Reverend Sammy Wainaina has caused quite a buzz since delivering his Sunday sermon that spoke to current political affairs in the country. A move that has been termed bold and refreshing considering the church’s tainted reputation in recent times as being complacent in the conversation on bad governance.
While he is lauded as brave for speaking truth to power, some Kenyans are of the view that the church should stay out of the business of politics. But how can an institution with so much reach and influence be blind to something that has direct and serious implications on the day-to-day lives of its congregation? The church has a unique and integral role in shaping politics in Kenya and the world over, whether it’s by action, inaction or simple complacency. Unbeknownst to Rev Wainaina, he may have reignited the conversation on civic education in such religious gatherings, something that has been minimal in recent times.
Globally, the church has played a key role in nations’ politics. As it was witnessed in the recently concluded American elections, popular evangelists came out to show their support to former President Donald Trump. While such bold support of a rather controversial leader is not openly seen in our context, in the name of neutrality, churches in Kenya have offered a platform for politicians to sell their agenda. Politicians have previously taken to pulpits to attack their rivals’ and used the church as a means to display their “philanthropy” through generous donations.
Though he hasn’t been the first, Rev. Wainaina went ahead to ban any politicians from speaking in the church he leads. Such a move is not only wise but necessary considering that the nation is heading into what’s expected to be a highly contested election period. The reverend’s civic education moment is indeed rare in recent times though not unique in the history of Kenyan politics.
In the 1980s and 90s, one Reverend Timothy Njoya was known for being one of the church leaders who publicly spoke and protested against the autocracy and brutality of the then President Daniel arap Moi. Reverend Njoya used his sermons to call for the reintroduction of multiparty democracy and strongly defended the freedom of expression and association as enshrined in the old Constitution. He endured several arrests and faced condemnation from the church leadership. He is also remembered for being one of the people that led the Saba Saba multiparty demonstrations on July 7th 1990 that forced the repressive Moi regime to allow the re-introduction of multi-party state.
Indeed, the church’s role cannot be understated especially when the country is headed into an election year. It is not enough to preach the gospel of forgiveness and moving on from the past. In fact, such teachings cannot be held in isolation while neglecting the aspect of accountability. Keeping in mind Kenya’s volatile election history, it is necessary for religious leaders to intervene and objectively educate their masses on their rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
It will be remembered that Jesus Christ drove out traders who turned the church into a marketplace, exchanging money for cattle, sheep and doves. How different then is the modern-day church that gives audience to politicians who desecrate the pulpit in exchange for their generous donations? The time has come for the church and people of all other faiths to speak truth to power.