Strong-arm tactics won't reform the church

Rev Isaiah Deye joins the MCK All Saints Kinoru Harmony church choir during his induction service on September 3, 2023. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Head of Public Service Felix Koskei is asking churches to hold regular fellowships and crusades as a way of locking out rogue clergy and embracing self-regulation in worship.

Mr Koskei, speaking in Gede, Kilifi County, said such communions could help faithful bond better, vet themselves and prevent crooks from preying on the gullible.

No doubt, the defence of freedom of worship requires vigilance of everyone committed to the sanctity of life. As he waded into this debate, and given his stature, many observes couldn’t help but appreciate how sticky the push to regulate churches can be.

Dubious unions between some churches and powerful individuals have frustrated reforms to the core. Granted, lack of unanimity in the quest for religious accountability has deepened the State’s utter helplessness. It’s disquieting.     

Besides, it is now clear that public fury over Shakahola has died down, and with it the public pressure to have the religious community regulated.

The horrid tales have long been forgotten and society no longer gives a hoot over the more than 400 deaths. Pastor Paul Makenzie and his 15 co-accused remain innocent until proven otherwise.

In the scheme of things, there’s fear that since Kenyans’ memory can be as short-lived as a gob of saliva, ongoing or future efforts to make rogue sections of the religious community toe the line will bite the dust. Some churches were recently deregistered but this means little in terms of impact, just like rules developed during Githu Muigai’s tenure at the State Law office.

By the time President William Ruto’s taskforce reviewing the legal and regulatory framework governing religious groups and the ad hoc committee of the Senate on Shakahola complete their work, nothing will be different but a lot shall have changed.

From the onset, the 17-member taskforce led by Mutava Musyimi was on tenterhooks. There were those, including Azimio’s Raila Odinga and his troops, who argued the State had no moral authority to police the church since in the 2022 poll period, many clerics went to bed with Kenya Kwanza leaders.

The formation of the taskforce and the House ad hoc team also looked like a box-ticking affair after the police and the intelligence community badly slept on the job. Anyone in government can say anything now but Shakahola exposed intelligence failure of monumental proportions.

Now, with the lost momentum, greed, graft, lethargy and vested interests defining our systems and politics, all efforts to keep the church in check will be of superficial bearing. We all saw what happened with the Bethwel Kiplagat-led Truth Justice and Reconciliation Committee. Whatever became of its damning report is a blot on Kenya’s history.

Our unsavoury history with injustices tells us that during such incidents like Shakahola, terse statements are issued, State officials show up at the scene then a few people are harangued before the courts only to be set free with a slap on the wrist and life continues.

If by now no official has taken full responsibility for Shakahola because of dereliction of duty all the way from the seat of power in Nairobi to the sub-chief in Kilifi, there’s little or nothing to gain from enquiries that gobble up millions of shillings then come the most appalling cropper.  

There is doubt in the court of public opinion that greed in the church will be stamped out. The way I see it, clerics can be encouraged to regulate themselves through a renaissance.

It should come from their hearts, not as a consequence of the law. Greed breeds malevolent behaviours.

We don’t need tough talk or strong-arm tactics to have the clergy do the right thing.

Martin Luther King Jnr said religion that focusses on souls but ignores injustices that cripple them is dry-as-dust religion. The clergy should be encouraged to live by the teachings of Christ, not be blinded by greed that tears their flock apart. It’s time for a fresh start.

The writer is a communications practitioner. Twitter: @markoloo