Pastor Paul Mackenzie
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Calling the church to repent

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Paul Mackenzie of the Good News International Church during an interview with the ‘Nation’ in Kilifi County on March 24, 2023. 

Photo credit: File | Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Death cult preacher Paul Mackenzie went on trial this past week, facing a forest of charges, ranging from manslaughter to child cruelty.

But it is not really Paul Makenzie on trial; it is the Christian church, especially the less formal reaches of the evangelical wing, which has clambered on to the dock.

When the full horror of Shakahola is laid out for all to see, Kenya, including its heartless money-grubbing political class, will suffer unprecedented trauma.

Even from the little gleaned from the allegations already in the public domain, the cruelty and sheer scale of atrocity is unlike anything seen before. From the charges, hundreds have died and the most inhuman atrocities have been committed against the defenseless and weak.

In our country, the right to faith has been interpreted to mean that religion is unquestionable, that religious institutions are, as a matter of divine fact, all moral, right and beyond reproach and any attempt to review doctrine and conduct of religious leaders may as well be satanic.

It is true, the church, above everything else, is a psychological sanctuary; a place of peace and sanity in a crazy world. I remember in the combustible days of 2017 how I used to look forward to Sunday and the service at my church, ICC Nairobi West. We would pray for then President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga. Church was the only place that was not divided and toxic.

But then large parts of the church went to politics in 2022. Politicians, or members of their families, were influential leaders in the religious hierarchy. The previously sober princes of the Pentecostal movement became political consorts and joined the councils of the political state.

We saw the tails of the knee-length coats of upcountry pastors disappear into the altars of private residences and waddle out with rotund stomachs almost dragging on the ground from sumptuous feasting, brown envelopes nestling their testis.

The church was a sanctuary no more. It became an UDA rally; hanging out with pastors was in many ways akin to spending quality time with Oscar Sudi and a team of amiable party MPs.

Our legal infrastructure was built to protect faith from encroachment by an overzealous state. It never occurred to anyone to put in place laws to protect the political state from encroachment by some church leaders.

The church is a loud bullhorn, its capacity to amplify political propaganda is unmatched in our society. But some pulpits are no longer sacred; they are used to clean, sanctify and legitimate that which is filthy, evil and false in the political state.

Doomsday cults

Religion uses the Hebrews 11 method of persuasion: Faith is a substitute for reason; we believe what the church tells without the need for evidence and we believe unreservedly and without question. The secular world uses the John 20 method of persuasion: not only must we be shown the nail holes, but we might demand to put our fingers in them before we believe.

We trusted the church and granted it a shortcut to our belief and it abused that privilege. Doomsday cults, Christian radicals and Islamic extremists follow the same path to disrupt existing order. They use fringe texts to radicalise the people and turn them against each other and authority.

Cults preach against education, hospitals, vaccination, birth certificates, Huduma Namba, law enforcement and the government, which they brand satanic.

They teach hatred of all those who do not believe their teachings, branding them children of Satan; those who don’t follow the cult are demonized and dehumanised, presented as lesser beings unworthy of life or mercy.

They glorify death and deploy fear and hatred to mobilise their followers to commit atrocities, many times against the innocent. And they exploit the cover of conventional religion and the protections we have given it to wage guerilla spiritual war. The difference between doomsday cults and Al-Shabaab is only in the means they employ to kill and the fact that Al-Shabaab has a well-defined political agenda.

I do not mean to get in the way of spiritual development and dissent or the challenging of religious authority by believers who disagree with mainstream belief. But all religious sects must submit to the same controls as the self-regulating mainstream religions: use of standardised texts, clear training, and proper procedures in the appointment of teachers and adherence to the general values of a religion. If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, why are you preaching death and violence?

What gives me hope, especially in the case of Christianity, is the place of repentance and forgiveness in the faith. Even those who have gone astray can be reached and restored with love and forgiveness if they are willing to own up and make a commitment to do better.

It is time for the church to repent its sins, weed out the crooks in its midst, reform and commit to do better before judgment is passed against it.