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Storm in Methodist: Church members challenge man of God's rule in secular courts

By Kamau Muthoni | September 6th 2018
The presiding Bishop of Methodist church in Kenya Rev Joseph Ntombura (centre) Rev Daniel Mutea, Bishop Nkubu Synod (right) and Rev Henley Kaai (in black) sing during the dedication of Makuru MCK Church at Githongo Circuit, Meru County. [Phares Mutembei/Standard]

The Methodist Church of Kenya is embroiled in leadership wrangles that have led to court cases.

The church founded in 1967 is swamped by court disputes, particularly by those opposed to the leadership of its current Bishop, Joseph Ntombura.

One of the suits questions Ntombura's academic qualifications and accuses him of being in office illegally, harassing staff and mismanaging church affairs.

The latest onslaught is a suit filed before the Constitutional Court seeking to reverse the "standing orders" made by the church’s conference for allegedly trying to arm-twist members into silence.

Three petitioners claimed that the church’s name has been changed to Methodist Church in Kenya Trustees (MCKTR), and they blamed this Ntombura.

“The current leadership of the Methodist Church in Kenya has purported to revise the current church’s standing orders 2011 edition with an intention to muzzle the members and stifle their rights,” a suit filed by the three church members - Mugambi Bakari, Hellen Kimunchu and Timothy Kinyua - read.

According to the three, the church leadership enacted a law prohibiting church leaders from engaging in court battles, which is viewed as an attempt to stifle dissent.

Mr Bakari, the chairman of Inono Methodist Church, said the church had been running under the deed of church order, which was written in 1967.

He claimed that the 2015 standing orders ousted the deed and violated the fundamental rights and freedoms of the petitioners and the members of the Methodist Church in Kenya.

But Zablon Nthamburi, a trustee, denied the allegations and asked the court to dismiss the case. “I believe that the 2015 standing orders are lawful in every respect as they are made with valid constitution of the Methodist Church in Kenya,” said Dr Nthamburi.

The church held its annual general meeting between August 17 and 22 this year. This did not go without a challenge.

Three church members – Baabu Mukindia, Mungatha M’Arianga and Johnson Cokera – filed a suit seeking to have the meeting shelved, citing a court order that Ntombura had been barred from holding office.

In their suit, now before the Civil Division of the High Court, they referred to Ntombura as a former presiding bishop.

They argued that on orders issued by Justice Joseph Sergon on July 22, 2016, there was no existing bishop to convene the conference.

Justice Sergon had issued orders that the bishop should not be in office until another suit that had been filed by Godfrey Simiyu, Mathew Kaburu, Kibia Michubu and Charles Kinoti questioning his leadership and academic qualifications was determined. 

The petitioners' demand was that he ought to produce his academic credentials as he allegedly did not qualify for the seat.

The church’s regulations, enacted in 2011, required that a bishop should have at least a master’s degree and a basic degree in theology plus at least 10 years of experience.

The rules were suspended in 2013, hence lifting the master’s degree requirement.  The church went back to its 1996 regulations.

The suspension of the regulations has also been contested.

The members also demanded that Ntombura give a report of his business interests, both in the country and abroad, and how he allegedly acquired three plots in the Gucha Mission.

He was also asked to give a detailed response to accusations raised by Joseph Kinyondi and to a letter written by Dr Gladys Mwiti alleging that the Kenya Methodist University was mismanaged.

The Rev Kinyondi, on February 19, 2015, wrote to the Methodist conference secretary accusing his boss of, among other things, keeping idols and being a habitual liar.

“Like Jonah of the old, he technically removed himself from the ship because of own sin of disobedience to God and the church,” claimed Kinyondi.

Ntombura is also accused of threatening and demoting 10 pastors from the church, in addition to an allegation that he got into office mysteriously.

In his reply, the bishop denied all claims.

He asked the court to throw out the case as the members had not exhausted the church’s internal dispute resolution mechanism.

“I have read and understood the application and the affidavit. All are based on lies and half-truths and accordingly are misleading to this honourable court. The applicants are malicious people keen to defame and embarrass me and hence I would like to humbly request this honourable court to protect the office of the presiding bishop from such idlers,” said Ntombura.

He claimed that from the time he took over as a bishop, he had earned three master's degrees.

“As the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, I am guided by the standing orders of the church and most importantly the principles and teachings of the Bible. Being a leader, I was elected to ensure that the word of God is preached in Kenya and beyond and I would never do anything to jeopardise that mission," he said.

The bishop also denied that the rules were changed to suit him. He blamed politics in the church for the division.

Another suit by Simiyu, Kaburu, Michubu and Kinoti has asked the court to jail Ntombura for six months for contempt of court because he did not step aside.

The bishop is entangled in another suit filed in Mombasa by Jillo Kitoko, Joash Kamara, Fares Jilo, Kahayu Deye and Lydiah Githinji, who were protesting against the election of Japheth Asseruruji as the Mombasa Synod bishop.

51st AGM

In court, it is claimed that Simiyu, Kaburu, Michubu and Kinoti had been expelled during the 51st AGM held in 2016.

Ntamburi produced minutes in which 173 ministerial session members unanimously ratified that since the four took the bishop to court, they would no longer be a part of the flock.

In March this year, Ntombura transferred the Rev Charles Akule of Kawangware church to Ugunja in western Kenya. But Akule instructed his lawyers, Mburugu and Kanyonge Advocates to seek orders against the bishop.

In another letter, the Rev John Kobia was supposed to leave to St Pauls Circuit in December last year but he too stayed put. Through his lawyers, Billy Amendi and Company Advocates, Rev Kobia claimed that the transfer letter was ill-motivated and warned the bishop of swift legal action should the bishop try to punish him for failing to report to the new church.

The church has also been involved in a battle with several employees it sacked.

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