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Church's brand of peace needed to end violence in political hotspots

By Edward Buri | July 11th 2021

A dilapidated police kiosk in Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

According to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Mombasa and Nakuru form the hotspot pentagon. Hotspot – what a baptism! If the city were a person, what would it feel being called 'hotspot' of violence? This is where a change of name works well.

People and institutions do change names and adopt new ones–either through a spiritual or legal process. Kind of like the Anabaptists who declare some forms of baptisms ineffective. They recommend another baptism–specifically by immersion.

The 'hot' in hotspots emerge from recent history when inter-ethnic violence saw these towns immersed in pools of blood. 'Hotspots' could do with another baptism. They need a baptism in peace waters followed by a national declaration: “Your name shall no longer be hotspot but peace spot.” While the government undertakes to monitor these towns closely, the church should mount its baptismal font in the towns.

Surely the church cannot just stand by as these great towns are branded names implying a thirst for human blood. The church – and the mosque and temple and every shrine of positive spirituality–should decode this 'hotspot'-naming as a desperate mother crying for help: “Please help my child possessed by demons and every so often they throw her into violent concussions!”

Hotspot implies these towns as predictable factories of violence; that these towns are temperamental, have anger issues and exhibit fits of rage. If violence was a commodity, it would have a tag written: “Made in…(any of the four cities).”

From Kenya’s experience, when violence is simmering, the government prepares its forces to conduct baptism by the bullet, or in its mildest form, baptism by tear gas. But a look at the 2022 timeline shows that there is time enough to interrupt these concussion cycles.

A man grieves at the charred remnants of a church in Kiambaa, Uasin Gishu, burnt during the post-2007 election violence. [Courtesy]

There is time enough to exorcise the 'legion' of demons. There is time enough to deny the demons their bloody pleasure. We can starve the demons to death. With her catechism in hand, there is time enough for the church to catechise these towns and rename them.

The raw material for violence in these towns is the cosmopolitan composition of the population and political positions. These are towns rich with ethnicities. Demons defied, the same combination that earned them this violence tag is the one that would earn them the peace spot title.

To embrace the stature of community baptiser, the church must wean herself off her obsession with the two defining numbers: offering and attendance. The church must itself self-baptise with a new obsession – the holy obsession of transformation.

One benefit the church must reap from the pandemic is a loosened fixation on the four-wall worship. The pandemic has forced new practices. Nature has penned an open letter to all Christians entitled: Back to the Community. Over time, an overstretched imagination that the sanctuary is the space for authentic worship has isolated the church from the part of its mandate which is Good News to all nations– for all, to all, through all.

With churches largely reopened, to still confine themselves within the four walls is to mock the pandemic lessons. The church in the cathedral is too safe, controlled and could deceive itself as serving the community when it is actually controlling the community with little knowledge of what “out there” is like.

The church in the cathedral serves the community that comes to it. A huge part of the community does not and will not come to the church. The church must go to them. The pandemic has pushed the cathedral to the past. To force the return of the “four-wall” ministry is insisting that the old is here and the new has gone.

The real celebration should be the sigh of relief as the pandemic renews our license to be where Jesus is – in the community. For the discerning, the pandemic has released the church from cathedral captivity, broken the shackles of sticky traditions devoid of power. The pandemic restores the pulpit in the community where spiritual imagination and creativity is rife as the church comes face to face with day to day demons that terrorise the people.

Residents of Kawangware Nairobi erect a burning barricade on October 27, 2017, during post-electoral violence. [Courtesy]

The pandemic restores the liberating dimension of the church. Church in the community defies standard liturgies; demands literal divine power; requires co-operation rather than isolation, and calls for spontaneity as demons in their disorderliness cross paths uninvited.

Church in the community serves with a holy openness and with it a holy readiness for unlike Sunday’s predictable order of service, no one day is like the other.  This pandemic gift of a boundless church reopens our eyes to the possibility of baptising communities into newness.

Going into 2022, amongst the church-sponsored candidates who must win is Peace. A Peace win is a big win for the church. The politician's and the priest's talk represent different version of peace. While there is an external peace, there’s an internal peace too.

The internal peace detonates the external violence. The scriptures do not only tell about an internal peace but one whose quality is “unlike the one the world gives.” Right there is the distinction. The church owes the community this brand of peace that is unlike the political peace. Without abandoning the nationwide prayers, peace evangelism caravans are critical with peace baptisms high on the score board.

The church must assemble its thinkers and make this peace practical and active. If the church does this, it will have served this generation well by rendering the heat in the hot spots unnecessary. The church may have been left out from the essential services list during the pandemic, now is the chance for it to be not only of essential service, but of critical peace service.

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