Yesterday’s official Lambeth press conference featured Bishop Sebastian Bakare, who was installed as the Bishop of Harare, Zimbabwe in January, replacing a deposed supporter of the tyrant dictator Robert Mugabe. (Part of my current job has been writing a lengthy report about just how evil Mugabe is. The things he’s done – stealing poor children’s food aid to give to his fat supporters!) That previous bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, was the only diocesan bishop other than Gene Robinson to be denied an invitation to Lambeth.
Episcopal Café’s Jim Naughton wrote this about Bishop Bakare’s presser:
Bishop Bakare spoke of police surrounding his churches to keep worshipers out. “I was never, never so conscious of the importance of peace and justice as preached in the Gospel,” he said, adding that he could no longer preach a sermon to a Zimbabwean congregation without mentioning peace and justice.
The bishop skillfully avoided the media’s attempts to get him to make a statement about the issue of homosexuality. “We’ve got different issues,” he said. “In Zimbabwe, our issues are poverty, unemployment, no medication… these are the burning issues in Zimbabwe. At the present moment, we have the problem of being oppressed by a system.”
I applaud Bishop Bakare on so many fronts. First and foremost is the sheer courage he shows by continuing to speak out against Mugabe despite grave the danger to his own self. This strength of character is somewhat reminiscent of my hero, the late Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero. Second is his theology – peace and justice are found in the Bible more than any other message, and this is a world with a western ruling class that so desperately needs to here about them.
But third is his performance at this press conference, which showed two things. One, it reminds us what our priorities as a church and a Communion should be. The inclusion of our GLBT brothers and sisters is an important issue to some and their exclusion important to others, but surely we can all agree that speaking out against the twisted depravation of despots and the oppression of the world’s poorest is Christ's true priority. Bishop Bakare also reveals the media for the sensationalistic ostrich that it is – here they have a man who faces state-sponsored death every time he opens his mouth, a man guiding a scared, huddled flock beaten and tormented in a way we can only imagine from our fat Lazy Boy recliners in England and America. He is truly in the trenches – but does the media ask him about the social Gospel, the presence of Christ among the wretched masses, or even what we can do to stop the tyrant? No, they bury their head in the sand to these needs, focusing only on the sex.
If only Sudan’s Archbishop Daniel could follow Bp Bakare’s example, and talk to us about the genocide, civil war, Christian persecution that rage there. That is what Christ would focus on, and it is what his representatives should focus on, as well.
Please, pray for Bishop Bakare, that he may keep his courage and hope and continue to feel God’s presence, and also for the media, that their hearts might be opened and their cameras turned to what truly matters.
(Picture credits: Bp Bakare, Zimbambwe Baby)