Why the Kenyan church bans politicians from entering the pulpit

During Sunday church service in Kisumu, Kenya, a believer in Adundo Messiah church is reading the Bible

The churchgoers in Kenya have become accustomed to politicians who are dressed stylishly and roll up their flash cars for worship on Sundays—usually dragging their cameras.

They often bring cash donations—carried by their handlers in shoulder bags—that can be used to build large churches and buy loud music systems.

In exchange for this generosity, politicians stepped onto the podium, where the congregation became captives of their message, which is usually not related to the Bible.

These “sermons” often appear on television briefings to satisfy people’s insatiable appetite for manipulating the news before the next election, which is nine months away.

Kenyan believers pray at Gatina Church in Kawangware, waiting for opposition leaders to attend Sunday services.

The established church wants the pulpit to be reserved for religious sermons

Some people went around looking for new congregations, which led to some conflicts in the church. Politicians accused each other of infringing on each other’s territory.

As we all know, pastors are also invited to discuss “development issues” in politicians’ homes-as part of negotiations to ease these turf wars.

There are accusations-of course denial-that some donations are the proceeds of ill-gotten gains.

Now the leaders of the established churches have had enough. They banned politicians from coming to the forum and accused them of making “divided and unenlightened” statements that “blasphemed the church.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto

President Uhuru Kenyatta (middle left) and his deputy William Ruto (right) often appeared together in churches before they fell out

In order to reduce media attention, the church will no longer disclose the amount of donations made by politicians to church projects.

Catholic Archbishop Anthony Muheria explained to the BBC: “The chief culprit for politicians to seize the church is some pastors. It is necessary to restore this practice to a pure state.”

The head of the Anglican Church in Kenya, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit (Jackson Ole Sapit) agreed that it was a “mistake” to first allow room for politicians in the church.

“I own it 100%. But we can’t make the same mistakes for a long time. It takes a moment of repentance—turning things around—” he said when announcing the ban last month.

“Politicians are selfish people”

This move was welcomed by some people—especially the churchgoers I interviewed in the capital Nairobi.

Believers in Santa Maria Church wear masks in the church in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya on December 25, 2020

Most Kenyans now worship in evangelical churches

“To be honest, this is a distraction. I have been waiting for church leaders to deal with it,” Eunice Vaveru said.

Janet Nzilani agreed: “I am very happy to make this decision because politicians are selfish people. They are not meant to inspire people or call for unity. They don’t value people at all. Pastors should admit Their existence [in church] nothing else. “

Florence Atieno said that politicians should be respected, and if they are in the congregation, they should be recognized by the pastor and allowed to greet the congregation after the service.

“My only question is when will they start campaigning in church and insulting each other,” she said.

But these women are in evangelical churches, and their clergy may not necessarily agree to the pulpit ban.

It is led by the Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian Church, and faces resistance from ministries with high loyalty to self-proclaimed prophets and faith healers.

Big business

Kenyans are mainly Christians-85.5% of the country’s 50 million people, According to the 2019 Census -Most people now go to evangelical churches. The Catholic Church is the next most popular denomination.

Worshipers at the Voice of the Voice of Kisumuport (VPN) Church, Kenya, August 2017

The pandemic made it difficult for the church to raise funds because the congregation was banned for more than a year

Faith economy is a big business-fundraising activities with the right politicians can greatly improve the wealth of the church.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and many churches are short of funds, it is not surprising that some evangelical clergy oppose a total ban on the pulpit.

“I don’t think it will take root because we have opportunistic churches and they are looking for politicians who will give them money and sometimes they even invite them themselves,” media commentator Barak Muluka told the BBC.

The writer and scholar Peter Kimani explained that the clergy of the existing churches no longer have control as they did in the 1990s.

“It is no longer a uniting force… Evangelical is a briefcase operation, with no organizational principles,” he told the BBC.

Religious scholar Josephine Gitome pointed out that many believers may not be bothered by the actions of politicians.

Most Kenyans may go to church to worship, but their daily lives are not so religious: “People worry about whether their behavior between Monday and Saturday is consistent with their behavior on Sunday.”

Moral “failure”

The pulpit ban seems to indicate that the mainstream church wants to regain some moral authority.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga attended the Sunday service at Gatina Church in Kawangware-2017

In October 2017, Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga (center) appeared in the church before getting up to speak to the congregation

In the past, church leaders were very influential when talking about public affairs and human rights—they promoted the restoration of multi-party democracy in the 1990s.

But public confidence in the controversial positions taken over the past two decades has declined.

Opposition MP Otiende Amollo believes that the church has failed to achieve its goals on three main occasions:

  • Failed to speak out at the height of post-election violence from 2007 to 2008

  • Oppose the new constitution, which was introduced after the 2010 referendum to ease racial tensions

  • After the Supreme Court declared the results of the August 2017 presidential election invalid, it failed to mediate between political factions.

“These incidents have greatly reduced the status of the church, and it will take a considerable amount of time to restore that status,” Mr. Amoro told the BBC, one of the lawyers who persuaded the judge to cancel the results of the first poll in 2017.

In June, the pandemic restrictions on church congregations were partially lifted-although election rallies were still banned, which meant that the church was overwhelmed by politicians.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, a devout Catholic, recently further relaxed the restrictions, allowing churches to accommodate up to two-thirds of the population, but gatherings are still prohibited.

Therefore, the pulpit ban is not suitable for running for politicians, such as Vice President William Ruto who is paying attention to the presidency.

“We as Christians support church projects,” He was quoted in an evangelical service in central Kenya According to reports, he donated 2 million Kenyan shillings (US$18,000; £13,000) there.

Mr. Amoro believes that the church should go further and also prohibits politicians from participating in fundraising activities.

But church leaders have been bitter to say that politicians who hold the Bible are not themselves banned.

Ferdinand Lugonzo, head of the Secretariat of the Catholic Bishops Conference in Kenya, told the BBC: “Politicians are still welcome to pray, but there is no preferential treatment when speaking to the congregation.”

“The church building is used for worship purposes only.”

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