta variant. In doing so they shut down schools, bars, nightclubs, land borders, and churches in an attempt to quell the spread. Zimbabwe has a population of 14 million and has 120,000 cases in the last 18 months and 4047 deaths.
Now, with many Christians in the country expressing skepticism about the vaccine and a political leadership wanting to boost their vaccinate rates, which hover at about 10%, the government has announced that they are carving out an exemption to the closures and will allow citizens to attend church services so long as they are vaccinated. According to national surveys, 87% of the population professes to be Christian, one of the highest in the world.
Earlier in the week, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told reporters, according to ENCA:
Cabinet wishes to inform the public that churches can now allow sit-in congregants under the following conditions: only congregants who have received two doses of the vaccine are allowed to attend…and all Ministry of Health and Child Care and WHO protocols have to be adhered to. And those found in breach will be arrested including the leaders of the church.
Many churches in the county have happily pledged to comply, with the Methodist Church (MCZ) releasing a statement of support, noting, “[We] appreciate the announcement to allow the Churches to open for in-person services for the fully vaccinated congregants,” and touting the fact that:
- Methodists are responsible citizens, and they will abide by the laws of the land.
- The Church encourages all ministers to make sure that both the fully vaccinated who will attend Church services in-person and those not yet fully vaccinated will receive the good news of Christ as the later will be evangelised through the continuation of online services.
Other Christian leaders, however, have rebuffed the new rules. Reverend Kenneth Mtata, the Zimbabwe Head of Christian Denominations, released his own statement, noting:
If you look at the last measures, churches were complying, I think it’s one of the most compliant institutions…You don’t need to threaten churches with arrest, what you should ask is for churches to help you coordinate implementation. At church is very difficult to turn people away, to tell people, you are not vaccinated go back home…
When people come to church the tendency of the church, the DNA of the church is to accept them. For us, that restriction goes against the self-understanding of the church.
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