Church on the cross: Have Church leaders abandoned the faithful?


Hypocrisy among church leaders is our biggest problem in Kenya right now

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Just hours after President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja chief Raila Odinga announced that they would be meeting to discuss ways of ending demonstrations that had become part of the national psyche, losing presidential candidate in the August 2022 elections David Waihiga Mwaure went public demanding he be part of the negotiations.

This demand by the Agano Party head immediately drew sharp criticism, especially on social media, with many seeing him as being an opportunist who was loud in his silence at the height of the demonstrations, only to elbow his way seeking a seat at the negotiating table, with the expected windfall likely to come from such talks.

good friday eldoret

Way Of The Cross: Fr Timothy Kiplagat (with cross), Parish Priest of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County, and other faithful during a Good Friday march on April 7, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

To those castigating him, Mwaure, who is a man of the cloth, represents the modern face of the Kenyan church leaders who are better known for fence-sitting and ignoring the plight of their flock in the fight for lower living costs and overall better governance.

And as the world commemorates Easter, questions are being raised on whether the church leaders have lost the moral authority as the leaders of the flock. Globally, the church is also facing trying times what with the increasing onslaught especially from the LBGTQ movement, which seems well-oiled in its campaigns — leading to schisms in nearly all of the established churches — and dwindling attendances.

Kenyans who are a bit older remember with nostalgia the days of Henry Okullu, bishop of Anglican Diocese of Maseno South, his Kirinyaga counterpart Bishop David Gitari, Alexander Muge of Eldoret, Timothy Njoya of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and Ndingi Mwana a’ Nzeki of the Catholic Church.

All of these men of the cloth apart from Njoya have since gone to be with their maker and although still around, not much is heard of Njoya on political matters. The latest he was in the news was when he was marshalling his neighbours in Ngong to stem the floods that were threatening their homes, an incident Njoya said had caused him thousands of shillings in damages to his rare book collections.

But is there any truth in the charges that the shepherds have abandoned the sheep? It is true that the administration of President Ruto has given the clergy a lot more recognition than at any time in the country’s history.

To be fair to the head of state, his dalliance with the clergy did not start when he became the tenant at State House.

Catholic bishops

From Left: The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops Chairman Rev Martin Kivuva, Nyeri Archbishop Rev Anthony Muheria with Kisumu Archbishop Rev Maurice Muhatia addressing journalists at Russel House-Donum Dei in Karen, Nairobi on March 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita I Nation Media Group

Throughout his campaigns for the presidency, Ruto and his wife Rachel were frequent hosts to delegations of clergymen who prayed with and for them.

On his swearing-in at the Kasarani Stadium, the President, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua and their wives made history when they knelt right before the world and had church leaders pray over them and their incoming leadership.

To detractors, this was a sign that the clergy had sold their soul to the state, what with the continued privileged position that many men and women of God seem to occupy in the Kenya Kwanza administration.

Nickson Orieny of the Temple of God Ministries is one of those who believe there is a dearth of religious leaders with fidelity to the gospel and the flock and have instead kowtowed to the authorities.

“Hypocrisy among church leaders is our biggest problem in Kenya right now. We have clergymen who are not keen on advancing the gospel and obedience to God but instead have chosen to listen to those in power.

“Let us take the case of Covid-19 and the havoc it caused. It was clear that the vaccine was not going to be very effective and there was no church leader who was strong in enough in opposing it and the lockdown. Evidence now shows that a total breakdown of morality happened during the lockdown including teen pregnancies, incest and other ills,” he says.

good friday kakamega

Catholic bishop Joseph Obanyi, of the Diocese of Kakamega, carries a cross as he leads faithful in a 'Way of the Cross' Good Friday procession to St Joseph's Cathedral in Kakamega town on April 7, 2023. 

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group

But the head of Christ is the Answer Ministries (Citam) Bishop Calisto Odede feels the church is on the right track and that those castigating it are probably reading from a different script.

“There are many who feel the church is irrelevant because they would want the church to play either a celebrity role or offer running commentaries on all that is happening and perhaps even play the role of the opposition to the government.

“Although social-political and economic Kenyans is a concern to the church, some of these are addressed by action not necessarily by issuing press statements. Collecting money to assist the drought victims, offering scholarships to the orphans, engaging leaders in peace initiatives and training people in business initiatives that would change their source of income,” he says.

Bishop Gibson Anduvate of the International Christian Centre-Nairobi, a Kenya Assemblies of God ministry, is also convinced that there is no cause for alarm.

“The challenges we are facing are not new, they have been there before and what we need is a church that is alive and seeking the kingdom of God. Believers should therefore take their place in the society as salt and light. Transformation is the responsibility of all believers as they take their place to be ambassadors of the Kingdom,” Bishop Anduvate told Lifestyle.

The view that the LBGTQ brigade is winning was reinforced when the US First Lady Jill Biden recently came visiting. Some of those opposed to LGBTQ agenda believe she came with loads of dollars to “bribe”  top officials in supporting the idea.

“It was obvious that she was on the trip to make LBGTQ palatable to as many people as possible. How come there was not a single person in the government who stood firm against what she was preaching? Why is it that muted responses were only heard days after she left?” Poses Orieny.

Bishop Odede is one of those key church leaders who have been consistent in their anti-gay stance. “Even today, most of African countries have enjoyed lots of social capital even from non-Christians, but that is not the case in Western countries. Christianity is viewed as anti-social, political incorrect, intolerant and irrelevant. These same sentiments are currently being exported to Africa and Kenya included by countries which export immorality,” he says.

“Thus, they would want governments and everyone to endorse gay-lifestyles and they see the church in Africa as an obstacle to this. The wider church in Africa, including our own church, have commented and issued statements on this and our stand remains that this is contrary to biblical directive and against the order of God,” he adds.

As to whether Easter and the Christianity message is still relevant, the religious leaders agree that the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very cornerstone of the faith and that its importance can never be wished or washed away.

Although Orieny believes that commercialism and other interests have watered down the Passover, which should be the original celebrations, the gospel must still be preached. He says that without the message of Christ’s death and resurrection there would be no Christianity to talk about.

According to Anduvate: “Easter and the Church will always remain relevant. The relevance of the church is not dependent on how loud the leaders are but on the presence of God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The message of the Easter is the message of unconditional love. Something that the entire world is in desperate need of. A world that is at war with itself and facing a crisis of identity needs to hear now more than ever the message of Easter, God’s unconditional love for a broken world.”

Bishop Odede, while asserting that Easter is perhaps more important than Christmas, which he says has been heavily commercialised, adds that the event took place amid upheavals in the nation of Israel at that time

“Easter speaks of death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians believe that it is through this that they have obtained salvation. The context around Easter was an interesting context in which there were demonstrations and riots as the crowds bayed for the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom just the previous week they had placed on a pedestal as the expected leader.

 It was a context where there was police brutality as the soldiers tortured an innocent man by whipping him with bone studded whips and placing a thorny crown on his head as a mockery,” he concludes.