Churches seek to counter state with self-regulation rules

Members of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya led by the chairman Bishop David Oginde address the media at the CORAT Africa Training and Conference Centre on August 13, 2022. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Churches have initiated a code of conduct and governance guidelines to counter State regulations.

Led by Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commissoion chairman Bishop David Oginde, clerics under the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) said the need for a code of conduct had become more urgent after the Shakahola deaths.

The leaders’ action comes almost four months after President William Ruto formed a 17-member task force to review legal and regulatory framework governing religious organisations.

It also follows the government’s recent deregistration of several churches, including Paul Makenzi’s Good News International Ministries and Pastor Ezekiel Odero’s New Life Care Centre.

The president emphasised that the primary responsibility of the task force would involve pinpointing existing loopholes that have enabled extremist religious groups to establish a presence in Kenya.

However, the move by the government to guide the operations of religious organisations has left churches uneasy.

“The danger of where we are now is that, if we now get rogue leaders in the nation, the church will be closed. They can just say, no more preaching and it can just happen,” said Bishop Oginde.

The church’s plea to the government emphasizes the need for autonomy in governing its internal affairs.

The elaborate 74-page document intended to act as a compass for all churches underscores the importance of fair and transparent employment practices, with an emphasis on adhering to biblical principles.

It also promotes open financial reporting and accountability, urging churches to adopt good financial reporting systems and subject their accounts to regular audits by independent external auditors.

Furthermore, the guidelines stress the separation of procurement and tendering functions from pastoral responsibilities, aiming to eliminate conflicts of interest and ensure integrity in financial matters. The document also outlines specific steps for internal dispute resolution, advocating for alternatives like negotiation, mediation, and arbitration over litigation in civil courts.

“These guidelines set a benchmark for churches to uphold ethical conduct, financial transparency, and accountability. By adhering to these principles, churches can foster an environment of trust and integrity that benefits their congregations and communities at large,” reads the code.

Additionally, the Code advocates for the promotion of peace, unity, and alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms within the church community.

“Every church shall establish a dispute resolution body and may affiliate to a dispute resolution center to handle internal disputes and conflicts among colleagues, family and congregants,” reads the code.

With recent events showing a close tie between the church and political class where several churches had a favoured candidate in last year’s elections, the church now has an ambiguous policy to limit political activity in the pulpit.

“The church shall safeguard altars and pulpits from being used by politicians for political purposes,” reads the code.

Despite the numerous proposals put forth by the code, its effectiveness is met with the challenge of enforcement, given that the implementation of all the suggested measures relies on individual churches deeming them necessary and taking proactive steps.

In spite of the power relationship between congregants and church leaders, religious leaders are now calling on congregants to take an active role in activities in the church and call out rogue leaders.

“Let the congregants hold leaders accountable. When they see me doing something contrary, let them stand and say that is not right, we will not agree, we will not allow you to do that,” said ACK Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit.

Having jumped the gun ahead of the government, all attention is now focused on the task force responsible for compiling public opinions and formulating recommendations. Among its key responsibilities is establishing criteria for awarding certificates to different religious organisations in the nation.