State capture of the church is on, let 'real voice' of clergy be heard

President William Ruto reads scripture during a past event. [File, Standard]

According to the World Bank, 10 per cent of Kenyans aged 15 to 64 are unemployed, but some employment sectors appear to be showing significant growth. Two that quickly come to mind are security and religion.

Currently, there are over 100,000 Kenyan police as well as close to half a million private security guards employed by more than 2,000 companies. Those figures may at first appear incredible but take a quick trip to your nearest shopping mall and you may find nearly as many uniformed security personnel as customers.

As regards religion, there are over 4,000 registered denominations in Kenya, and probably just as many unregistered. This is a religious country judging by the hordes exiting houses of worship each weekend.

Some churches have discovered extremely alluring names to attract worshippers while promising prosperity and miracles. One self-proclaimed prophet rides with a security cavalcade to his miracle healing sessions, but goes abroad for his own medical treatment. Others promise to make you a winner although the man they follow ended is a loser.

The poor are thus victims of bad religion and excessive security. Police are deployed in huge numbers to protect politicians and administrators from their constituents, while private security companies guard the property and homes of the affluent from the poor.

This massive security structure reveals that Kenya is a very unequal society. Security personnel are trained to view the poor as a threat, while conveniently ignoring the political class and their cronies who loot one-third of the national budget each year, thus condemning the same impoverished folk to more destitution while maintaining the status quo.

The public display of faith by the President and his Deputy further illustrates the religiosity of the country. Indeed, neither see any difficulty in using public resources to organise Christian prayers in a secular state.

Yet, their evangelical religion has a particular appeal to the masses, many of whom believe only a miracle – not their government – can save them.

President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua with their spouses pray during the National Solemn Assembly at the Nyayo National Stadium, Nairobi on February 14, 2023. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

So, we continue with prayers while 6 million starve and the imported food that was promised is yet to arrive. Not to be left behind by the believing millions, Azimio has in desperation also taken the religious route to promote their political agenda. The DP has regularly reminded Kenyans that if they didn’t vote for Kenya Kwanza or repent for that failure at State House, then they shouldn’t expect to benefit from government development.

Applying this bizarre thinking to religion, one may imagine that those who don’t subscribe to the evangelical doctrines may not be welcome to visit State House either. Hopefully not, but the absence of the mainline churches at State functions indicates that they have been sidelined and should wait for invitations. This might be particularly challenging for Catholic prelates who had easy access for two decades even if the sitting presidents didn’t openly display their religious affiliation as the current holder does.

But it does challenge the mainline churches to review their relationship with this new regime. To be on the outside, on the margins, without a premier seat at the top table is, however, more in line with the leadership that Jesus presented to the Roman administration. Christian witness is primarily about service, humility, justice and speaking the truth to power as Jesus did. A church comfortable hobnobbing with the ruling class is wide open to manipulation.

Jesus never intended to establish powerful institutions for his elite followers to gain prestige, privilege and honour. He told his followers to be salt of the earth and light to the nations.

In other words, they were to shine a light on corruption, tribalism, discrimination and every evil of the day. Religious leaders should offer hope and inspiration to all Kenyans, not a quick escape route from problems.

Put another way, this is a wonderful opportunity for churches to find their voice again after decades of relative silence. This is not a time to grumble about being sidelined but to rediscover the mission given to them when they first signed up to follow the man from Nazareth.