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Leaders who quote scripture but live dual lives are holy hyprocrites

 Touristic scripture referencing depicts convenience not conviction. [iStockphoto]

A string of insults, a bag of foul language, blaring character assassination and the speech still ends with “God bless Kenya!"

How is God supposed to fit comfortably in such a dark sentence? Such is the conflicting form of our politicians’ speeches. They boldly accuse others of moral disasters blind to the forest of logs in their eyes.

Their liberal spiritual agility - their mastery at syncretism - sees them dance with angels and demons without losing a step. The polygamous romance with light and darkness observable in the lives of many politicians leaks into their speeches.

Words can be used as weapons to wound. They can be used as flowers to refresh. They can be used as rays to enlighten. They can be used as a code to conceal. They can be used as gloves to punch. They can be used as a balm to soothe. They can be used as jewels to impress. They can be used as anchors to the ground. They can be used as wings to uplift. They can be used as bridges to connect. They can be used as shields to protect. They can be used as fire to ignite. They can be used as mirrors to reflect. They can be used as songs to inspire. They can be used as threads to mend.

These depict the multiple roads one can travel with words. But such travel requires intentionality. It is critical that a leader who speaks often in public picks a speech identity. Such an identity makes the people anticipate what the leader will say because whatever the platform, the leader has an infused appealing spirit. A signature spirit is what makes listeners press ‘mute’ or ‘add volume’.

It is common for politicians in Kenya to make reference to personal religious experiences and quote convenient religious scriptures. These references play as props to political positions. The public has learned over time to treat such inserts with suspicion. Politics as a discipline has vast concepts to inform a robust language. But our heavily religious culture sees politicians find value in importing religious language into their politics.

Some even burst into hymns and spiritual songs in their rallies! Some do this grafting so well that they could outdo ordained priests. Competing politicians mock the religiosity of their opponents as hypocritical showbiz by godless greedy gangs. The hypocrisy tag is not far-fetched because the creed-confessing tongue in the morning church service often turns to curse-chanting once on the rooftop of a campaign car the same Sunday afternoon. Hyena’s in sheepskin, and whitewashed tombs indeed!

Under pressure and when falling out of favour with the system, many politicians take spiritual stances to paint their innocence. They invoke religious words to express discontentment and even vengeance.

A common phrase from those in the red corner is “There is a God in heaven”. Others will appeal to congregations saying, “Pray for me”. Others who are not too spiritual will speak from religious touchlines with phrases like “The voice of the people is the voice of God”, or make references to respected and renowned spiritual figures in history like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  

This religious language is so mainstream that it frequently features even in presidential addresses. The president will sometimes mount an entire spiritual commentary not in neutrality but biased to support his policies.

Debates in Parliament conveniently import religious language to self-sanctify and express perspectives. Spiritual inserts serve as speech boosters. Debaters even often liken each to biblical characters. This can sometimes get intense to the extent of some branding themselves “servants of God” and their opponents “atheists and devil worshipers.”

In one heated debate, a senator passionately asked. “Who will deliver us…?” This is Mosaic–Messianic language crying for a transcendent saviour. Several politicians have described themselves as being on the “side of justice”. Justice is a big theme in the scriptures, making a friend of justice an agent of God.

Some have cited their spiritual identity expressly and said “I’m a Muslim” or “I’m a Christian”, which is meant to boost believability at critical points. When another gets out of line they are sharply reminded “You are a church-goer”  - meant to imply a particular expectation of perspective. Some, when doubted by their colleagues, will remind the house “I’m a daughter of a respected Bishop”.

In one heated debate, a senator made his closing, punchy and emotional remarks by narrating the story of the rich man and the poor man’s lamb. He was rejecting the idea of poor counties losing revenue to the perceived richer counties. The story is drawn from the confrontation made by Prophet Nathan to King David.

Recently, a young politician made a whole political commentary founded on Rehoboam, King Solomon’s son, who rejected the wisdom of lessening pressure on people and instead chose to oppress the people even more. This was in reference to the steep increase in taxes for people who are struggling financially. Then there was the King Belshazzar reference, for whom the writing on the wall said “Mene Mene Tekel Peres”. This was invoked by a politician to prophesy doom over a prideful government.

This import of religious language activates the connection between the divine theme of deliverance with the daily acts of earthly governance. Religious narratives provide mirrors where leaders can relate with heroines, heroes and villains. Religious language insulates political talk with mysterious divine power, providing room for politicians to speak in prophetic-like dimensions. Religious language adds weight and transcendence to expression–making the politician appear to be an agent of God.

To make this linkage between religion and governance more meaningful, leaders should endeavour to cite their referenced authorities correctly. It is critical that such citations be in support of truth. Citing spiritual sources to support untruths is manipulative, disrespectful and dangerous.

For authenticity, legislators who choose to import religious wisdom should make it an intentional signature of their expression. It is such intentionality that creates a consistency that in turn etches a speech identity.

Touristic scripture referencing depicts convenience not conviction. Public citation of spiritual texts in a multi-religious context calls for the skill of accurate global interpretation that lands an inclusive application.

Critical, too, is for leaders to seem to live a life that corresponds to their spiritual citations. Holy Scriptures should not only be used to make and win arguments. Speech gains believability when embodied. You mean it when you live it.

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