Dr David Owuor

Ministry of Repentance and Holiness preacher, Dr David Owuor, at a crusade in Nairobi’s Central Park.

| File | Nation Media Group

Lifestyles shaped by churches

While to some people being a member of a church translates to dressing “acceptably” on one day of the week and then returning to this sinful world, there are Christians who go beyond this. The doctrines of their churches inform what they eat, drink, wear, how they socialise, where they spend their money and where they work, among others.

This Easter weekend, as some Christians reflect on the death and resurrection of Christ, we chronicle some of the lifestyles shaped by churches, even for those whose denominations do not mark Easter.

Seventh-Day Adventist adherents

Seventh-Day Adventist adherents in Isiolo town.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“No tea or coffee, thank you. I am an SDA”

Nairobi resident Brian Boit, 25, cannot take anything made of tea leaves or coffee. He also does not consume meat, eggs or milk. This is because he subscribes to the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) faith.

“Tea leaves and coffee, being stimulants, are not good for our minds,” the architecture student at the Technical University of Kenya told Lifestyle.

“And sugar is most harmful to the body,” he added.

Brian believes science has proven those substances to be unhealthy, and he cannot be asking God for good health while consuming “harmful” foodstuff.

“It would be unfair of me to ask God to give me health while I pursue a lifestyle that is in itself unhealthy. I’d be acting contrary to my prayer to God,” he said.

The SDA church has elaborate advisories on the ideal diet for members. The guidelines stem from the ideas of the church’s founder, Ellen G White.

In a video uploaded on the church’s YouTube account earlier this year, SDA president Ted Wilson made reference to White’s teachings as he emphasised the need for believers to lead a healthy lifestyle in 2021.

He cited a passage published in 1875, where White wrote on the connection between the body and a person’s faith.

“Between the mind and the body, there is a mysterious and wonderful relation. They react upon each other. To keep the body in a healthy condition to develop its strength, that every part of the living machinery may act harmoniously, should be the first study of our life. To neglect the body is to neglect the mind. It cannot be to the glory of God for His children to have sickly bodies or dwarfed minds,” she wrote.

The church president noted that Adventist health practices that include eating plant-based diets, regular exercise, abstaining from alcohol and other substances and maintaining a healthy body weight “can significantly increase a person’s life expectancy by several years”.

“I haven’t had any problem eating a plant-based diet and research has shown that this diet provides much more physical stamina and greatly reduces the risks of heart disease and stroke,” he said.

To drive his point home, he cited the scriptures, referring to the Biblical epistle of Corinthians.

“In the beautiful book of 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20, it is written: ‘Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s,’” Pastor Wilson read.

He also referred to a number of writings by White that explain the importance of healthy living.

“As followers of Christ, it is important to choose carefully what we eat and drink,” he said, emphasising the need to drink plenty of water.

“I would not advocate that you drink much, if any, of soda, all these kinds of drinks that have lots of sugar and all that,” he said.

Most SDA faithful in Kenya keep off soda and generally frown upon being overweight. Boit says it is a calling for every believer.

“It is my religious duty to live a healthy lifestyle. And it is science that tells me these things are unhealthy. So, science is the objective basis. Religion is the subjective explanation,” he said.

“I don’t need all that salary. Give it to my Opus Dei organisation.”

In the Catholic Church, there is an organisation called Opus Dei (Latin for “Work of God”), founded in 1928. Its operations are shrouded in secrecy, partly due to a clause in its constitution that commands members to keep a low profile about their affiliation to Opus Dei.

The organisation, confirmed into the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II in 1982 when he declared it a personal prelature, has a number of practices that dictate the lifestyles of members; lifestyles that are sometimes extreme.

It encourages its members to lead celibate lives, even if they are not priests or nuns. And in many instances the members, often with well-paying jobs, send a large chunk of their salaries to the organisation. Opus Dei members often live communally. They also observe unconventional practices such as inflicting pain on oneself to atone for any sins committed.

Dr George Njenga, the executive dean of Strathmore University’s Business School, is one of the Opus Dei members in Kenya. He told the Business Daily in 2018 that because he has made up his mind to serve God and humanity, he will never marry or have a child.

Asked about what appealed to him about Opus Dei, he said it was the calling to change society.

“I looked at the idea: A man transforming the society in a Christian way and most of all, reaching out to the less fortunate. And doing it without financial rewards. If I was to make money, I would have been a very wealthy man, but in Opus Dei we work only for our upkeep. I give out all my salary,” he said.

He added that most of his salary goes to the organisation to be spent communally.

“What I ask for from my salary is for upkeep, rent and for my golf,” he noted, adding that he socialises with caution because “I have to account for every minute of my life”.

“I don’t have free time to allow temptations in. My timetable and schedule for my activities is packed. Even having a beer with my friends, I drink two bottles maximum or three glasses of wine. Beyond that, it’s dangerous,” said Dr Njenga, who is the founder of the Strathmore Business School.

Opus Dei has three types of members –  numeraries, associates and supernumeraries.

