Tag: church

Silent Church in Corrupt Kenya

By Rev. Canon Francis Omondi

The church struggles in silence while endemic corruption ravages the public and private sectors of the country. It brings to mind the famous lament of the prophet Jeremiah when he cried against the appalling behavior of his people. He asks, “… is there no Balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is the wound of my people not healed?” Jeremiah’s words inspired a Negro spiritual that gave an answer: “There is a balm in Gilead to heal a sin, sick soul…”

Wounds inflicted by corruption in Kenya will need a more “potent balm”, yes, more than an “expert physician”. For neither the laws enacted so far nor the commission instituted to deal with corruption has proved effective.

The law is clear: corruption, active and passive bribery, abuse of office and bribing a foreign public official are outlawed under the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act 2003. Further, they are reinforced with the Bribery Act of 2016, aimed ostensibly to aid in the fight against the supply side of corruption. Comprehensive enforcement of Kenya’s anti-corruption framework remains a challenge because of weak and corrupt public institutions.

But in choosing silence in the face of this obscene level of corruption, is perhaps taking the counsel of the English poet Thomas Carlyle (1831). He wrote, ‘Silence is Gold’. Or we have the American rock song by the Tremeloes (1967): “Silence is Golden, but my eyes still see”, the Kenyan church is abdicating its unique and vital role in this society.

What has become of the once-vibrant church leaders who challenged the draconian Moi rule, risking their lives for a just cause? In those days the church took a brave and radical approach. It was not afraid to say, like the prophets of old: “Thus says the Lord…” These church leaders had clarity of mind on matters of national importance affecting the people, unlike the church today, which is even failing to define its mandate.

Pope Benedict XVI is emphatic on the role the church should play in society. Writing as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on Politics, he defines the church’s role in the political sphere as primarily education (understood not as schooling, no matter how important that is): “The church must awaken man’s receptivity to the truth, to God, and thus to the power of conscience. It must give men and women the courage to live according to their conscience and so keep open the narrow pass between anarchy and tyranny, which is none other than the narrow way of peace.”

Ratzinger highlights the need for society, both local and global, to recover the divine element in our humanity, which includes moral consensus, without which society flounders and humanity is endangered.

There are some though, who would rather have an aloof church and turning its back on contentious matters of public concern. Stephen Carter the Yale scholar, in his book, The Culture of Disbelief, laments that “our public culture more and more prefers religion as something without political significance, less an independent moral force than a quietly irrelevant moralizer, never heard, rarely seen”.

Could it be that the dearth of the prophetic voice is a sign of a church struggling to define itself and societal role in the post-2003 era?

Kenya needs to hear what the church is thinking and saying on corruption. The church cannot extricate itself from politics because it cannot refrain from the task of reflecting on the implications of its faith within our political context. It must ignore being construed political, for it has reason to intervene, for we cannot afford the hemorrhaging of this country through corruption.

A report released by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 2016 indicated that the rate of economic crimes in Kenya is 25 percent above the global average. It further revealed that every record set against stealing is broken. In the year 2015 alone, economic crimes rose to 61 percent from 52 percent in 2014 and maybe worse today.

Philip Kinisu, a retired auditor and a former chairman of Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) in an interview, told Reuters “Kenya is losing a third of its state budget – the equivalent of about $6 billion (Sh608 billion) – to corruption every year”.

Our plight did not escape the notice of the former United States President Barack Obama during his visit in 2015. He rightly criticized Kenya’s corruption, inequality, and tribalism before an audience, which included President Uhuru Kenyatta and his cabinet at Kasarani Sports Centre. Obama quoted a study showing that every year corruption cost Kenya 250 000 jobs. He said rising prosperity in the economy was leaving out the vast majority of the people. The burden of which is borne by the poor.

This is the same point made by Sam Paul of the Public Affairs Centre in Bangalore, in his 1997 study, Corruption: Who Will Bell the Cat? He found that in five Indian cities poor households were much more likely to pay more for public services than households in general. Consequently, when access to public goods and services requires a bribe, the poor may be excluded. Given their lack of political influence, the poor may even be asked to pay more than people with higher incomes. Furthermore, when corruption results in shoddy public services, the poor lack the resources to pursue options such as private schooling, health care, or power generation.

