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SANCTIONED SELFISHNESS

Church badly exposed by politicised donations

The only constituency in Kenya with a national appeal.

In Summary
  • Just like Moi, Ruto has a solid background in Church, having been a Church leader in his college years.
  • As a seasoned church guy, he, more than any other presidential contender so far, knows the Achilles Heel of the Church: money, which is the real reason behind Church dissension and fragmentation.
Deputy President William Ruto kneels down for prayers during a fellowship with members of African Church of the Holy Spirit led by High Priest Shem Shamala at his home in Sugoi, Uasin Gishu county.
Deputy President William Ruto kneels down for prayers during a fellowship with members of African Church of the Holy Spirit led by High Priest Shem Shamala at his home in Sugoi, Uasin Gishu county.
Image: DPPS

In a tell-all book titled By Way of Deception, Victor Ostrovsky, a former renegade Mossad spy, tells of what would be reiterated to recruits during training: “Your responsibility is to protect the property of the Mossad. To do so you must lose the shame of being selfish and begin to view selfishness as a valuable commodity.”

And nowhere is selfishness such a valuable commodity as in religion. However, selfishness in religion is not easily discernible because of its ability to camouflage as piety. And it is this facility that makes religion such a potent force in society, especially in those societies that are still dominated by cosmologies of religious traditions and indigenous traditions. And Kenya is one such society.

The ongoing wrangles among politicians on whether to donate money to churches is a smokescreen of a naked selfishness that is unfazed by its nudity. Give it to the Deputy President; the Church is now struggling to wriggle itself out of a growing perception that selfishness is a thing of value to its leadership. But is it?

When you finally find your way past the mist of political cacophony on donations, you will be confronted by a stark reality: the scramble for Church. Yes, you got it. The Church has become a prize; and what’s more, it will be the place where future political contestations shall be won or lost.

ACHILLES HEEL

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, noted that “those who conquer have mastered the artifice of deviation”. This is what the politicians are doing to a pliable public. They’re actively using choice words to confuse them from knowing their real intent: stampede for the heart and soul of Church.

Why? Despite its manifold weakness, the Church is perhaps the only constituency in Kenya with a national appeal, and with it, a political influence that cannot be ignored.

Jomo Kenyatta preferred to keep the State and Church apart. After all he was a living and breathing hegemon who, like King Louis XIV of France, viewed himself as the state itself–L’État, c’est moi (I myself am the nation). It was Moi who first saw in the Church an important supplement to his rule.

And he remains peerless in his support of Church projects, especially his own AIC. More than any other president, Moi understood and manipulated the well-guarded ‘valuable selfishness’ secret that continues to make church such an attractive enterprise.

Unlike other presidents, Moi had the advantage of having been an evangelist in his youthful years as has been related by Andrew Morton in Moi: the Making of an African Statesman

Kibaki’s laissez-faire leadership attitude couldn’t allow for a prolonged clannishness with Church, even his own Catholic Church. Uhuru’s behaviour toward Church, just like in many other things, seems ambivalent and dusky.

If Moi had recognised the Church as an important political constituency, Ruto – his foremost and keenest student, is going one step further. He is fashioning the Church as a single political constituency, perhaps the 45th tribe of Kenya after the Asian community.

And how creative. What better vehicle to launch a presidential bid than via the Church? What better allies in a political quest than individuals with unquestioned powers to weave myths that multitudes are willing to live for and die for?

Just like Moi, Ruto has a solid background in Church, having been a Church leader in his college years. As a seasoned church guy, Ruto, more than any other presidential contender so far, knows the Achilles Heel of the Church; money – which is the real reason behind Church dissension and fragmentation.

By his ‘public goodness’, Ruto has unwittingly created a theological and doctrinal turbulence in and among the churches, the result of which, he alone would likely reap. That is, unless the Church sobers up to redeem its mythical symbolism, which makes its leadership powerful in the eyes of its adherents.

From the late 1990s onwards, the church as the voice of the people, began to lose its political gravitas. There were some brave lone voices that reverberated across the land, but these did not amount to much.

As an institution, the Church tended to be widely mistrusted as a fair arbiter of politics. It therefore lost its moral responsibility and institutional legitimacy as an agent of democracy. And ever since, the Church has struggled to reclaim its lost glory in the naked public square.

ENTRENCHING DEMOCRACY

At the heart of this difficulty to be an independent and moral voice is the endemic poverty and despondency of majority Church members, which have also affected the Church’s mission.

Widespread despair has led to the perpetuation of the “dependency syndrome” – an attitude and belief that people cannot solve their own problems without outside help. This weakness has been made worse by blind charity, which tends to perpetuate the myth that alms-giving is the antidote to poverty.

Which brings me to the heart of the problem. Charity when instrumentalised by politics or religion serves only to entrench dependency rather than challenge it. Historically, all revolutions occurred when those in grave dependencies rose in one accord to reclaim their true identity as independent agents of their own fate.

Yet with no clear agreement among the churches as to what constitutes good or dirty money, one is left to wonder whether we are about to experience a new ethical code that will make selfishness without shame a mark of being spiritual or spirit-filled.

Fellow with Deepsea Think Tank. [email protected]