The church must not let the horrors of Shakahola fade quickly from memory

Shakahola cult leader Paul Makenzi at the Shanzu Law Courts on August 4, 2023. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Shakahola is disappearing into the shadows. The tragedy and its reality risks becoming a tale – the “once upon a time” kind.

A shocking true story deserving a volume with sequels may just be tucked away in an anthology “Shakahola and other short stories.” Minds and hearts are moving on. The public emotion is dying down quickly. The dead are being left to rest in unease. 

The discovery that broke many hearts is no longer breaking news. The headlines are headed elsewhere. The temporariness of our sadness testifies to the inauthenticity of our solidarity. Shakahola should never be behind us. To leave it behind is to invite the horror all over again.

As a fountain of care, the Bible presents the church as intrinsically hypersensitive to the extent of leaving 99 children at home to look for one lost in life’s Shakahola. That the church is essentially caring means it cannot take lightly the death of its members.

Light treatment would be betrayal – betrayal in the Shakahola Forest. Having not saved the trapped then blaming them for their death is to kill them twice. At the very least, we should allow the dead to be our teachers. To just move on is to “feel nothing” where we should “catch feelings”. Beware of a church that is not angry at Satan!

As the government does what it should to protect its people, the most likely outcome is new laws. But there are dimensions of spirituality that the law cannot guide. The law will articulate requirements of a licensed pastor with the hope that the qualified pastors will teach true doctrine. But learned pastors become false teachers too. That the government can license a denomination, which is regarded a cult by other denominations licensed by the same government, shows the complexity of leveling the playfield of doctrine.

The pastor’s teaching role cannot be delegated to government. The burden on the pulpit is to expound biblical truths correctly and sincerely. This said, now and again we encounter incorrect teachings and selfish teachers. Denominations push their interpretations as the truest of the true. But such prideful and competitive poses threaten the humility necessary for churches to keep learning and reforming. All denominations have theological gaps.

To restrict the Shakahola disaster to only a few churches and their pastors and then give them over to the State with a sigh of relief and a self-righteous bounce is ‘Shakaholic’. If something golden had emerged from Shakahola, we would see all the churches–from the oldest to the youngest, biggest to the smallest–claiming some glory for the gold. Now that we are dealing with deep darkness, we must equally admit that this is our theological ecology.

If parameters were articulated and configured into a ‘Shakaholaism’ test, it is likely that even big denominations would return results of being a little bit ‘Shakaholic’. Introspection must overtake finger pointing. Let us admit that Shakahola is about the whole church in Kenya. To let this murder-made-in-a-Kenyan-church pass without extracting lessons from it is a grave error.  To resume business as usual is arrogant, lazy and a public display of theological carelessness.

Given the scale of the massacre, it is critical for the church to intentionally gain a post-Shakahola face. As it is, the church is losing ground to secularism, and letting Shakahola slide will lead to a further slip in much-needed public goodwill. If the church goes dead about the dead, an undercurrent of disrepute will build into an angry wave in the future.

Shakahola wreaked damage on the practice of fasting. Fasting as a Christian practice expresses heightened devotion. It is invoked when praying in words summons “reinforcement” from other parts of the body. This “back up” mostly involves laying down precious sensual habits so as to focus on prayer. The sacrifice silences bodily appetites so as to catch the spiritual frequency more clearly.

Fasting empowers in ways that repulse forces of darkness. Prayer and fasting is a combination seen as accelerating answers to petitions while building spiritual power. Christians who pray and fast regularly and with ease are often admired as this is a “deep end” spirituality. Clearly, fasting is not meant to kill. The warped Shakahola fast presents a critical moment for pulpits to teach often on true and acceptable fasting.

Shakahola scandalised martyrdom. Martyrdom is the highest expression of Christian devotion. It is the highest act of love. In a context of systemic persecution, martyrdom is always a looming possibility. Choosing death over denial is the highest demonstration of authenticity.  With Shakahola, dying for the faith has been soiled and perceived as cultic.

That the victims died for spiritual self-actualisation rather than persecution tells of deaths that should have been avoided. That the victims were duped makes their dying unnecessary. Dying for spiritual actualisation does not qualify to be entered in the revered annals of martyrs.  Martyrdom is a rare subject in the church’s pulpit. Shakahola should stir the church to teach more on biblical martyrdom.

The church should apologise that one of their own leaders committed such a horrible act without being detected by the church radar. The discerners did not discern. The seers did not see. The dreamers did not dream. The “feelers” did not feel. The “sensors” did not sense. We pray the church radar has since been fixed. We cannot imagine a church that has suspended Holy Spirit communications!

To feel liberated because of having no relationship with the Shakahola pastors is to miss the point. It is less about distancing ourselves and more about taking responsibility. It is less about washing our hands and more about writing the lessons down. A mature church does not play in the blame league. It should build and publicise parameters for a post-Shakahola church.

In this spirit of solidarity with the living, an interdenominational memorial service is necessary. Here, those who died alone in the bush can be mourned in public. A shrine and monument of remembrance would show respect to those who were buried without dignity. But most important, it’s a daily reminder that the church can lose its mind. Just like a mad government sponsors massacres, a mad church can kill. A sick church is a dangerous church.

 

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