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Respect places of worship as you play politics in church

DAVID OGINDE
By David Oginde | September 19th 2021

The last several weeks have seen nearly every sector of the church come out with strong statements on the place of politics and politicians in church.

The voice of the church has been unusually united on this matter to the surprise of many. The current storm was kicked off by Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit of the Anglican Church, while presiding over the historic consecration of Reverend Rose Okeno as the first woman Bishop in the Anglican Church in Kenya. The Archbishop publicly denied the battery of high level politicians opportunity to “greet the people” as they are used to.

Unlike has been the case on such occasions, the Archbishop was categorical that no politician would even bring messages of goodwill to the newly consecrated Bishop. What was a surprise to many is that the prelate stuck to his guns and did not entertain even the highest level presidential candidates present – including former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

As if reading from the same script, the Catholic Archbishop of Nyeri Anthony Muheria also announced politicians will not be allowed to speak in church. Later, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) reiterated this position. Interestingly, a similar stand has been declared by other major umbrella bodies – including the National Council of Churches (NCCK) and the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK). Some church denominations have also independently spoken out on the same. The AIPCA last week announced they had placed a ban on politicians speaking from the pulpit. The Redeemed Gospel Church, under Archbishop Arthur Kitonga, also made their stand known.

The question that must be lingering in the minds of Kenyans is why this unusual turn of events in the church. Has the clergy suddenly realised that politicking in church is bad? These and many such questions are legitimate.

But the reality is that, whereas politicians have always been welcome to our churches, and whereas they have mostly been offered space to speak to the congregations, the situation in this electoral season has proved difficult. With other avenues for politicking closed due to the Covid-19 containment measures, politicians have found an easy way out in places of worship.

A fortnight ago, we expressed concern in this space over the increasing use of church pulpits by politicians to spread political vitriol against real or perceived opponents. It was our considered view that such conduct is totally disrespectful to the Christian faithful who throng places of worship with single desire for an encounter with their God.

Unfortunately, when politicians appear in church, they so muddy the water that these congregants have to return home with their spiritual thirst unquenched – if not worse. It was therefore our plea to the politicians not to abuse the courtesy extended to them by the church.

Sadly, this call has gone unheeded. As Archbishop Muheria lamented, “Because of their greed for votes and popularity, they have decided that the places of worship are owned by them. They are demanding in churches and places of worship to have a political rally to address people politically.” Furthermore, some politicians have even gone ahead to openly insult church leaders hosting them, especially if the Pastor or Bishop does not do their bidding. This is not only absurd, but is the height of disrespect!

Whereas all this might be misconstrued as a move to discriminate against politicians, the church has made it clear that worship places are open to everybody – including politicians. In its pastoral letter, the EAK advised its member churches that the church should be open to all who wish to join in worship without any discrimination. As such, all congregants are free to join in worshipping God with song, hymns, prayer, and giving without exalting one worshiper above the other.

Therefore, what seems to come out clearly is that the current furore over politics and the church is a self-inflicted injury by our political leaders. While we appreciate the desperate need to sell yourselves to Kenyans wherever they may be found, perhaps you might benefit from Jesus advise when He said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Therein lieth the secret of success – even politically.

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