Pursuit of gospel leads to 'sacred starvation'

Religious radicalisation is a growing concern in many parts of the world, including Kenya. While it had been largely associated with Islamists, recent events have shown that even Christian churches can become breeding grounds for extremist ideologies.

The church in Kenya has a long history of providing spiritual and social guidance to its members and acting as the moral compass to the society.

However, in recent years, it has been marred by controversies related to radicalisation, extremism, and violence. This not only poses a threat to national security but also undermines the country's unity and cohesion.

One of the main tools for religious radicalisation is the use of strange religious doctrines. Some churches have adopted extremist teachings that are in direct opposition to mainstream religious beliefs. This has resulted in the members going on to perpetrate acts of violence on others and themselves, in the name of seeking God.

Such extremist teachings have led to the emergence of cults and questionable religious leaders, such as the recent case of the leader of Good News International Church Paul Makenzi in Kilifi County, who used misleading scriptures to encourage his followers to undergo severe fasting that resulted into their starvation and death.

Similar past incidents of harmful religious cults have been witnessed. In Nakuru, there was a case in 2018 where a family lost seven children in a span of 10 years after following advice from their church, ‘Kanitha wa Ngai’ - meaning Church of God - which discouraged its members from seeking healthcare and was against use of modern medicine. 

One factor contributing to religious radicalisation in Kenya is the unbridled proliferation of churches. In 2016, the Attorney General’s Office published the Religious Societies Rules that made it compulsory for churches to submit a clerics and theological code of conduct and a constitution showing statement of the doctrine of faith.

It also made it a requirement for all pastors to hold a certificate from an accredited theological institution.

Raised questions

However, despite these regulations there are more than 5,000 registered churches in Kenya, according to the National Council of Churches of Kenya. It is important to note that this number may not be exact, as there could be many more unregistered or informal churches.

The existence of some of these churches has raised questions for some time. Regardless, they have been left to operate without any action, until now. With such a huge number of churches comes the risk of rogue 'evangelists' whose intention is to make financial gains in the name of religion and take advantage of the public. 

Kenya's political and social ecosystem has also contributed to religious radicalisation. The country has experienced political and ethnic tensions that have provided a conducive environment for violence and divisions. Some churches have been used to propagate political agenda and mobilise support for some political leaders.

Regardless of the freedom of worship provided for in Article 32 of the Constitution, the Shakahola deaths may be a significant pointer to the need to heighten regulation of the church. Religious radicalisation is a serious threat to peace and security of Kenya.

It is important for the Kenyan public to be vigilant in monitoring the activities of religious organisations, and for religious leaders to be held accountable for their teachings. It is only through collective action that we will be able to prevent the tragedies of religious radicalisation from occurring.

The writer is Creative Producer and a PCVE Expert at Epuka Ugaidi Organisation