The Kenyan public is livid at the multi-million dollar scandals that have failed to result in high-profile convictions. They accuse politicians and top government officials of acting with impunity and encouraging graft by those in lower posts. Again Kinisu opines the real drive to stamp out corruption had to come from public pressure for change. Yet in an environment of fear and intimidation by the corruption cartels and politicians, it becomes nearly impossible to set any social movement against corruption.

We can learn from what Galia Sabar, former Professor of African Studies at Tel Aviv University, observed during struggles of the 1980s, that limited political association paralyzed the process of transforming information and ideas into action. As such, gave credence to the emergence of informal individual activism and the culture of defiance that was growing day by day. On the frontline of individual church activism were Bishops.

In earlier years Henry Okullu, Bishop of Maseno South Diocese of Anglican Church, Bishop Alexander Muge, of the Anglican diocese of Eldoret, Bishop David Gitari, of Mt. Kenya East diocese, and Rev. Timothy Njoya, a moderator in Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) were much-needed advocated of change in the country through their political engagements.

Finance Magazine of February, 1990, Sabar in “Politics” and “Power” in the Kenyan Public and Recent Events: the Church of the Province of Kenya, said: “Irrespective of how much we might belittle their social standing, the clerics represent the most cohesively structured, the most firmly organized and the most solidly unified institution in the country [the Church].”

Stephen Kapinde, a Lecturer at Pwani University, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies observes how the vitality of the pulpit as a stable platform for change and the sermons of Gitari were heard at a time when the state had censored nearly everyone and proscribed gathering of more than three people. They gave credence to the whole church in political discourses. The prelate with his colleagues like Njoya, Muge, Ndingi Mwanazeki and Okullu developed a culture of resistance through the pulpit.

Professor Robert Press in his book, Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties, offers more insight into this culture by observing that: “Individual activists can only do so much in their role as ice-breakers in the reform process. Organizational activists build on their advances but need the presence of members of the public at their events to make a serious bid for reforms. The public, in turn, needs the forum for the activists to express their discontent. Together the resistance sends signals to the regime, the public and international officials and agencies that the demands for change have substance and visible public support.”

For this reason, the clergy blazed the trail for democratic reforms from their pulpits. Amazingly, such activism was thought by many to defiled the pulpit, while in essence, the clerics used the space to liberate the people of Kenya thereby living up to their calling to be “salt” and “light” in the world.

The contrast is huge today. Our pulpits are not as sacrosanct, neither are messages from them as dreaded, as they used to be. The frequency with which politicians have graced churches with goodies from corruption, coupled with the silence of clerics is troubling. For instance, the Deputy President William Ruto has been a darling of churches during funds drives. Notwithstanding the fact that he has been named in a litany of corruption-related scandals to the extent that former Kenya’s Prime Minister, Raila Odinga in 2015 described him as “the high priest of corruption in Kenya.”


The Anglican Church has also fallen into this widespread habit of inviting public figures as guests of honor at fund-raising, understood by many people as giving the undue prominence to politicians in the church where they are not members. This ignored the church’s long and explicit stand on the practice. Following the Anglican’s Provincial Board of Christian Community Services consultation on The Theology and Philosophy of Development held at St. Julian Centre, 11-13 May 1983, the Church issued protocols to protect the likely erosion of the Church’s prophetic role in the society: “Church leaders and especially bishops are strongly urged to correct this situation. Inviting public figures as guests of honor at Church harambees or giving them prominence in a church function merely because of the money they bring is not in accordance with our Christian principles. It tends to silence the prophetic voice of our church leaders  (A report of the CPK Consultation on Theology and Philosophy of Development, 1989: Recommendation B: 2, p. 5, ¶4)”.

