God created us in His own image and gave us power over all the creatures of the earth, water, and air. He gave us the earth. And if we are His image, then we represent Him. We should bring His values to bear on society. The best way to model these values is to teach them and speak out whenever others go against them. We should stand up and defend what we believe is right, and to lead this should be faith leaders and their institutions.
In an environment engulfed in corruption, (Transparency International (2017) scores Kenya at 28/100, ranking 143 out of 180 countries), we don’t expect our religious leaders to be immune to the guilty pleasures of this social evil. Just like the political class, they have fallen short of our assumptions and expectations. It beats logic how our religious communities fail to see this, or maybe they just shy away from asking questions, for the fear of being victimized. For the sake of transparency and accountability, we all need to get out of our comfort zones and do the unimaginable; do more than just interrogating the use of funds in these organizations.
I would have loved to talk about all the religions, but I don’t know much about Islam and the Quran. And since Kenya is largely a Christian country, allow me to base my arguments on Christianity.
As we struggle to move to a middle-income economy, the Gospel of prosperity has taken over our churches. Summons revolve around ‘generous giving’. Summons titles would be like, “The Grace of Giving”, “The Glory of Giving”, “The Power of Giving”, “Tithe for Prosperity” and many more. And yet it is not giving to the poor or the disadvantaged members of the society, it is giving to the church leaders. Some of these leaders are not even ashamed to demand that their congregation buy them a good car or build them a house.
I know the Jicho Pevu expose is still fresh in our minds. The coached testimonies and the fake healing remember? That was an outright extortion! And yet Salvation Healing Ministry Church still continues with ministering to its faithful. What’s more, such incidents are now virtually in every church. We watch the Kenyan televangelists, and their fake healing and some are just too much for me. I heard the former MP of Starehe Bishop Margeret Wanjiru say that you can’t preach the gospel without preaching healing. So according to the church leaders, healing and gospel are intertwined like seismic twins. But my theory is different, healing is the churches’ greatest allure. It is a marketing strategy to attract more people to sacred giving.
After all, the “Panda Mbegu” gospel seems to be paying dividends to most of these evangelical churches. The latest audit report reveals that at least five religious institutions in the country are now in the Tax man’s list of top taxpayers in the country. Christ Is The Answer, commonly known as CITAM, is at the top faith-based organization income tax contributor to Kenya Revenue Authority, generating an income of KSh 1.83 billion in 2017. This is a 22% jump from the previous year’s KSh 1.5 billion. The church is head and shoulders above the giant Catholic Church, which did not make it in the top five yet it is believed to have the largest following across the country. Mavuno Church, Nairobi Chapel, All Saints Cathedral and Nairobi Baptist Church complete the top five.
Last weekend, the son of the famous “pastor” Pius Muiru, now a bishop, wed. Not even the wedding of Jomo the son of the president, or that of Bongo’s finest Alikiba, couldn’t match it. From top-of-range-vehicles to choppers. And it seems, our church leaders live the most lavish lifestyle out there that can only be rivaled by drug barons and politicians. They drive the most expensive cars in this country. Last Christmas holiday saw Bishop Allan Kiuna of the Jubilee Christian Church, on a holiday in Australia, proudly flaunt his material wealth. In an interview with The Star, he said Jesus wasn’t poor.
Kenyan congregations are often asked to give money to the church without questioning how it is used, for once it is dropped in the offering plate, it is God’s money and therefore faithful should trust it will be used God’s work.
You’ll agree with me that most of the churches in Kenya are owned by families. If the man is the founder, he becomes the bishop and the wife is also given some big title in the same church. His children also join the church’s leadership hierarchy. This is outright nepotism. And the talk that money will be used in God’s work is hogwash, the money is the pastor’s income.
Nevertheless, there are good churches out there. They are churches with systems, they are not linked to a person or family. Such churches include the Catholic Church, Presbyterian, Methodist, Orthodox, and Anglican. These are churches has a worldwide following and a central management unit. It is very difficult for leaders in such churches to misbehave openly without serious repercussions.
We’ve seen how Anglican and Catholic have taken the government to task on different occasions. The tetanus jab is still a case that is out there pitting the Catholic Church and the government, and the Anglican, through its Bishop Ole Sapit, was on the forefront calling for dialogue between the government and the opposition in the wake of the chaotic 2017 elections.
Why Religious Leaders Have Failed in the Fight Against Impunity
As bad as these churches are, we still expect them to poke holes in governance. Impossible, how would they do it?
Hardly a Single Sunday passes without the news capturing a fundraising event at a church. In these fundraising events, our political leaders and their peers donate millions of shillings, whose sources we don’t know. It is possible that the monumental buildings that house these churches have been built by loots from the public coffers, and proceeds of illicit trades and drug trafficking.
There’s absolutely no way you would expect a bishop whose home was built by a certain politician to stand up against that same politician. You don’t expect these religious leaders, who at their churches have their wives and kids hold plum church positions, to talk about tribalism and nepotism in the public sector.
You shouldn’t expect religious leaders to question how public funds are used when themselves are not accountable to their congregations.
Don’t expect them to ever stand up against land grabbing when they are part of that game. Most churches in Kenya are built on lands whose acquisitions are shoddy. Some churches are built on lands that were meant for schools.
Religious institutions and their leaders still command a high rank in the Kenyan society. We hold these leaders to high standards of morals and ethics, in the belief that they operate from religious principles. We, in turn, expect them to lead us in the moral front.
Religious ethics means well for all of us. The ethics have the potential to inculcate values in a generation. These churches also have the ability to ask for fiscal accountability across sectors. However, it is obvious most churches have abandoned moral codes for the prosperity gospel.