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Let the church wake from slumber and steer nation to oasis of peace

By Edward Buri | June 19th 2021

It is faulty to run for elected office on the basis of popularity in church circles. [Willis Awandu, Standard]

In the classic animation film The Lion King, young Simba, for a lengthy while, lost his lion identity. But a time came when he rediscovered his lion-hood. He roared and all the animals knew him anew. This was the analogy given by Bishop David Oginde when describing the urgent need for the church to rediscover itself in order to impact the political space as it should. In a three-day 'Church and Politics Summit', top leaders from various denominations as well as choice professionals took the floor to candidly assess the contribution of the church in Kenya’s politics. The goal was to gather actionable perspectives to launch the church into a new identity that boldly cleanses the political mess.

The depth of the reflections and the passion exhibited by spiritual leaders painted the picture of a church desirous of breaking away from its bystander status. The vision cast is a roar capable not only of re-arranging the arena of politics but revamping it altogether. Biblically, the rage of prophets invoked by corrupt leadership was never without consequences. Equally, the repentance of prophets admitting their weaknesses had a consequence of renewed zeal. Both anger and repentance were present in the summit in different shades.  Any perceptive vote-hunter who has traditionally regarded the church as a significant vote basket needs to follow and study this development closely because going forward, old formulas may no longer work. 

Months of working together in the Inter-faith Council during the pandemic season seems to have thawed the icy strangeness between denominations and made church unity more accessible. The favourable results of this inevitable co-working have elevated the church beyond the question of whether to work together to how to continuously work together. Historically, church unity bore the blessing of multi-party democracy while church disunity, regrettably, fanned the worst inter-ethnic clashes in post-independent Kenya. If the church goes into the upcoming political season in a united spirit, Kenya will turn a critical corner.

Once described by a leading political leader as a sleeping giant, the church is determined to end its night. The incisive and decisive narratives from the church leaders at the summit speak of a church that is regaining consciousness. Politicians who have mastered their dealings with a slumbering church need to brace themselves for a lion that has regained its roar. 

It raised hope to observe leaders accommodating the variety of voices within the church even when they seemed contradictory. The tendency has been a silent rivalry where some denominations see themselves as couriers of the real truth. This attitude leads to minimisation of others, which complicates denominational relationships. Feelings of superiority are hostile to unity. Maturity is accepting the inevitability of variety while simultaneously embracing the indispensability of connectedness.

Moral authority to criticise

A dose of realism is essential. Reverend Thegu Mutahi sent out a reminder that to critique those in power comes with a readiness for the church to “open its servers” for scrutiny. This readiness to be examined can potentially paralyse the voice of the church with thoughts of being shouted down as having no moral authority to criticise. But to base the church’s prophetic authenticity on the absence of iniquity is to permanently shut out the church from participating in the larger national corrective process. Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, a long-serving church leader before becoming president, described his political vocation as a “personal journey.” The insight in this is that there is a place for the church’s collective duty and also space for a personalised call.

Often, when romanticising the effectiveness of the Kenyan church in the past, we mention individuals who sacrificed themselves even to the extent of martyrdom. One error in such an assessment is pitting individual callings against corporate callings. A fitting assessment would be whether the present church is supportive of persons with individual callings. The redemptive value of these two dimensions of callings is that while the church may be heavily criticised as a constituency, individuals can arise in the name of the church and effectively accomplish prophetic, divine assignments.     

It is faulty to run for elected office on the basis of popularity in church circles. Bishop Calisto Odede eloquently described this as slippery thinking, just as clinging onto power in the name of God. The church’s reawakening is not focused only on running for elective offices and the resultant Christian influence. Investment should be made for effectiveness in mentoring young leaders, providing candidate-assessment tools, and prophetically engaging those in office. Prof Hellen Sambili described the political process as largely operating on the rule “survival from the craftiest”, which calls the church to the role of a fierce force for justice. According to Bishop Anthony Muheria, where duty calls, the church should be a credible mediator that builds true bridges and not ladders in the name of bridges.

Kenya has many spiritual conferences most of which are inward looking, focusing on the spiritual growth of the Christian. But there is dire need for more gatherings of the nature and caliber of the summit where the biblical vision comes face to face with contemporary issues, and where God-talk takes the accents not of preaching but of Christian thinking. The challenge now is to move the conversations into positions; positions into actions; actions into visible transformation, and the visible transformation into new cultures. 


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