Role of the Church in our crisis
By REV. FRANCIS OMONDI, Anglican Church of Kenya
In our crisis like no other, conspicuously missing has been the impact of the Church leaders. They have neither helped us in averting the gridlock we found ourselves in nor in negotiating us through this strait. It was obvious that prior to the elections the church was not been spared the division that is now strangling the country. Two weeks ago the former Anglican Archbishop David Gitari lamented at the current crop of church leaders losing their sting and rightly states that the church should have been neutral to reconcile the society.
“The Church is a reconciler and a reconciler does not takes sides unless he is completely sure the side he is taking is the right one,” Gitari says.
The absence of any church leader in the current mediation talks is a huge indictment to what has become of the once powerful voice, a voice that change the direction of our land, a voice in behalf of the oppressed and poor. Prophetic voice that shielded this country from chaos since people heard it as the voice of God. Should the church have been forthright on issues of injustice and tribalism that plagued the country and sought for solutions? Should she have been truthful nay forthright, about the just concluded elections?
I labor to find the answer to why the call for reconciliation, forgiveness or peace goes un-headed? More churches have been burnt after the infamous Eldoret one. The death toll has sharply risen with more homes burnt and the IDPs swelling daily despite passionate pleas from pulpits. Attempts to hold our flock from engaging in violence and taking the laws in their own hands have been un-heeded. We have seen Christians kill their own brothers and sisters obviously the flock are not following or wanting the peace that we offer.
I doubt that God would not have said these very words to the church today as he said in the days of Jeremiah
They have healed the wounds of my people, saying Peace, Peace when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination no, they were not at all ashamed, they did not know how to blush…. Jer. 6: 14 cf
In this chapter God is engaging Jeremiah in a dialogue, asking him to resume his search for a godly man ; “ .. ensure that good person is not missed .” to which the prophet states that there is no use, for the people are totally corrupt, and like their hearts their ears are closed . God responds in pouring out his wrath to all since all are guilty, none are more guilty than the religious leaders – the priest and the prophets and the people they lead.
There are three elements in the indictment of the priests the prophets and the people that appears congruent to our situation today that has robbed us of our knave to cut when we should:
- There is greed for unjust gain [v13a] they are money mad.
Even politicians knew that to get church leaders to be on their side money had to flow and it did. The hope also to get favors kept some from standing.
- There is a spirit of superficial optimism [v.14]- this is especially encouraged by traffickers in peace-oracles .
The nation is suffering from a deadly disease, yet no skilled surgery is being used, – only baseless assurances. The popular religious leaders are applying a soothing salve to the surface of the skin whereas underneath the surface a fatal cancer is at work. They shout in effect “it’s all right!” when it isn’t all right. Tribalism not only ravaged the nation it did the church as much. The politicians knew where to get the church leaders, not on their doctrinal positions but the tribe!
- There is a lack of shame in the presence of sins committed.
They have lost their ability to blush. Nothing shocks them or shakes them up in their self-righteousness, they claim ‘there is nothing wrong with us’. For this reason the weight to get the country has been put heavily on political and civil leaders while we pray.
And so they then faced God’s wrath as we must suffer punishment because we have missed our reason for existence:
The church exists as a community, servant and a messenger of the reign of God in the midst of other kingdoms, communities and powers that attempt to shape our understanding of reality according to Darrell L. Guder. The world of these kingdoms communities and powers often opposes, ignores or has other priorities than the missional church, which is apostle – sent out on behalf of the reign of God.
Which is why Darrell hints that, we exist as an eclectic community, one made up of multiple ethnic communities[ ones that are warring now], with huge inequalities and of multiple diversities but a community gathered by Christ who alone determines who belongs .We are gathered to be servants of his reign and his kingdom in the mix of other kingdoms in this world. His kingdom represents good news for the poor, liberty to the oppressed and freedom to the bond. This surely will stand against kingdoms driven by greed leaving in its wake oppression, bondage and poverty.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer eloquently says, the Church is the church only when it exists for others: and not for its leadership or ideals and traditions. In particular our church will have to take the field against the vise of tribalism, power-worship, greed for money as the root of all evil.
Do we then elevate the church to be the prefect of the state? No at all! The church has no right to appropriate to itself power over the state, though it may not keep out of politics, as others have stated, if the state abrogates basic human rights. In this instance three possibilities are clear:
- it can ask the state whether it’s actions are legitimate and in accordance with it’s character as state. By this, it can throw the state back on its responsibility.
And this has been eloquently followed method in this country that led to huge gains of democratic space and liberties that graced our land with peace. This is the persuasion that made The Reverend Njoya wax bold lighting the fire in a 1990 New Year sermon, drawing from events emerging in Eastern Europe linked the transformation in Eastern Europe to the increased demands by Kenyans for more accountability in Government. Speaking at St Andrew’s Church, Nairobi, he reviewed
the events that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and resulted in the collapse of socialism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He argued that such yearning for freedom was not any different from what was going on in Kenya.
- it can aid the victims of the state actions. The church has an unconditional obligation to take care of any victim of any ordering of society even if they do not belong to the Christian faith.
Here many have understood the role of the church and have been on the fore-front in aiding the victims of this disaster as the church stood strong on occasions when famine or floods hit the country last year.
- it can put a spoke in the wheel itself. It must be prepared for political resistance. The Burmese monks led the country against the dreaded military junta to the point that the junta agreed to hold talks with the opposition leader to bring democracy to their country. The monks paid heavily in the hands of the brutal military and led their flock from the front.
Are the many poor people streaming to the streets in protest without shepherds in the church leadership? Could it be that their aspirations and clamour for justice not shared with the church or it’s leaders? Where is the authority of the church that will make the kings bow? In their crisis Martin L. King led his people in protest march and earned himself a place in jail and history. This is the church leadership we need in our crisis.