Preacher with bodyguard.
Caption for the landscape image:

We face the scourge of fake clergy

Scroll down to read the article

Pastors dress in frocks and cassocks that belie evil, lying, and cheating motives.

Photo credit: Samuel Muigai | Nation Media Group

Prof John Mbiti, arguably Kenya’s most erudite scholar of African religions, once opined that “Africans are notoriously religious.” I guess that’s because in the African spiritual universe there was no distinction between the religious, the spiritual, and the secular.

In my academic work, I have hypothesised that this was likely one reason why Christianity paired with imperialism to so deeply penetrate the African moral world and entrench colonialism. That’s why today most Africans walk around with European names in the mistaken belief they are Christian. They say the quickest way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. Then the fastest way to a Black African’s heart is through religion. Africans are easily beguiled suckers for religion.

Religion is an intoxicant to Africans. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Islam and Christianity, the two major established imperial religions. Africans clutch the Bible – the famous book of Jewish history, philosophy, morality, spirituality, and mythology – as though it was handed down to them by God from the highest mountain in Africa.

They talk about Jesus as though he’s an ancestor, or someone they’ve known in the flesh. In fact, if you say an unkind word about Jesus in Africa, you may face mob justice from enraged penitents. I wonder how Black Africans so completely abandoned their own spiritualities and decided to follow the son of a Jewish carpenter from Palestine. Why forsake your own and rush to embrace others?

But I digress. Today I want to address the curse of fake clergy. Let first stipulate that I will defend to the death the right of those who believe in a religion as enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution and pertinent international texts and instruments. To me, that’s ironclad, as is the right to one’s conscience.

But what I deeply abhor and would like to see criminalised and sanctioned without pity is the phenomena of fake clergy, or mere mortals calling themselves “prophets”. In our moment, there are notorious characters who have instrumentalised and weaponised religion to hoodwink the masses, often to their detriment, including Pastor Paul Mackenzie of the macabre Shakahola cult infamy.

Cheating motives

There are thousands more in every city, town, village, and hamlet. They dress in frocks and cassocks that belie evil, lying, and cheating motives. They wear a toothy grin and speak with a tone that’s saintly. Their mien is one of false humility. What they don’t tell you is that it’s all about the money. They send their congregants into guilty trips to tithe.

 It’s those tithes that they use to live large building mansions, buying gas guzzlers, and going on expensive frolicking trips abroad. Meanwhile, the congregants live in penury. Often, the church and the pastor’s house are the most expensive and commanding buildings in the area. As they say, many are called but few are chosen.

What’s utterly stunning is how congregants take leave of their senses before these malign “men and women of God.” Some behaviour is utterly nutty and defies the most basic sense of self-respect. In one fake church in Kitui, the pastor and his wife insist that the congregants address them as “Dad” and “Mom” and approach them on all fours crawling before kissing their feet. Grown men and women abdicating their dignity in broad daylight for a false deity. In other churches, worshippers carry plastic chairs on their heads and go round in circles skipping and hollering weird sounds like forest monkeys. Such worshippers will do anything for the pastor. Anything. How did we become so empty as a people?

Stolen public wealth

There’s an unholy alliance between the church – licit and illicit – and politicians. Politicians buy the pulpit by donating millions of stolen public wealth to pastors and in exchange pastors auction their congregations to politicians at every election cycle. The Kenyan Church is one of the most corrupt institutions in our society. And it’s intentionally and purposely corrupt. There’s a Siamese twin relationship between corruption in government and the Church.

Kenyans must resolve not to allow any politician access to the pulpit to address congregants or donate money to the church. This, together with harambees, must be banned in our society. How can a politician who was driving a pre-historic yesterday car drive a Prado and donate millions to the Church?

Kenya’s current revolt against the state is a product of the moral vacuum in which leaders in government, legislature, the judiciary, and the Church live. Our youth have seen through the rot in our ruling classes. They won’t take it anymore. One of the key lessons of history is the youth in their most idealistic and pristine iteration tell the unvarnished truths to their elders. In Kenya, except for the criminals who’ve taken advantage of the demos to vandalise property, the youth are playing their historical role. The clergy and the state must listen. And then transform. But the state must ban fake clergy. No ifs or buts.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. On X: @makaumutua