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Trying times as leadership wrangles rock the church

By Jeckonia Otieno | December 29th 2019

National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK) General Secretary Rev Canon Chris Kinyanjui (left), Archbishop Martin Kivuva (centre) and Bishop Alfred Rotich address a press conference during 2nd Religious Leaders Convocation at Ufungamano in Nairobi, on Thursday, December 05, 2019. [David Njaaga, Standard]

From wrangles over leadership and money to outright defiance pitting church leaders against each other, the year was full of theological drama.

Mainstream and evangelical churches strived to outdo each other in the drama that played out in the public.

The wrangles threatened to tear apart the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church, the National Council for Churches of Kenya (NCCK), Methodist Church of Kenya and the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA).

From conflicts over leadership, the fight for resources to trailing behind in the national agenda, there is consensus that the church needs to pull up its socks. In the Methodist Church, a group of leaders from the Coast region declared the formation of a regional assembly complete with officials.

Generous contributions

Nairobi Central SDA Church also had its fair share of conflict after two factions fought over the control of the church leading to it being closed for at least two Saturdays. At the centre of the bitter fallout was Pastor Jean Pierre Kibiisyo Maiywa, whom a rival group wanted to eject from the church leadership.

This is also the year the church seemingly regained its voice after a lull following the coming into power of the Jubilee administration. In May, the Catholic Church came out and warned that Kenya was headed the wrong direction.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) pointed out that runaway corruption and a plunging economy was putting the lives of Kenyans at risk. Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit also urged the country to face corruption head-on.

But the newly appointed bishop of Catholic Diocese of Kericho, Rt Rev Alfred Rotich denied claims that the church has been quiet in the face of adversity facing Kenyans.

Rotich said: “20 years ago, the church was the only alternative voice but with the expansion of the freedom of speech, more voices have come up to speak against problems facing Kenyans.”   

The generous contributions to churches by Deputy President William Ruto also raised controversy.

Archbishop Sapit declared that the politicians were not allowed to politic in ACK churches but some bishops openly defied him and invited Ruto to address faithful during service.

But not all church leaders agree that politicians should be banned from the pulpit. Archbishop Julius Njoroge of AIPCA said that as long as the agenda of a politician is not contrary to the agenda of the church, then they are welcome.

“Politicians are just members of the society like everyone else and they should be welcome to church because we cannot block them and deny them the freedom of worship,” asserted Njoroge.

The church also openly condemned corruption that has permeated in all sectors of the economy.

The Catholic Church committed to have its members rededicate themselves to God in a bid to fight corruption. The church stated that it was working to see money stolen through corruption returned back to the state.

But Rev Timothy Njoya said the church has become reactive instead of being proactive. He blamed this on the quality of leadership in the church.

“Politicians are way ahead of the church and as you can see, they are now planning for 2022 through ventures like the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) while the church is left to just comment on what is already happening,” Njoya says.

Challenge excesses

An activist during the clamour for multiparty politics, Njoya noted that the church is suffering from lack of intellectualism which he blamed on theology being left for those regarded as failures. “Church leaders in Kenya today do not have intellectual skills to envision what will happen tomorrow and this is why the machinations by politicians only leave church leaders to comment but not contribute.”

But Archbishop Njoroge argued that the church is being left behind because politicians are not involving them in national matters. He urged the government to seek the church’s opinion all the time and not only when matters go out of hand.

Moving forward, Njoya called upon the church to get professionals into ministry to help in critical thinking and strategic plan if it wants to be heard and to challenge excesses of the government.

Dr Sapit envisions a church that will have researchers to inform decisions and not one that just depends on outside forces to determine its direction.

“Once you have researchers, then you have facts on whatever issue you stand top speak on and this leads to credibility which cannot be ignored,” the archbishop said.

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