Regrettably, several Anglican Churches have overlooked this protocol and also indulged the said politicians their pulpits thus quenching their prophetic voice. How can they avoid the tag of being an accomplice to corruption? They should have heeded Joseph Kamaru warning in his song, J. M. Kariuki: “gûtirí múicì na mùcudhìríria“(there is no difference between a thief and a mere observer).

Here is some guidance from the British Evangelist and theologian G. Campbell Morgan: “Sacrilege is defined as taking something that belongs to God and using it profanely. But the worst kind of sacrilege is taking something and giving it to God when it means absolutely nothing to you”, then the church would have committed double Sacrilege in this indulgence: Knowingly giving platform to sanitize corrupt money in the name of God who commanded that “thou shall not steal”, and perpetuating delusion that, that is investing in heaven.

How do I explain my friend Joe’s query: “what does it mean when the church goes quiet or turns a blind eye on corruption to the extent that a politician like Ruto can claim that his contributions to churches to be “investing in heaven”? The church, in indulging in questionable money being “invested“ in its programs, undermines its own ability to stand up to the corrupt. The very politicians, who should use their vast powers to stamp out corruption, are instead using it to accumulate obscene affluence, meanwhile pushing the majority of the country’s population into abject poverty.

Investing in heaven is investing in Christ. St. John Chrysostom (347-407AD), one of the greatest Early Church Fathers of the 5th Century, warned: “Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that?”

How about using one’s position in government to save the 250,000 jobs lost annually to corruption? Wouldn’t that give many Kenyans opportunities to feed their hungry, and not to leave them to stare hungrily at church tables embellished with gold? Investing in heaven would mean putting to proper use the $6 billion lost to corruption to provide for proper health services and housing for the homeless Kenyans.

It is not freedom from corruption, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the corruption that we must all pursue. A curious episode in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Fellowship of the Ring, is instructive. It depicts our challenge on corruption: “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”.

If the church is to retain its credibility and relevance, then it will have to recover its earlier prophetic fervor for the sake of the public good. I believe the church is still eminently placed to influence public opinion on matters affecting the nation. I would like to believe that, sooner or later, the church would regain its prophetic zeal and provide the moral leadership we so desperately need today.

Canon Francis Omondi is a Priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese, of the ACK. Views expressed here are his own not of the Church.

Also published at https://www.theelephant.info/features/2018/07/12/an-ode-to-silence-the-churchs-abdication-of-its-role-in-society/

Living Between Advents: Immanuel through Terror!

Living Between Advents: Immanuel by Rev. canon francis Omondi

We are called to live between Advents. Christ’s first coming which we celebrate every Christmas (First Advent) should give us a great sense of preparedness for the Second Advent. Meanwhile the Advent promise should sustain us in the in-between period with its great pressures. Here is the promise: God is with us, so that we might live. God is with us, so that we might believe. God is with us, because it is hard to believe, and God knows it!

We come into this year’s Advent season grieving. The brutal killing on Saturday 22nd November of 28 people and again on Tuesday 2nd December of 36 Christians in Mandera at the hands of Alshabaaab has shocked and frightened us. Here were Christians who had selflessly served the Muslim community, giving essential services mainly in education and health, whose dream of joining family for Christmas was cruelly cut off. These tragedies do test our trust with the Advent promise.
36 christians brutally muddered by alshabaab
The promise of Immanuel was GIVEN to a reluctant king Ahaz of Judah in his crisis of faith. It is a story of national crisis and a king’s gut-wrenching fear. Here is the story:
Two neighbours to the north: Israel, with its capital in Samaria and Syria, with its capital in Damascus, are forming a coalition. Their kings, Pekah and Rezin, are vassals of the mighty Assyria. They have surrendered tribute, dignity, and human life. They want to put off the yoke of oppression. They press Ahaz to join them and commit Judah’s armies to their rebellion. He refuses. They respond with aggression. The year is 734 BCE the troops of Israel and Syria invade Judah (cf. 2 Kings 16:5). The prophet Isaiah shows Ahaz the future. God has already decreed against their plan and they will disappear from the pages of history. Only one thing only is needed. Believe. The call to faith is hard to answer. God knows that if he (God) stops talking, Judah doesn’t have a chance. The power of God would be too incredible to believe if there weren’t signs of it everywhere.