“Associates and numeraries make up about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of members. They are celibate, live with other members and, on occasion, practise corporal mortification – the most controversial of Opus Dei’s traditions,” says a BBC article on the Catholic grouping.

In 2010, British scholar Sarah Cassidy was reported to be one of the Opus Dei members who practised corporal mortification – where a person tightly wraps a light metal chain with prongs on the leg as a way of seeking atonement for one’s sins through self-inflicted pain.

“The Opus Dei website states the motivation for these voluntary penances is to imitate Christ and to join him in his redemptive sacrifice (Matthew 16:24), and that they can also be a way to suffer in solidarity with the many poor and deprived people in the world,” writes the BBC.

Njenga said in the 2018 article that most of the Opus Dei practices are aimed at making believers lead Christ-like lives.

“The more you practise your virtuous life, the more you practise your Christian faith, the closer you come to probably what you may call being another Christ,” he said.

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Patrick Njoroge is arguably the most prominent Kenyan belonging to Opus Dei. As he took over as CBK boss in 2015, he chose not to settle at the official residence meant for the holder of his position. He, instead, chose life at the organisation’s communal centre in Loresho.

“No makeup, please. It is the Ministry of Repentance and Holiness way.”

Christians who subscribe to the teachings of the Ministry of Repentance and Holiness, led by Prophet David Owuor, also take teachings of their faith beyond the church.

 Ministry of Repentance and Holiness Church

 Ministry of Repentance and Holiness Church members on Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

It is not uncommon to find women in the faith wearing long and loose dresses. An explanation for their conduct can be found in a 2017 video shared on YouTube by US-based believer, Pastor Patricia, explaining why a true member of the ministry should dress “holy”.

“I just want to share a few scriptures to refute post-modern believers’ cliché that God looks only at the heart and not at our dressing, thus permitting the mirage of immoral dressing in today’s post-modern church,” she said.

She then gave verses like 1 Thessalonians 5: 23, Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Corinthians 11:5 and Titus 2:14 to back her advocacy for “holy” dressing. The Deuteronomy verse says women should not wear men’s garments and vice-versa. “Do you want to be an abomination to the Lord and be barred from the kingdom of God? Well, stop cross-dressing then,” Pastor Patricia said.

She went on: “Simply put, ladies stick to your clothing department: Long dresses, skirts, blouses, scarves (and no trousers) while men stick to their clothing department of trousers, shirts, ties and matching jackets.”

She further explained why makeup is a sign of perversion.

“Jezebel (in the Biblical book of Kings) was the only woman that painted her face and we see her shameful end. So, we must avoid facial paintings,” Pastor Patricia counselled.

She added: “Avoid fake eyelashes, fake nails. That is falsehood. Avoid body piercing, markings, tattoos. Avoid nose rings, belly rings, eyebrow rings, toe rings, earrings, tongue rings, lip rings, et cetera. These are all defilement of your body, which is the temple of God.”

Strict adherence to the pastor’s teachings means women should always don long dresses and men wear loose clothing that does not reveal their physique or their genital bulge.

Mr Victor Otieno, 30, is a mathematics and physics teacher who subscribes to the Repentance and Holiness beliefs. “My church advises women to wear loose dresses. In church, we interact with both male and female genders, and men are largely known to be weak when it comes to sight. They’re optical creatures. So when women dress this way, they protect men from physical lust,” Otieno told Lifestyle.

“Also, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It must be covered well. And we shouldn’t be vessels that cause others to fall. This way, men are also expected to dress in a manner that doesn’t cause the other gender to lust. We do this for modesty and as a show of respect,” he added.

Non-revealing dressing is also a prominent teaching among many mainstream and sectorial Christian movements like the Akorino. However, some faiths observe it more strictly than others.

Kabonokia

Kabonokia believers at the home of the sect’s late leader Gitonga M’Mpunguru in Irunduni, Tharaka-Nithi County, on September 13, 2020. 

Photo credit: Pool

“Vaccination? No way; I am Kabonokia.”

Among the most interesting Christian sects is Kabonokia, whose members are mainly found in Tharaka-Nithi, Meru, Embu and Kitui counties.

Its practices go beyond faith to how members should live — and die. For starters, modern medicine is a no-no for a true Kabonokia believer. Times without number, Kabonokia faithful have been arrested for failing to take their children for government-led immunisation drives. But that has done little to dissuade them.They also do not cooperate with census enumerators and many are the times children allied to the faith fail to take up national examinations despite registering.

A number of sects with similar beliefs as Kabonikia’s also exist in other parts of the country, especially in Nyanza. Most of their beliefs stem from the distrust towards the government of pre-independent Kenya.

However, others like the Akorino have since eased their stand on a number of issues.

Bishop Nathaniel Kagwi of Nyandarua County’s Akorino Church told the Nation on March 2 that there was a time when members of the church were not allowed to eat fried meals or meat from an animal slaughtered by someone who is not a member of the church — but that has changed.

An Akorino archbishop further said the Akorino had abandoned some doctrines like discouraging modern medicine after “communication from the Holy Spirit”.

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