Friday, April 16, 2010



St Peter's Basilica on the left, Cantebarry top while below, parliament in session

By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

April 15, 2010

We Kenyans must be missing the good old days when we revered our real spiritual leaders when Cardinal Maurice Otunga, Bishop Festo Habakkuk Olang’, Manasses Kuria and Obadiah Kariuki were at the helm of our Christian churches. In their presence we felt God’s own power over us. They were truly God’s anointed shepherds on earth.

Throughout most of their lives on earth, the state and religion enjoyed mutual respect for one another. They knew their limits as men of the cloth. The dividing line was clear. The state too knew its place in this arrangement. The church never muddled unnecessarily in secular matters of state. The state too reciprocated by avoiding confrontations with the church on matters of faith. Hence the doctrine of freedom of worship was embedded in our way of life.

The era of church activism in political matters came with the second generation of Kenyan clergy. It was probably more influenced by Liberation Theological that was prevalent in South East Asia particularly in The Philippines’ where the late Cardinal Sin was more famous for driving dictators out of power through what later came to be celebrated as “people power”

In our country, the priests that introduced Liberation Theology on to the pulpit were Rev. Timothy Njoya of the Presbyterian Church, Bishop Henry Okullu of the Anglican Church, Bishop Alexander Muge and Arch Bishop Dr. David Gitari way back in the 1970s and ‘80s when criticizing the regimes of the day were near suicidal. But because all voices of political dissent had been silenced through detentions, assassinations and mysterious murders; when no political rally could take place without police permit, the only avenue open was the church or the mosque. And even that avenue could only be utilized by brave and daring clergies such as Njoya, Okullu and Muge most effectively.

These were the men of the cloth that voiced their objection to authoritarianism, human rights abuses and violations of the rights to individual freedoms. They condemned the one party system, corruption in government, land grabbing, detentions without trial and kangaroo courts that met after dark to give dissidents long sentences in state jails. They condemned torture chambers at Carpet House, Nyati House and later in the basement of Nyayo House.

As this resistance from the mainly protestant churches continued, Catholic bishops joined in the fray will stinging pastoral letters from time to time. Radical bishops like Arch Bishop Okoth of Kisumu Diocese and Ndingi Mwana wa Nzeki of Nakuru were some of the Catholic bishops that never missed an opportunity to tell the regime when it was wrong.

In those days of the Kenyatta and Moi eras, there was almost absolute control of the media. Freedom of association and expression were at their minimum. Even independent papers like the Daily Nation knew which line not to cross. Many times controversial sermons were killed in the newsrooms lest the newspaper annoyed powerful figures of the regime.

In those days, the church was on the side of the people. Therefore when Bishop Alexander Muge died in a mysterious road accident following a warning by a politician from Western Province, ordinary Kenyans could not help seeing foul play in his death.

Today, when you see evangelicals and mainstream clergy open their mouths to speak; it is difficult to tell the difference between them and our politicians. When you see them on TV screens reigning blows on one another fighting over church property, you may be forgiven for thinking that you are watching Nairobi City councillors at war.

In years gone by, the clergy would not have left their flock unguided during the 2005 referendum. Churches would have conducted civic education in their compounds and guided their followers on how to make informed choices. In those years, our clergy would not have gone tribal and preached lethal ethnic messages in their pulpits such as they did during the 2007 elections. Instead, they would have advocated for the unity of our nation and preached understanding among political parties and ethnic communities.

In those eras gone by, a referendum like the one we have today would have not been debased by the clergy through mundane dogmatic issues such as when life begins or the Kadhi’s courts. Common sense would have prevailed with our clergy looking at the big picture.

Like someone said the other day, when Kenyan embarked on the road to writing a new constitution, they did not choose to write the Ten Commandments. The constitution they decided to craft was for Kenyans to guide them for peaceful coexistence among all tribes, races and faiths within our borders. It is therefore wrong and painful to see Christian clergy make this constitution their business. This attitude has so annoyed Kenyans that many Christians will this time vote yes to support the Kadhis courts and the right to abortion if not for anything else but to spite the clergy.