But there is tension in Ahaz. He must make political judgments that will lead to national security, health and life. External threats to national security seem to require military or diplomatic resolutions. Alliances with foreign nations might lead to worship of their gods. Seeking help from nations more powerful than Judah might signal lack of faith in Judah’s God. He is caught in the horns of dilemma.

Ask a sign of me, says God (Isaiah 7:11). Anything. What can you imagine? Lift your face, lift your mind, lift your hope upward, and I will show you a sign there in the sky. “And the Lord kept talking to Ahaz (Isaiah 7:10).

In an apparent act of faith Ahaz refuses both to ask for a sign nor to join the alliance with Israel and Syria. On the surface the refusals sounds righteous, but Isaiah sees through Ahaz’s pretence of faith and calls him out of his unbelief (cf. Isaiah 1:14). He seeks a practical option, Ahaz already has a plan and does not want to believe. It is easier to sell himself to Assyria than to wait for salvation from God. But God still gives even when we will not ask. “Therefore the Lord will give a sign to you.” It is a sign of salvation. It is still a sign of God’s power to save. It is a security for every promise, even when faith fails.

Look, says Isaiah. “Here: a virgin is pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son. And she will call his name ‘God is with us’” (7:14). This unprecedented miracle should have convinced Ahaz of God’s ability and power to rescue Judah. The mention of this name in the land should be the ground of all life and hope: God is with us.

Malcolm Muggeridge, the cynical British journalist who found faith in his later years, rightly admonishes us that: “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.” We should look at our persistent challenges here in this light. We live in the trauma of survival, uncertain of what awaits us. There seems not to be an end of this in sight.

Survival is a privilege which entails obligations. We must find for ourselves as survivors how to do our duty. Is there a way I can be a mouthpiece of those who did not survive, I want to keep their memory alive, to make sure the dead live on in that memory thereby seeking justice and not vengeance.
families of those whose relatives were killed
I firmly believe that God is calling us to walk the parallel rails of deeper awareness of the trauma and pain of terror on one hand and deeper resolve for progress on the other. Side by side God can use these two rails to propel us to a hopeful future of this country.

The daily death of our brothers and sisters has laid open these wounds of terrible pain. One could have been lulled into initially seeing this as a news story within a news cycle. It is not and it will continue. As a matter of fact today 2nd Dec, 36 more Christian quarry workers were brutally murdered 15km from Mandera. These massacres force us to see that in reality this is an old story within a recurring cycle.

In the images of the 28 bodies and today’s 36, it is too easy to project a son, a husband, a neighbour, and a colleague. They are rested with God and await the Second Advent. While who are grieving we still need to say with a strong voice that we recognize our country needs to be roused to better listen, to more fully understand, and to more deeply mourn. Living in Advent will ridicule the terrorists since our faith defies toucher and death. He promised persecution to his followers, because he himself was persecuted. For us now “Christian living” will be boldly living a life for Christ in the face of death.

Hopefully as we grow as a multi-religious mosaic and we will see things more clearly and feel things more deeply.

Debating whether the killers are true Muslims or not, is not a fruitful line of argument. We may not dispute Alshabaab’s own claim to be Muslims and they have been motivated by Islamic teaching and history. It is true that Muslims opposed to Alshabaab are equally in danger. On 8 December 2012, the Kamakunji MP Yusuf Hasan of Somali heritage was injured, together with several others in a blast in an Eastleigh mosque, having been deemed a hinderance to Alshabaab agenda. We do know also that the selective and deliberate killing of Christians is a piercing reminder that we are disproportionately more likely to be killed than our Somali and Muslim counterparts. Muslims of this country have been peaceful and have lived harmoniously with non-Muslims in all corners of this country. But these latest atrocities has left us puzzled and seeking to know the truth.

