It is hard to imagine Kenya without religion. Most freedom fighters were educated in mission schools. Many of today’s prestigious learning institutions are church sponsored. Mission hospitals are an indispensable part of the country’s healthcare system. Leaders at different levels credit their success to values passed on to them by Christian parents. Even national symbols - including the national anthem - cement the central place that God takes in Kenya’s life.
But while there is a progressive spirituality, there is also a retrogressive type. In its retrogressive form, spirituality tips over and shifts from a source of healing to a source of harm—from a source of salvation to a force of enslavement.
You will often hear the description “powerful man of God.” What makes a clergy man thus described? Two things: The style of preaching and the fruit of preaching. A forceful and energetic preaching voice accompanied by dramatic presentation fit a “Powerful man of God.” The fruit of the preaching implies the ability of the said person to invoke the extraordinary and perform miracles. This demand for miracles sometimes becomes so pressurising that “men and women or God” resort to stage-managing to sustain the “powerful” title.
Followers of some “powerful” spiritual leaders catch the power by learning some chants. The chants could be extracted Bible verses or a speech in tongues. The hope is that upon making the battle-like pronouncements, some dramatic result will follow. But the expected drama does not always emerge. The chanters are often asked by their spiritual superiors to check their faith levels. Such disappointments make the people doubt themselves and sometimes doubt God too.
Miracles are welcome. But truth be told—the realm of miracles is beyond any human’s claim to control. Anchoring followers to the miracle realm as their basic source of answers and solutions to life’s questions distracts them from the inherent endowment of human capacity, which when well utilized, has its own amazing outcomes.
Religion runs on the premise that even in its most sophisticated form, creation still needs its Creator. But to stretch this creature-Creator dependency to the extent of downplaying the inherent human capacity is to err. A good follower of God is conscious of the wealth within them and step into life to glorify God with this endowment. God does not do what He has already enabled humans to do. On many instances, divine help connects with human responsibility to produce what humans cannot do alone. To effect the most dramatic miracle in the Old Testament—parting of the Red Sea—God asks Moses, “What do you have in your hand?”
Some spiritual leaders suppress the intellect of their followers for their own interests. Suppressed intellect creates pastor-dependency. It also incapacitates questioning, since the pastor as the custodian of spiritual codes becomes the follower’s lifeline. Followers who seem clever pose a threat of upsetting the intentionally engineered pastor-dependency.
The love commandment is easier preached than practised. Denominations struggle to love each other. Interdenominational tensions abound. Christians struggle to love each other and prideful inter-Christian attitudes abound. In the present Kenyan context, the newer denominations seem to have scored big with the government while the older mainstream denominations are riding the side stream. Some church actors are feeling on top of the world and do mind that others are ranking lower. Though the word “brother” is used widely to describe a faith family connection, in reality some are accorded half-brother treatment.
Some clusters regard themselves as theologically and philosophically superior. Others brand themselves as the key holders when it comes to invoking the heavens and the miraculous. The Christian family would do with some lesson on equality! As long as competition ranges, love will remain estranged.
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Biblical instruction requires of Christians a unidirectional dynamic—always moving towards each other. It is in mastering this uniting practice that the church can be an effective mediator at the national scene. Some church players when called by the State for a peace mission come carrying the experience of rivalry because that that is all they know. There is no denial that God is all powerful. But there should be no denial either of the truth that no one can predict what God will do or not do. Like the wind, God is free to blow wherever He wills. No wonder we pray “Your will be done…” But some clergy build in their followers steep faith-based expectations and proceed to guarantee them by proclaiming “It is done!” This they do without the benefit of divine insight to back up their confidence.
Such proclamations are often based not on prophetic insight but on acute positive thinking. Many pastoral utterances are based on imagination and not revelation. Politically, this positivity leads to the unsound practice of anointing and declaring winners (some who end up losing). It also takes the form of declaring a government as God-ordained and therefore will turn Kenya into a paradise overnight. It is common knowledge that building nations is a complex process. Simplistic proclamations that disregard the complex equations of how nations fail and succeed can be misleading. Contemporary prophecy should go beyond proclaiming and delve into computing.
The call and yearning for Kenya’s “revival” is on many lips. For most church leaders and Christians, revival is directly connected to Christianising systems. Revival ushers in a Christian nation where Christians call the shots. This shot-calling means that all other spiritual formations must co-operate or perish. Revival to many equates to an unapologetic Christian take-over marked especially by a moral resurgence and holistic prosperity. The take-over perspective fails to recognise that an imperialistic application of Christianity will automatically create groupings that feel excluded, silenced, sidelined and restricted. These oppressed groups will begin pushing against the imperial faith and imagine ways of achieving their own system capture. This dynamic of strife punctures the idealistic expectations of the Christian nation. In an increasingly pluralistic world, a more inclusive dream must replace the revival-based “take-over” bubble.