FROM A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT rrHE heads of all the major Christian churches in Rhodesia agreed on Tuesday to unite in defiance of the new Land Tenure Act, which divides the country into black and white areas.
This was announced in a statement signed by 17 Christian leaders — five Catholic bishops. two Anglican bishops and leaders of the Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Salvation Army and various evangelical churches.
The statement said the churches would refuse to register as "voluntary associations" under the terms of the Act and would carry on their work "in areas of either race and with such occupation by either race as their work requires."
The churches criticised Rhodesia's new Republican Constitution and the Land Tenure Act as being irreconcilable with the Christian faith, and called on Mr. Smith's Government to "make possible the continuation of the work which we believe is laid upon us by God."
Their refusal to register as "voluntary associations" could result in the confiscation of the churches' material possessions, and defiance of the provisions of the Act could also lead to possible fines or terms of imprisonment.
The statement said: "We affirm that the new Constitution
and the Land Tenure Act cannot be reconciled with the Christian faith, since they entrench separation and discrimination solely on the basis of race.
"This is in direct contradiction of the New Testament teaching that race, like other human distinctions, has lost all divisive significance and should not be used to regulate relationships between man and God. and man and man.
"The Christian responsibility to love accepts no barriers, and cannot be defined or restricted by legislation," it said.
The churches' defiant statement comes a few weeks after Rhodesia's five Catholic bishops announced their intention to defy the Land Tenure Act. In a pastoral message they said that henceforth "the Church shall merely be tolerated and may be permitted to exercise her mission only within such limits as Government ministers see fit to determine."
The bishops said that freedom of association for the purpose of worship had been set aside as a principle. In the future, church services, schools, hospitals and religious communities might be ordered to segregate.
The Catholic bishops added: "The whole future of the Church in Rhodesia is thus at stake."