Home Christian News ‘It’s Not Satanism’: Zimbabwe Church Leaders Preach Vaccines

‘It’s Not Satanism’: Zimbabwe Church Leaders Preach Vaccines

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Yvonne Banda stands in front of a church congregation on the outskirts of the capital Harare, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Apostolic church is one of Zimbabwe's most skeptical groups when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. Many of these Christian churches, which combine traditional beliefs with a Pentecostal doctrine, preach against modern medicine and demand followers seek healing or protection against disease through spiritual means like prayer and the use of holy water. To combat that, authorities have formed teams of campaigners who are also churchgoers to dispel misconceptions about the vaccines in their own churches. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

SEKE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Yvonne Binda stands in front of a church congregation, all in pristine white robes, and tells them not to believe what they’ve heard about COVID-19 vaccines.

“The vaccine is not linked to Satanism,” she says. The congregants, members of a Christian Apostolic church in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe, are unmoved. But when Binda, a vaccine campaigner and member of an Apostolic church herself, promises them soap, buckets and masks, there are enthusiastic shouts of “Amen!”

Apostolic groups that infuse traditional beliefs into a Pentecostal doctrine are among the most skeptical in Zimbabwe when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, with an already strong mistrust of modern medicine. Many followers put faith in prayer, holy water and anointed stones to ward off disease or cure illnesses.

The congregants Binda addressed in the rural area of Seke sang about being protected by the holy spirit, but have at least acknowledged soap and masks as a defense against the coronavirus. Binda is trying to convince them to also get vaccinated — and that’s a tough sell.

Congregation leader Kudzanayi Mudzoki had to work hard to persuade his flock just to stay and listen to Binda speak about vaccines.

“They usually run away, some would hide in the bushes,” he said.

There has been little detailed research on Apostolic churches in Zimbabwe but UNICEF studies estimate it is the largest religious denomination with around 2.5 million followers in a country of 15 million. The conservative groups adhere to a doctrine demanding that followers avoid medicines and medical care and instead seek healing through their faith.

Conversely, Tawanda Mukwenga, another religious Zimbabwean, welcomed his vaccination as a means of allowing him to worship properly. Mukwenga recently attended Mass at the Roman Catholic cathedral in the capital, Harare, his first in-person Sunday Mass in 10 months after the pandemic closed churches and forced services online. Zimbabwe has reopened places of worship, though worshippers must be vaccinated to enter.

“Getting vaccinated has turned out to be a smart idea,” said Mukwenga, delighted to celebrate Mass at the cathedral again.

More than 80% of Zimbabweans identify as Christian, according to the national statistics agency, but the contrast in attitudes displayed by the Seke Apostolic members and Mukwenga means there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to convincing hesitant religious citizens to get vaccinated.

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Farai Mutsaka is a journalist with the Associated Press.