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December 10, 2018

KANYADUDI: When we need it most, Church is absent, silent, deeply soiled

President Uhuru Kenyatta meets Catholic bishops at State House, Nairobi. The bishops were led by John Cardinal Njue and Rt Rev Phillip Anyoli, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic bishops /PSCU
President Uhuru Kenyatta meets Catholic bishops at State House, Nairobi. The bishops were led by John Cardinal Njue and Rt Rev Phillip Anyoli, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic bishops /PSCU

People are always in constant struggle for emancipation and self-actualisation.

In this process, they rely on organised social formations for mobilisation and leadership. More often than not political organisations led by the parties have come in handy to support the activities of interest aggregation and articulation. Others have been civil society organisations that are generally not state actors but provide crucial support in engaging the government and other state agencies. These social formations are also nursaries for nurturing leadership talents and skills.

Leaders emerge from these organisations and spring to national and local political positions of influence. The Church has been an integral part of this mix and has played key roles in shaping public opinion regarding governance. In Kenya and Africa in general, the Church has made enormous contributions in development. Not only have they provided opportunity for leadership development, but also made massive investments in education, health and mass communication. The Church has also been the moral compass of society and acted as the conscience of the people. It always stood up to government and bad leadership and was the voice of the citizens in light of oppression and sometimes persecution. The civil society and political parties regularly see the Church as a crucial partner.

In the absence of credible alternative political voices to the ruling elite, the Church has always filled this void. It will be recalled that during the single party regime in Kenya, the Church became the refuge of the oppressed. The clergy used the pulpit and drew from their moral authority to reprimand the government whenever the flock was threatened. They stood up to dictatorial tendencies of the authoritarian regime and prevailed. Multiparty democracy was restored and constitutionalised. They worked well and closely with the nascent opposition leaders to push for the redrafting of the constitution. The Church in Kenya played a key role in routing out of Kanu at the turn of the 21st Century through Narc.

The Narc government was able to turn back the clock of economic meltdown and usher in an era of unprecedented growth and development milestones. The country initiated and mega infrastructural projects and implemented novel social programmes. During that period, Kenyans were ranked as one of the most optimistic and happy people. As oversight institutions picked up their roles with gusto, the Church continued to work closely with them in the interest of their flock. However, as the country approached the [Mwai] Kibaki succession, the Church succumbed to the temptations of tribal jingoism and the leadership displayed open disunity. The clergy quarreled in public and pursued partisan interests at the expense of the church followers. The church leadership got so deeply immersed in parochial agenda that what began as cracks soon became huge gullies. Other vices found easy access into the church and fertile ground to flourish.

The Catholic and Anglican churches have played a more visible leadership role. The flock has always relied upon the leadership of both these churches for guidance in times of crisis. Such times include the earlier stalemate on the taxation law. But it appears to have gotten deeply embedded in the political infrastructure. It is also suffering from many self-inflicted sins. The disintegration of the social human fabric has not helped matters either. 

The 21st Century has presented the Church with innumerable challenges. Since the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, the leadership of the Catholic Church has had to contend with crisis upon crisis. Other than corruption at the Secretariat, cases of child molestation have been exposed almost across the leadership spectrum. It is the intensity of these challenges that has brought tension within the ranks of the Vatican. So much so that it is alleged that Pope Benedict IV had to resign and give way for Pope Francis. The Anglican Church has had to contend with incessant leadership wrangles within its ranks. The challenge of solemnising same sex unions has pushed the Church almost to a cliff.

This has been compounded by the demand and subsequent acceptance of gay people into the hierarchy and top ranks and of leadership. The split occasioned by these disagreements has assumed a regional if not racial dimensions and dichotomy. The congregations from the Third World have vowed not to participate in the general assemblies of the church unless these grave matters are fully addressed and reversed.

It is thus in this context of internal weaknesses and external threats that the Church finds itself staring at the challenge of providing alternative leadership to political parties and civil society organisations. It appears the Church danced itself lame at the close of the 20th Century when the main dance was coming with the collapse of the Cold War. The vagaries of atrocities attributed to the cardinal sins committed by Church leaders have become cancerous. Like termites, they are eating the temple of God from within its core structures.

The moral decadence has robed it of external defenses and it is now weak and vulnerable to social decay. Funds from graft and underworld businesses are regularly received at the pulpit with glee. The respective presiding ministers together with the congregation always offer prayers of blessings for such questionable donations. Members engage in vicious and violent fights over property and sadaka , while the leadership are recruited into political and government service for a fee. County governments that are known more for corruption and ineptitude have in their ranks church leaders as chaplains.

Kenyans and to a large extent Africa, find itself between the anvil and the hammer. The government leadership is reducing the space for political participation. At the same time of muzzling freedom of expression, it is curving out pounds upon pounds of flesh from citizens through heavy taxation.

The pain of being an ordinary citizen is so excruciating that one would wish to sprawl at the foot of the cross in supplication. Yet the earthly guardians of the cross, have themselves soiled hands so much that they themselves need atonement for their sins more than the flock. It is doubtful whether the Church will recover and find its footing in time to save the flock. The citizens are clearly on their own and should thus engage in deeper soul searching to reach their inner strength. The political leadership is struggling with the Building Bridges Initiative.

At the same time a section of the citizenry is pushing for a referendum to address certain weaknesses of the Constitution. In these weighty social matters, the church is conspicuously absent and loudly silent. The power of the soul would be more appropriate now than the energy of the flesh. Everyone need to engage in genuine prayers to their respective higher beings so as to redeem the church and make the government leadership people-sensitive.

As the saying goes, “All of us, everyone to himself and God for us all”.

 

Kanyadudi is a Political and Public Policy Analyst

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