The election of President William Ruto in last month’s polls has seen the rise of evangelical churches to the centre of power, displacing mainstream churches that have always enjoyed closeness with the government.
The group supported Dr Ruto during the campaigns and has now become a key player in the Kenya Kwanza administration.
Their rise has been a steady one, especially during the August polls. So influential has the group become that they played a key role in the transition process.
The team, which includes Bishop Mark Kariuki of the Deliverance Church of Kenya and Reverend Teresia Wairimu of the Faith Evangelistic Team, was part of the clergy that led prayers during the inauguration of Dr Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua in Kasarani Stadium. Besides Mr Kariuki and Ms Wairimu, other members include the Federation of Evangelicals and Indigenous Christians Churches of Kenya led by Bishop Samuel Njiriri and the Association of Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches led by Bishop Daniel Kabono.
The group also has churches such as the Nakuru Pastors Fellowship led by Pastor Alex Maina and the African Church of Holy Spirit, an indigenous African church that is mostly dominant in Western Kenya and has been frequented by Dr Ruto. They are supported by a network of other churches from Mt Kenya, Eastern and parts of the Rift Valley.
Evangelicals escorted Mr Gachagua when he reported to his office this week. Second Lady Dorcas Gachagua is also into evangelicalism, being a pastor at the House of Grace Ministries.
Both Dr Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto have in recent weeks played host to a number of bishops and pastors of the evangelical faith at State House, Nairobi.
Ms Ruto spent her first days in office hosting leaders such as Prophet Victor Kusi Boateng of Power Chapel Worldwide Ghana. She also hosted Dr Ian Ndlovu of the Divine Kingdom Baptist Ministries and his wife Evangelist Angel Ndlovu as well as band members of the Zabron Choir.
The Federation of Evangelicals and Indigenous Christians Churches of Kenya is one of the umbrella bodies that threw its weight behind Dr Ruto’s candidature. It argued that Dr Ruto was best placed to protect the interest of churches. “What we want is that churches should be respected. We are defending the faith and want to mould people for a better society,” Mr Njiriri said.
The evangelicals have become more engaged political affairs and debates, elevating their position in government. Bishop Kariuki told Saturday Nation that his decision to get involved in politics was part of his patriotic duty as a citizen and as a cleric. “Just as much as any citizen can be involved in politics of the country is the same way the church can be involved in politics,” he said.
“There has been a conspiracy to try and silence preachers by saying the church should only be involved in spiritual matters. But what people forget is that even the physical matters start with the spiritual. And so there is no way the church can be silent.”
Bishop Njiriri, on the other hand, said their decision to support the Kenya Kwanza administration was to protect the gains of the church. He added that there already exits an agreement signed between the evangelicals and Dr Ruto’s administration containing a list of things that they want done for churches.
The demands include budgetary allocation to pastors, allocation of land to churches, and appointments to commissions, state corporations, foreign missions and the Cabinet, as well as zero-rated government funds to facilitate church activities through a clergy’s Sacco. They want the independence of churches guaranteed by lifting the moratorium on registration, establishing registrar of religious organisations office and forming a Cabinet docket for religious affairs.
They also demand tax exemptions on items and services imported by registered churches.
“You cannot separate politics from religion as all of our leaders belong to a certain religion or faith. The Kenya Kwanza administration was voted into office by the church, just like the Jubilee administration in 2013,” Mr Njiriri told Saturday Nation. “We also want to restore our dignity and place as a church and that is why we supported Kenya Kwanza.”
Dr Ruto, while signing the agreement at his residence in Karen in May, said the move was part of Kenya Kwanza’s commitment to protecting the church.
United Democratic Alliance chairman Johnson Muthama said Kenya Kwanza was committed to honouring all the MoUs it had signed. “The President, during the campaigns, brought Kenyans from all walks of life and discussed with them how to move the country forward. This means everyone will benefit from his leadership,” he said.
The relationship between the church and the state in the country dates back to many years ago. Former President Daniel Moi identified with the African Inland Church. President Mwai Kibaki was a Catholic.
While founding President Jomo Kenyatta did not identify with any religion or faith, part of his family, including former First Lady Mama Ngina and former President Uhuru Kenyatta, has identified with the Catholic.
The state-church relationship is also evident in some jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the church and the state enjoy an almost symbiotic relationship as the head of the monarchy also serves as the head of the Church of England.
Anglican Church of Kenya bishop Joseph Kagunda said the role of the church in governance has always been to guide and support the government. “If you look at the relationship between previous administrations and the church, they were consultative and involved the church providing advisory role and spiritual guidance to the government.
“And this is because it is the church that interacts more with the community and knows what they require,” said Mr Kagunda of the ACK diocese of Mt Kenya.
But even as evangelicals continue to express their support for the President, their decision has been criticised by a section of leaders, including those from mainstream churches. The dalliance between Dr Ruto and the evangelicals has also revived debates on the relationship between the church and the state.
Dr Bobby Mkangi, a constitutional lawyer and a former member of the Committee of Experts that drafted the Constitution, says the relationship between Dr Ruto and the church could cause a rift between him and other religions and faiths. He argues that Kenya, being a secular state, should treat all religions and faiths equally and the President, in his official capacity, should not prefer one religion to the other.
“Whereas the Constitution, in the Preamble, acknowledges God and even our National Anthem is a prayer, the state, as defined in Article 8, is secular. The institutional structures that make the state, including the presidency, must strive to treat all religions and faiths equally,” he said.
The evangelicals, however, differ, arguing that their relationship with the government and the state is not a new phenomenon. “Some have said politics is a dirty game. If that is the case, then the church should be involved to help clean it up. The church should not be segregated in any manner as far as I am concerned,” Mr Kariuki said.