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More ‘Calisto moments’ needed to point politicians to the right path

President Uhuru Kenyatta with newly consecrated Bishop Calisto Odede and his family at Christ Is The Answer Ministries (CITAM) Karen, Nairobi during the Consecration Service of the incoming Bishop who took over as the presiding Bishop.

The church has power. During the Meru leaders prayer breakfast, Bishop Calisto Odede walked up to the podium when Senator Mithika Linturi had begun selling a potentially divisive political narrative. The 90 seconds that followed became a highlight for Kenyans.

In Calisto’s stand there was light. Kenyans pay attention when a priest steps up to a political podium. They yearn to hear a fearless voice. They hope to hear “Thus says the Lord!” They hope to hear an advocate of the masses. Given the state of our nation, when a priest is undisruptive Kenyans are underwhelmed.  Both the priest and the politician have their points of commendation. The priest firmly and promptly called out on the politician, clearly explaining his discomfort. He gave him a chance to continue only on a non-divisive line. The politician heeded, apologised and obeyed.

Upon the correction, the Senator switched into a spiritual language, telling of how he is prayerful though he does not go to church as often. This should have been the basis of his talk from the start! Imagine if he began with a confession “I may not go to church often. But I acknowledge the place of God in life…” This approach would have taken him deep into the hearts of the people as he opened up on the spiritual architecture of a politician. Such vulnerability may not be an express appeal for votes but given the nature of the event, it would have certainly earned him honor.

Holy authority

Bishop Calisto was not staging a showdown or a shaming. He just naturally stood to do the right thing. That Kenyans picked that “Calisto moment” and circulated it widely shows a community hungry for priests who exercise holy authority. Too many priests are impressed by politicians and stand in awe of them. Too many priests have sold their prophetic right for a bowl of soup. Many priests choose to suppress the knowledge that by spiritual rank, they hold a higher office than the politician. Many priests are afraid of the earthly consequences of disagreeing with politicians and therefore shelf their courage. A community with fearful priests has no priests at all.

The church should not doubt itself. Self-doubt creates a gap that politicians happily and maximally exploit.  Unless we get more Calisto moments, it is just a matter of time before a politician appears in a worship gathering, reorganises the order of service, appoints themselves the preacher of the day and makes a vote-hunt based altar call! One priest will watch helplessly. Another will affirm and see no problem. Another will have misdirected anger and walk out, leaving the flock in the hands of the politician’s crew.  Priestless, there is a chance that an enlightened congregation will not sit and watch. A few congregants will walk up and correct the politician and point them to the pew where they and the congregation belong. This way, the Calisto moment becomes a congregational philosophy. 

When the priest is reduced to a spectator as a rhetoric that contradicts what the church stands for is passionately articulated, we have to ask ourselves who the true priest is. Could it be that there are instances where the politician is the priest’s priest? The story of the priest who corrects a politician should not be news. What should be news is the politician who defies the priest! But there is even a more superior place: where stopping is unnecessary because the politician already understands that the church is a shoes-off space.  Speaking in the church is not just a matter of being relevant. It is a matter of understanding the presence in which you stand. Comedians may joke about Christians and the Church, but very few take the dangerous leap of cracking jokes on Christ with an aim to demean Him. As funny as they are, they understand boundaries. The fear of the holy is real. Politicians in a church should move from crowd conscious to God conscious. This God-consciousness is presently at a sorry low.

In the sanctuary, one is in the presence of a power to which even political power must bow. This is an aspect that political advisors seem to miss out as they brief their bosses. They are so obsessed with the crowd that all they see is a moment to spread their influence. This view is flawed. In the presence of God words must be carefully chosen and if possible, let the words be few.  In the presence of God a politician needs to know that not only their words are being heard. Their hearts are being seen too. They should not just be politically conscious but must be conscious of their spiritual status too. Lack of God-consciousness tempts a politician to speak as a god. The sanctuary is about heart matters and this should not be eclipsed by vote-hunting matters. The sanctuary is more a place for politicians sanitizing themselves than popularising themselves. If they navigate the spiritual place wisely, on a good day, they may even get an angelic boost to their ambitious!

Politics has many languages and even more accents. That our politicians do not display this variety makes them negatively predictable and entrenches their brand as disruptors. Event leaders have sometimes to be warned either not to give politicians a chance, or limit their time or brief them not to talk politics. But really, do they need to be told? This should be a natural expectation. But the made-in-Kenya politicians speak only the raw political language. They also have mastered “gate-clashing” where they force politics into every event and push it down the throats of even the disinterested.  It is the knowledge of political accents that makes a politician fit in any event without someone having to worry about what they might say.