Of Wanjiru's woes and unholy alliance between Church and State

Bishop Margaret Wanjiru (centre) is assisted to walk after being accosted during the demolition of her church. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Bishop Margaret Wanjiru’s public spat with authorities brings to the fore the age-old question of whether or not the Church and State ought to be separate.

The good bishop is not only the leader of her church but also a former MP, an aspirant in past gubernatorial and senatorial races, and a proponent of the ruling Kenya Kwanza administration’s policies.

According to media reports last week, the bishop “claimed that a group of unknown people invaded her church, beat her up, snatched her phone before they began to demolish the church.” Wanjiru has accused the government of betraying her. She has also linked last week’s events to land grabbers who she says want to “claim that the church properties are theirs.”

Information in the public domain reveals that many State corporations have recently been out to reclaim land allegedly previously doled out to politically connected people. The Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) has had huge chunks of its land given out under such circumstances. It is the reclamation of these properties by KRC that has allegedly led to the confrontation with the bishop.

Ardent Christians are believers in the existence of the afterlife. To them, a bishop’s role is infinitely more important than that of a politician. Politicians concern themselves with the murky affairs of a transient world whereas bishops are custodians of a path to an ethereal existence with no end. To the Christian, the only permissible convergence between Church and State is where the latter speaks truth to power.

But these two institutions have become intertwined. The Church in Kenya is a beneficiary of political sinecures. Some of its top leadership has not only received favours in terms of allocation of State land but has also sat at the helm of various public bodies.

And therein lies the rub; that the transcendence of the Church is now so sullied by the State as to become indistinguishable. Bishop Wanjiru’s language, when blaming the president and the deputy for her woes, was not sublime.

She stopped a tad short of calling eternal damnation on them. She has since recanted her position albeit not by dint of the same public presser she gave when calling sulphur and brimstone on her alleged detractors.

The probative burden of proving State persecution falls on the bishop. In recanting her withering broadsides against the presidency, she casts aspersions on Church leadership making it appear mercurial and parochial. It does little to expiate the reputational damage inflicted on those she accused.

Kenya has gotten to that point in time where historical injustices can no longer be swept under the carpet. Some of these injustices include intractable issues of irregularly allocated land. In redressing these issues, there should be no sacred cows. No individual or institution, including the Church, should be exempt from either surrendering such land or regularising its ownership where the law so provides.

The bishop’s rather temporal lament is an outcome of an unholy alliance between the Church and State. But more than that, it is reflective of the cri de coeur from the hearts of those who desire a separation of the two.

-Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst