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The priest will lose when he cedes pulpit to the politician

By Rev Edward Buri | May 2nd 2021
Timothy Njoya when he was roughed up by police

The symbiotic relationship between the priest and politician will always degenerate into parasitism–with the cross being the bigger loser.

The church’s functionality is anchored on a good reputation that is put at risk when a politician graces the altar. The priest suspends sacred regard for the convenience of popularity and rubbing shoulders with the powerful for a share of the Sh2 billion that is looted daily. A politician who conquers the altar is likely to leave a trail of pollution for the priest to clean up after him.

The next time the priest meets the politician, the priest will be conflicted on his divine agency and relegated to the status of an altar-peddler. The priest-politician interaction does less to spiritualise politics and more to politicise spirituality.  The politician’s sharp teeth gnaw at the cross, adding to its ruggedness.

Before the impressed priests come to their senses, the politician has 'eaten' the cross and will now show up at the altar at will. The priest–with loot in the church treasury–has to cooperate. By this transaction, the priest cedes any moral authority to correct the politician. When the priest owes the politician a favour, the prophet is dead.  Cross-pollination degenerates into cross-politicisation.

The church still reaps dividends from the works associated with such names as Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, Bishop Henry Okullu, Dr Timothy Njoya and Bishop Alexander Muge. There is an unspoken belief that although the church may appear powerless, a roar from the past may suddenly resurface.

Even politicians feel and fear this haunting shadow. They know that an emboldened church can be dangerous. They, therefore, do not mind the lukewarm version. In the expanded democratic space, the dictatorial machinery used to silence vocal priests is no longer readily available.

Lack consistency

But the present church leaders have an ad hoc political engagement. Their speaking truth to power is on an in-case-of-need basis. Now they roar from the pulpit or a press conference but leave the people to engage an echo for months. They lack consistency. There is need for pulpits mounted on the high hills of the city with a scheduled mandate to speak to the rot below.

Present-day priests have a heavy denominational accent. The paralysis among churches has unfortunately shrunk the prophetic space. Denominationally restricted prophets are technically prophets for hire who, unfortunately, affirm church divisions. A prophetic voice should never be factionalised. Rev Njoya and his contemporaries had a consistent transcendent voice that often shocked and disturbed even their own congregations who did not have a preview advantage of their pronouncements.

Senior priest giving sermon while smiling

Their peppery views threatened a crackdown on all churches. This made them unpopular among survival-centered churches that did not want to suffer the wrath of the State due to a few fiery priests who were not even from their denomination. Such boundless boldness saw the Njoyas receive delegations and emissaries from government and spiritual leaders to urge them to 'calm down'. Martyrdom was always close by. Today’s religious leaders speak less as servants of God and more as friends of the State.

There is always the reminder not to draw parallels between Bishop Muges and the ministers of today for the reason that you cannot separate their inspiration from the context in which they lived. Today is a new space and it is unreasonable to import priestly voices from the past to be standards of the present. But this 'do not compare' language is often in defense of the largely muted prophets of today. One thing is immutable–Wanjiku is still suffering neglect and abuse from the leaders who took an oath to take care of her.

Praise singers

A notable thing about Bishop Okullus is that although they were denominational leaders, they were not denominational prophets. Many of today’s priests have downgraded their calling to denominational spokesmen who are mentored by politicians into their praise singers. The priests then submissively list their parish needs and entrust them into the messy hands of the politician who will not leave without receiving spiritual 'goodies' in the form of a prayer to send their competition to hell.

Politicians are first vote-hunters before they are faith-keepers. They are liberal in that they will go where are votes. The church should therefore not swell with a sense of self-importance. To the politician, the church is one among many suitors to pursue. Their persistent visits are not an acclamation of the church’s mission but an interaction with a low-lying fruit they would not want to miss out on! Such is the spirit of politics.


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