The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams pulled no punches in his sermon to 15,000 Anglicans in a sports stadium in the capital of Zimbabwe on a recent Sunday.
The archbishop is often accused of obscurity, usually unfairly, by people who cannot be bothered to listen to him carefully enough.
There was nothing obscure about this. While we have not covered this story in The Baptist Times, Anglicans in Zimbabwe have had a grievous time.
Nolbert Kunonga, a supporter of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, is an excommunicated bishop who has used his political muscle to drive congregations out of their buildings and assert his right to church land and revenues.
Mugabe’s crimes are all too well known, as is the woeful mismanagement of the economy and wholesale departure from the notion of human rights and the rule of law that has seen the country degenerate into the shame of the continent.
Courageously, the archbishop took the parable of the marriage feast and applied it to Zimbabwe.
God, he said, wants to receive what he gives. His purpose is justice, but others shut the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.
“You know how those who by their greed and violence have refused the grace of God try to silence your worship and frustrate your witness in the churches and schools and hospitals of this country,” he said.
In an even stronger statement, he compared the oppression of colonialism with the oppression of Mugabe.
“For a long period in this country, an anxious ruling class clung on to the power they had seized at the expense of the indigenous people and ignored their rights and their hopes for dignity and political freedom. How tragic that this should be replaced by another kind of lawlessness, where so many live in daily fear of attack if they fail to comply with what the powerful require of them.”
His call was for healing and reconciliation, but these words will have been a red rag to the Mugabe bull.
The archbishop later met with Mugabe and presented him with a dossier of alleged abuses against Anglicans in Zimbabwe, according to the BBC. After the meeting, Williams said Mugabe had agreed to speak to Kunonga about the alleged violence against Anglicans who do not support him.
There are plenty who say that the archbishop would come out of the meeting with no credit and that Mugabe would use the occasion to lecture and bully. But to avoid a meeting would be the action of a politician.
On this occasion, Rowan Williams is called to be a prophet. It is up to Mugabe whether he listens.
Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.