The first time I saw a video clip of the conflict at Maxwell, the Seventh Day Adventist church in Nairobi, I was surprised.
It is very unusual to hear of the SDAs fighting in public, least of all, on the Sabbath. I shrugged off the tension and thought it must have boiled over and, hopefully, would cool down.
That did not happen. A week later, the stories in the media regarding the conflict’s escalation were quite dampening. Security teams were called in to defuse the tension.
Last weekend, no good news was coming from the pulpit of a church whose worshippers include senior government and private sector officials. Instead, the media carried more stories of a church at war with itself.
I know a few friends who, over the years, faithfully worship at Maxwell.
They are men and women of great repute in their circles. At the moment, their heads are bowed in shame and confusion, but they hope a solution will be found soon.
We are used to watching political parties settle their differences in public. We are also used to splinter churches testing each other in full glare of the media.
It is not common to hear of an established church like the SDA settling scores inside the sanctuary. So what really went wrong?
I don’t know, and I would not want to know anyway. But, we know that temptations lead to conflicts in the church. Somewhere in the gospel, Jesus was tempted three times.
The first time, the devil asked him to turn a stone into bread. Jesus was hungry so this sounded like a genuine concern from the devil.
But, even after 40 days of fasting in the desert, Jesus would see through the trap. He declined the offer as “man does not live on bread alone”. The question to ponder is; do church leaders fight over bread?
The second temptation was an invitation to some kind of game in which children get to a high point and throw themselves down on a soft mattress knowing that they will not be harmed. Jesus was asked to throw himself down as “the angels would hold you so you are not harmed”.
Jesus’ response was simple: “do not put your Lord God to test.” Talk of games of fame and success. This is why Jesus dismisses it straight away.
This is a manipulative temptation. People tempt each other with the intention of making the other look to foolish or act stupid.
The end game is to make the tempter laugh at the victim and irreparably reduce the image of the victim.
I don’t know whether the storm at Maxwell church is about egos. But, if at all applicable, the members might want to introspect and see who is manipulating who and for what end.
The desire for wealth is in the DNA of many Kenyans, some who happen to be Christians. Jesus was offered vast land if only he would worship the devil. Easy to do, with tangible benefit on the table.
Who does not want to be worshipped? Moreover, who does not want to be rich? Who can miss “an opportunity” to be rich? Jesus was all aware of these vanity instant gains.
His agenda was transcendental: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” was his response to the devil for his advances.
Pride, honour and fame, especially because of being in a position of power or having access to means of making wealth can draw the church off the path of “serving the Lord only”.
The primary function of the church is to nourish the hearts of the faithful with the word of God. How does this noble mission turn out to be the cause of conflict?
Well, it will be wrong for anyone of us, to forget that the members of a church are human while the church itself is holy.
For this reason, it will help if the church leaders remember that once they have fallen of short of the grace of God, they should quickly amend their ways, tap into their conscience for the voice of God to guide them into making sound decisions in solving conflicts.
Churches like SDA have millions of followers. When the top leadership fights, it brings great hurt to the members.
The core question to carry to the battlefield is this: What temptation is at play? Members need peace in their churches from which they draw peace unto their hearts.
Dr Mokua is Executive Director–Jesuit Hakimani Centre
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