It was courageous of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to travel to Zimbabwe to give succour to the thousands of Anglicans in that country who have been routinely arrested, beaten and tear-gassed by the regime of Robert Mugabe. And it has been doubly brave of him to enter the lion's den by requesting a meeting with the Zimbabwean President, knowing that there was a risk that Mr Mugabe might seek to turn the encounter to his own advantage by attempting to humiliate or embarrass the prelate.
The head of the world's 77 million Anglicans upped the ante by launching, on the eve of the meeting, an attack of unprecedented ferocity on the man who is one of Africa's greatest bullies. By comparing the "mindless and Godless" injustice of the Mugabe government with that of the white colonial regime it replaced, Dr Williams touched a raw nerve. Suggesting that the President and his cronies paralleled the "greed of colonialists and imperialists" risked angering Mr Mugabe ahead of their meeting. But it pre-empted the possibility of the President suggesting that the visit was an implicit endorsement of his authority.
Dr Williams has come under attack from Mr Mugabe's stooge bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, who has seized both church buildings and finances after being excommunicated by the main Anglican Province of Central Africa. The schismatic cleric accused Dr Williams of being a homosexual and neo-colonial heretic. But the thousands of ordinary church-goers who have flocked to see the Archbishop show how little purchase such attacks have had.
No one will suppose that anything will change within the Mugabe regime as a result of Dr Williams's visit. But knowing that the Archbishop presented Mr Mugabe with a dossier of "harassment and persecution" abuses by the Zimbabwean authorities has boosted the morale and resolve of those who seek to oppose the regime by peaceful means. Hope is not the same as optimism, in theological terms, but it is what the people of Zimbabwe need.