In the history of post-poll conflicts in Kenya, one man stands tall. Cornelius Kipng’eno Arap Korir. The 65-year-old Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret’s name is synonymous with housing victims of post-poll conflict in his church’s compound. Since 1992 when the first conflict erupted in the Rift Valley, Bishop Korir’s compound has offered refuge to many internally displaced persons regardless of their tribe of sex.
The long-standing history of the church in speaking out against oppressive regimes in Kenya cannot be underestimated. The late Bishop Alexander Muge, retired Rev. Timothy Njoya, the late Bishop Okullu, the late David Gitari among others stood for the truth and paid heavy personal prices. Yet after the oppressive regime was defeated, slightly over a decade ago, the prophetic voice of the church is silenced by loud partisan interests.
The level of political partisanship that has been creeping in the church lately especially among the evangelicals is scary. Men of the cloth have taken political sides mostly based on ethnicity. The calling to preach the undiluted gospel of Christ has been tossed aside as ‘Bishops’ scramble for the political podium than focusing on the pulpit and calling for equity, justice, reforms and other ideals that can catapult our nation ahead.
But ever since the 2002 elections, the church has taken a more partisan approach as opposed to a prophetic voice as the scramble for states’ largesse continues. We prayed more for International Criminal Court cases to collapse than for justice to be delivered. The church’s preoccupation was more for freedom of the accused than justice for the victims. Instead of singing dirges over the graves of the 2007 atrocities, the church now sings praise songs over the victim’s graves.
In the post-election violence of 2007/2008, a church in Kiambaa which housed the majority of children and women was torched. The structure they had run to as a sanctuary turned into a death trap. Churches are considered sacred grounds, yet these people met their deaths there. The arsonists shamelessly set ablaze the church without a morsel of remorse. Their hatred towards another community was so intense that the wailing and screams of mothers and babies never stirred humanity in them even one bit.
Jesus at the beginning of his ministry quoted prophet Isaiah in the gospel of Luke chapter 4 verse 18 about the coming of a messiah. The verse was extracted from Isaiah 61:1-4:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
That for me captures the mandate of the church in a nutshell. Though the prophecy was about Jesus and His work, we are called upon to be agents who proclaim freedom, bind wounds and proclaim good news to the poor as Christ’s disciples.
With the growing number of pastors and preachers being involved in politics, there is a need to clearly speak out on what should be considered extreme.
The church is fragmented into different groupings, therefore, there is never a united front when addressing social ills that afflict this nation. Kenya boasts of being 80% Christian but one of the lacking elements is the unity that Christ urged the church to embrace.
The church is divided along doctrinal, tribal and class lines that no single church can claim dominance. With the elections coming, the church must play a unifying role. Some select people have already started beating drums of war. But the church must stand above reproach. The church must not take any political side. Those who have decided to venture into politics but were persons of the cloth must drop their ‘ministry’ tags so that there is no confusion in what they stand for.
However, should the church in Kenya choose to ignore the advice of being neutral, the history of the Rwandan church during the unfortunate period of the genocide should send a chilling spine down our spines. The following excerpt from Martin Meridith’s book The History of Africa should awaken the Kenyan church from its prophetic slumber:
“Even church leaders connived in the government’s campaign by refusing to speak out against the mass murders taking place in their own church buildings. The Catholic archbishop, Vincent Nsengiyumva, a long-standing ally of the Hutu power movement was quick to offer his support to the interim government. Anglican bishops followed suit, peddling the government’s line.
Many clergies were shocked at the complicity of the church establishment and strove to give what help they could to Tutsi families flocking to them for protection. But some priests actively aided and abetted the génocidaires assisting them in rounding them up for slaughter. The church president at Mugonero, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutirimana, urged Tutsi refugees to gather at the mission station there. Some 2,000 were packed into the hospital there when soldiers from the Presidential Guard and militiamen sealed off the premises. On the evening of 15 April, the refugees were told that the hospital would be attacked the next morning. Seven pastors among them wrote a letter to Ntakirutirimana asking for help:
Our dear leader, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, How are you! We wish you to be strong in all these problems we are facing. We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. We, therefore, request you to intervene on our behalf and talk with the Mayor.
We believe that, with the help of God who entrusted you the leadership of this flock, which is going to be destroyed, your intervention will be highly appreciated the same way as the Jews were saved by Esther. We give honor to YOU.
There is nothing I can do for you. All you can do is prepare to die, for your time has come.”
The church in Kenya can choose a perceived short-term political gain and throw its credibility to the dogs or stand on the foundation of truth and suffer temporary persecution but be victorious in the long run.
Dannish Odongo works for Capital FM as a digital media strategist. He runs a blog on leadership and faith.
Follow him on twitter @dannishodongo and like his page: Dannish and check out more articles from him: dannish.co.ke