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January 21, 2019

MUGWE: What’s the pulpit got to do with it?

Eliud Kipchoge with Richard Quest
Eliud Kipchoge with Richard Quest

WWJD? The era of social media has birthed a culture of chat acronyms. What Would Jesus Do started with a youth group from the Calvary Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan who desired to influence their fellow generation X. They were inspired by a book written in 1896 by Charles Sheldon called “In His Steps”, which posed the same question. These youths were motivated to apply this question to their daily choices in life because their lives had been transformed by what Jesus taught and did. To serve as a reminder, they made simple cloth bracelets inscribed with the acronym WWJD which caught their community’s attention, and soon everyone was wearing one. As their popularity grew, they mass-marketed them causing a retail revolution.

A week ago, Sir Richard Quest, a CNN international anchor and reporter, was in church. And he did not just attend, but he got a front row comfortable seat and a chance to address the congregation from the pulpit. This drew sharp reactions from many Kenyans because of his publicly declared sexual orientation.

The outrage was ignited by many Kenyans observation that this invitation had not previously been extended to other like Kenyans, but more so, for the defence by Kenya Films and Classification Board chairman Ezekiel Mutua, that people should just let the man be. This was in sharp contradiction with the moral police’s position that he has previously taken on homosexuality, the most recent being the ban on the Rafiki film, on account that it was promoting lesbianism.

All too often, it has become the custom of our politicians to politic from the pulpit, while donating huge sums of money. And the public is often indignant at this custom, which they deem as defiling this hallowed space. Yet the church leadership and congregation gladly accepts the generous donations from the pulpit, regardless of the source.

Once upon a time, the rule of thumb was that two topics had no place in civilised conversation. These were religion and politics. One was considered uncivil, if they discussed religion, and inelegant, if they talked politics. But today, it has become so common place that we discuss religion for political reasons, and politics for religious reasons. We have stretched this further to permit those with alternative sexual lifestyles to address congregants from the space where only the sacred have dared.

But what has the pulpit got to do with it? Is it a preserve for only those without blemish?

If so, going by dozens of narratives we have witnessed and heard about men and women of the cloth, perhaps all sanctuaries of worship ought to discard this sanctified lectern. Because the Church has become what in economic-speak is called a wicked problem. A wicked problem is a social or cultural problem or concern that is difficult to explain, where answers do not come easily, and is inherently impossible to solve on account of three reasons:

One, incomplete knowledge. We have more knowledge today than ever before. Science and technology has gone places never before imagined. But the more we know, the more we discover how little we know. For many years, the Church has consistently taught its congregants on right living. But sin and evil have persisted and increased. Fredrick Hayek nailed this problem by opining that no individual or group of experts command complete knowledge on any problem to be able to solve it. He stated that knowledge exists in dispersed bits within separate individuals. So therefore, to belt out knowledge from the pulpit week after week is to delude oneself of the good they are doing in a bid to solve societal problems.

Some churches have organically discovered this fact and structured ‘cell groups’ where congregants meet in smaller groups away from the pulpit to interrogate the precepts of life. In this regard, do we still need the pulpit if the cell groups resolve the utilization of knowledge which is not domiciled in any one person in its totality?

Two, contradictory beliefs. We all hold contradictory beliefs and are often unaware of them until we are confronted with our inconsistency. For instance, at the pulpit we may preach love for all humankind, but we are socially homophobic; or preach neutrality in how we treat ‘brethren’, but we are fiercely politically partisan. And there is a pragmatic reason why society condemns and reveres the pulpit in equal measure. It is because the beliefs we hold and would not want violated are called protected values. When others violate our protected values, it emotes anger and even outrage; and when we violate them, we feel guilt and shame. Our reactions, therefore, on undeserving speakers at the pulpit are informed by our protected values, not the significance of the pulpit itself.

Three, the large economic burden that bleeds into other interconnected problems. Many congregants are inundated from the pulpit with the panda mbegu syndrome by being cajoled into supporting the Church through tithes, offerings and special fundraisers. The very pulpit that coaxes the congregant into giving, is the same pulpit that resists every attempt to pay State taxes despite the very authority they quote from requiring them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The church has traditionally been the place for solace, for spiritual nourishment, and for brotherly love and support; but sadly, due to its commercial revolution, it has become the place for extraction rather than provision. This has increased the economic constraint on its congregants who have to make painful and difficult decisions on their allocation of scarce resources between Caesar and the pulpit.

Begs the question, What Would Jesus Do if an openly practicing homosexual or a polarising politician preached this Sunday from your pulpit?

Jesus did the unthinkable; he drank water offered by a sinful Samaritan woman; the inconceivable, he touched the leper; the irrational, he forgave the thief on the cross; the illogical, he dined with the tax collector; and the paradoxical, he espoused the Beatitudes. And he did all this without the power and reverence, we have conferred to the pulpit.

Finally, to the pulpit owners, the greatest impact will not come from preaching to many. It will come from discipling a few. You will only create an audience, not radical disciples from the pulpit. Like Jesus, you must walk closely with the people.

When its foggy in the pulpit, its cloudy in the pews – Cavett Robert

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