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History will judge churches that defend corruption

By Ken Opalo | April 27th 2019

Corruption is threatening to split several Christian denominations right in the middle. Over the last few weeks, disagreements have emerged on whether churches should accept harambee contributions from politicians. Those opposed to the idea argue that much of the money that finds its way into church coffers has been acquired through corruption.

Proponents of church harambees have no qualms receiving money from politicians (regardless of its source). They, instead, focus on their respective churches’ financial needs as they try to meet the demands of their faithful – both in terms of social services and physical infrastructure.

This debate ought to have been settled years ago. It is common knowledge that many of our public officials are corrupt. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the most generous politicians are often also the most corrupt. Their generosity on Sundays would not survive a sober lifestyle audit.

Yet churches have over the decades been more than willing participants in the plunder of public resources. They have accepted grabbed public land. Accept proceeds of corruption. And fall over themselves in the quest to provide moral cover to otherwise morally-bankrupt public officials.

The current battle over whether to go to bed with corrupt public officials has snared even established outfits like the Catholic Church. Media reports indicate a split among Catholic Bishops over whether or not to attend a prayer rally organised for a leading Jubilee politician next month in Murang’a.

The event was likely planned as a reaction to the recent focus in the media on the role of politics in church. Its cancellation and brouhaha that appears to trail it both suggest that we may have reached the breaking point – that circumstances will soon force all church faithful and the clergy to pick a side. They will be asked to demonstrate, through their actions, whether they are for graft and theft of public resources; or committed to the calling of their faith to take care of the weakest and needy among us.


The latter duty, of course, also involves cultivating a healthy sense of political consciousness within the church. As I have argued before, the Kenyan religious establishment (including all faiths and sects) long ceded its moral high ground and crucial role as the conscience of the nation. The generation of politically-conscious bishops and pastors who were willing to stand to dictatorship have since given way to venal praise-singers with nothing to say about corruption and bad governance.

Consider this. Over the last two decades, what is the most high-profile thing the religious establishment has done in the quest to advance social justice in Kenya? When was the last time a religious figure voiced opposition to specific instances of government corruption or ineptitude?

My working theory for why the implementation of the ambitious 2010 Constitution failed is that the Kenyan religious establishment and Civil Society either abdicated their roles or were coopted by politicians.

Imagine a world in which religious groups marshalled their faithful to ensure that the implementation of the new Constitution adhered to the spirit of reforms that swept through the country after 2002. We would be in a much better position at the moment. History will not be kind to specific individuals among the clergy who use the name of God and their positions to boost those who steal from Kenyan taxpayers.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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