Keep the clergy out of cultism solution search

Paul Mackenzie

'Pastor Paul Mackenzie (left) and his co-accused in a Malindi court on May 2, 2023.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

I have always wanted to track down any Kenyan who was allegedly healed in one of Prophet David Owuor’s crusades, or the healing services broadcasting daily on local TV channels, in my short stint in the newsroom.

Maybe a reporter who takes up the assignment will stumble across a few strange facts. For instance, they will probably discover that their families had spent thousands of shillings to get the person in front of “the Lord’s anointed” for he is a busy man and it’s probably easier to secure an appointment with the President. And that this money was more than they would have spent taking the person to the hospital.

Many Kenyans who show up on the doorstep of a miracle healer have a trail of muddy footprints behind them from the many fruitless visits to different doctors and hospitals. Religious healing is a last resort. It is easy to blame the teachings of Paul Mackenzie but that will get us into a theological fix. 

Those who sold their belongings and left jobs and loving relatives to travel to Shakahola were not doing an “unbiblical thing”: They were probably obeying Jesus, in Matthew 19:21: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven.

Then come, follow me.” Or Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

So why do some Christians read the same verses from the same Bible and don’t take them literally? Is there a logic of biblical interpretation (“the right interpretation”) that can protect us from blindly following the Scriptures? Determining who has the right interpretation is the crux of the problem.

This may be why many of the organised churches have largely steered clear of biblical arguments.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) called what Pastor Mackenzie did a “charade” and described his sermons as “cultic preaching” without going into details. They wound up with a vague call to “a strong mechanism of regulating religion”.

Asks people to die

Almost all pointed at “the doctrine of fasting to death” as the only problem with his teachings. Which technically means unless religious teaching explicitly asks people to die, anything flies. So, Mackenzie’s biblical namesake Paul would be disqualified for teaching “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) had the people of Philippi fasted to death in the name of Christ.

In a recent article, ex-Citam Bishop David Oginde points out that a cult leader would often demand his followers make financial sacrifices for his own gain. But the 20th century’s most infamous cult leader, Jim Jones, in1978 led 918 people, including himself, to suicide by cyanide: He believed his teachings.

Just as we cannot put the solution to political extremism in the hands of a political party, so can’t we the solution to cultism in the hands of the clergy?

The true authority in protecting the lives of Kenyans must lay in the supreme law, the Constitution. What does the law say about protecting Kenyans from all dangers, religious or otherwise?

Mr Kariuki is a communication specialist. [email protected].