We should note that the aggression on Kenya this time is external, under the hands of Alshabaab from Somalia. We need to be wary of the development of these networks within Kenya. Crisis Group Briefings reports of 24-September 2014 [Kenya; Alshabaab closer home] and of June [Somalia; Al-shababaab, pp7-8] points to a growing movement which has led to crisis within Islam; “the steady entrenchment Wahabbism in the Muslim constituency in Kenya which ‘has certainly brought tension between older ‘Muslim’ elites who are closer to the Kenyan establishment, and the new, more politically assertive and outward- looking ‘Islamist’ ulama (scholars and religious authorities). The routine argument is that the growing influence of Wahhabism has provided the ideological groundwork for the progression to violent activism.’”

This report elaborates that “Ideological differences are increasingly acute and (partially) reflect the growth of Wahhabism (an orientation of Salafism) at the expense of traditional orientations – often termed ‘Sufism’ – especially in north-east Kenya and on the coast (arguably where Sufism was more entrenched). Wahhabism’s core message is an implicitly political critique of the secular, nation-state government and while it does not preach violence per se, it informs much of the core theological outlook of the Salafi-jihadi trend, including al-Qaeda.”

Whether one could link these directly though is moot and sharply divides opinions. We have demanded to see a more common Kenyan Muslim stance on the extremist action. The fact that mosques can be taken over from within by extremist groups, should solicit action of mainstream Kenyan Muslim organisations, so that their message should hold appeal has wider significance for county and national government.
grieving relatives
This however is not without its challenges. Some Wahhabi clerics have spoken out against Al-shabaab at great personal risk to themselves. Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Umal a rare Salafi-Wahhabi ulama, a popular and prominent Somali cleric based in Eastleigh received death threats from Al-Shabaab after issuing a fatwa (judicial opinion) that decried the Westgate attack and declared it haram (unlawful). In a 14 May 2014 speech, the then Al-Shabaab emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, called on Muslims in Kenya to ignore what he called ‘evil scholars’.

In the soul-searching taking place throughout the country, there are hints that this could be a defining moment for the second rail: namely greater resolve for progress. We who have borne the brunt of victimisation because of faith must avoid the temptation of collective guilt on the Muslim population in this country. While opposing the the World Jewish Congress’ threats of unpleasant consequences for all Austrians in case Kurt Waldheim were elected the country’s president in 1987, Simon Wiesenthal, expressed his conviction on individual guilt and utter rejection of collective guilt or threats.

He said, “It took quite a long time – maybe a year – before I could bring myself to reject the idea of collective guilt. You must understand. When you come out of the concentration camp and see that no one is still alive – you don’t take the time to really think things over. At that time I felt that everyone was guilty, including those who were not involved at all, even those in other countries, who had been indifferent because they were not bothered by the Nazis themselves.” [In Zeugen des Jahrhunderts. Jüdische Lebenswege, p.78. Trans. from German.]

Collective threats are incompatible with our Christian ethics: they ignore the fact that these very Christians have been victims of collective threats and collective accusations. We must believe only in individual guilt, not in collective guilt and I share this opinion with the whole civilised world.There is no justice without the truth. We should never accuse anyone to aid terrorism without being in possession of conclusive evidence of his/her guilt in the form of witness testimonies or other documentation.

Let us move in our imaginations to Carthage, in the year 410. When St. Augustine received the news that Rome, the great Rome, has been sacked and the barbarians had taken over, his first thought was to reassure his flock. “If this catastrophe is indeed true,” he told them, “it must be God’s will. Men build cities and men destroy cities, but the City of God they didn’t build and cannot destroy. The Heavenly City,” he continues, “outshines Rome beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity….. Thus we come to see that in our fallen state, our imperfection, we can conceive perfection. Immanuel, the presence of God among us in the lineaments of Man, we have a window in the walls of time, which looks out onto this Heavenly City.”

There is much more to the story of Immanuel. It is our story too. I invite you to open up to how this proclamation reveals the persistence of our God who knows how we struggle with faith and will give any sign, any grace, to help us believe and live.

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