Military coups and the Bible
News from Zimbabwe has been dramatic in recent days: a military coup is underway and the outcome is far from certain. So far it seems to have been peaceful, but it is not clear whether these events will trigger support for the military or opposition, peace or violence, tribal emnities or peacemaking. Some hope for a more open, democratic society. Some expect more of the same repression. So how do we think about – and respond to – these events as Christians?
First of all … let’s pray for the political and military leaders in Zimbabwe.
Prayer is often the last resort of people, even Christian people. But it is the first and most important response to most events in the news. Why? Paul explains to Timothy (1 Tim 2:1-4) it is good because God wants us to have a measure of peace and good order so we can get on with the business of being salt and light and seeing communities around us change for the better.
Second let’s pray for revelation for the church in Zimbabwe that we are citizens of heaven before we are citizens of any country or members of any tribe or ethnic group.
Our first loyalty is to God and His people, not the Government. Many preachers and theologians have used Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 to justify submission to whatever political powers happen to be in control – however evil. Luther, for example, argued that there are two separate kingdoms and that some of Jesus’ words are appropriate only to private lives, so Christians must submit to Government and obey orders. The terrible consequences of this teaching were seen when the vast majority of Lutheran pastors in the late 1930s raised their arms in salute and shouted “Heil Hitler,” co-operating in some evil acts of inhumanity and genocide.
In contrast, Paul writes to the Philippians that “we are citizens of heaven” (Phil 3:20) in a context of explaining how we are to live as good members of the community. There was so much teaching about freedom in the New Testament that Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 were needed to stop Christians provoking unnecessary persecution and failing to honour all, including thsoe involvd in unrighteous government. The same author, Peter, also described Rome as “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:14 and urged his readers to see themselves as exiles within Roman society (1 Peter 1:1).
In the passage in 1 Tim 2, Paul is careful not to urge us to pray for good leaders to bring in the Kingdom – political leaders cannot. He is not ‘starry eyed’ about them. But it is clear that God wants everyone to be saved, so we pray for leaders to govern well and for peace to live godly lives that demonstrate the kingdom.
Third let’s pray for the church to live as citizens of heaven and overcome barriers between people.
Political and tribal barriers have plagued many African countries. But if it is true we are citizens of heaven then our first loyalty is to our Christian brothers and sisters, regardless of which language group or social class or political party they identify with. That has huge implications for a situation like the military intervention in Zimbabwe. Both Robert Mugabe and the former Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who may benefit from the coup against Mugabe, were instrumental in the violence against the Ndebele people on tribal grounds in the 1980s.
Now there is a chance for Christians in Zimbabwe to show that the gospel is more powerful than tribal divides and forgiveness and love are possible, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.