Church: Shun the Ostrich Mentality!

Published on 20th September 2005

“As one person said, the church in Kenya is one mile wide and one inch deep. It is so widely spread but has no depth,” remarks Moses Kibe in “The State of the Church in Kenya.” A great percentage of Kenyans are Christians. However, their impact and effect in everyday social life has not been felt.

A familiar remark, which has become almost a parrot-cry, is “Don’t mix religion with politics”.  It is a remark which is made when a particular political, social or economic fact of life is criticized as being inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians understand it.  Politicians will utter that cry if someone said it is unchristian to neglect the development of rural areas. 

If the church demonstrates a concern for the victims of neglect or exploitation or denounces the widening gap between the very few who are extremely rich and the vast majority who are poor and landless, then it will be accused of meddling in affairs it knows little about. If it says that giving parliamentarians automatic chairmanship of the Constituency Development Funds will propagate nepotism and deny an ordinary citizen the democratic right to choose representatives it will be accused. How can legislators be both implementers and auditors of the fund? Criticism will reach crescendo proportions from beneficiaries of the status quo if the church does not merely provide an ameliorative ambulance service – but exposes the root of the malady, namely: corruption, and lack of a just, democratic, participatory, inclusive and sustainable society whose members share in crucial decision-making about the issues that are important for their lives such as constitutionalism and constitution making. It is strange that this happens only when a particular social, political and economic policy is denounced as being unchristian or unjust.

The church has to cut across all divides. Abortion is an illegal, immoral and a shameful act against humanity. We believe in the sanctity of life, life from conception in the womb until death by natural causes. The fetus in the womb should thus be respected. Life comes from God and nobody should take it away. Can we afford to be silent? The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a reality in our midst. We are either infected or affected and are duty bound to give spiritual and social guidance to all. The fact that over 80% of HIV/AIDS cases result from sexual intercourse implies that our concerted effort in addressing sexuality issues is paramount. The Church is duty bound to teach, exemplify and promote biblical social morality. We encourage abstinence for unmarried and fidelity in marriage. The age group at risk is the most economically and sexually active. The much awaited for Anti-retroviral drugs remain out of reach to almost over 95% of those who desperately need them. If attractive investment climates are enforced, such drugs will be cheap. Can we remain silent and not vouch for efforts to search for life prolonging medicines? The big fight must however concentrate on informing people to change their sexual behavior.

Who thinks that religion does not have a bearing on what happens in politics?  Those who have a misconceived doctrine of reconciliation and want to avoid confrontation at all costs. They speak about a neutral God in situations of conflicts, oppression and exploitation and say that God does not take sides. Consequently, they believe, the church should not take sides, but be somewhere in the middle.  They present reconciliation as an easy option for Christians, and speak about the need to be forgiving, especially to the victims of injustice, without making a call for repentance by the perpetrators of injustice. Reconciliation is neither an easy option or road to travel, nor does it rule out confrontation. The Calvary Cross of Jesus Christ exposed the sinfulness of sin when he took on the powers of evil and routed them comprehensively. Just as there can be no cheap grace, so there can be no cheap reconciliation. We cannot cry, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace. 

What do scriptures say about liberation? That God is concerned about the individual situation only, and has no interest in the redemption of the social-political and economic environment in which individuals live?  That the world is religiously and ethically neutral and of no consequence to salvation and the final consummation of all things? That what happens in the market place, court room, and parliament  for example, is of no particular religious significance? Is God confined to the sacred sphere of the ecclesiastical? Doesn’t God care about the plight of the hungry, disposed, voiceless, and powerless?  When two persons are engaged in a conflict and one of them is considerably stronger than the other, to be neutral is not just and fair. Neutrality in this case is to side with the powerful. If the rural and urban poor are to experience real and lasting change, factors to be addressed include:

  • The state, the church and the private sector intensifying their efforts to meet the challenges in socio-political, cultural and economic spheres.
  •  Conflict situations, insufficient infrastructures, resource shortages and cultural attitudes and practices all present obstacles to achievement of development. These obstacles must be jointly addressed.
  • Moving the rural and urban poor issues up the political agenda and increasing their representation in positions of power and decision making is crucial.
  • Creating an environment where the rural and urban poor can exercise control over their basic human rights.
  • Eliminating harmful and retrogressive cultural and traditional practices.
  • Legalizing and enforcing a non-discriminatory legal framework that grants property rights, ownership and protection to all people.
  •  Abolition of half hearted and stop-gap approach to policymaking and reforms.
  •  Reforming of the Public Sector through making it more efficient, investor friendly and thus promote a private sector led growth.
  •  Eradicating the discriminatory credit environment experienced by the rural and urban poor especially women in accessing loans and credit so that they can establish income generating projects and small-scale businesses.

Grassroots church leadership must actively be involved in issues of social-political, economic and cultural transformation.  Based on this primary grassroots experience, the church and the state should identify initiatives and actions that need to be employed by governments, faith-based organizations, NGOs and the private sector if significant progress is to be achieved.

“There is nothing wrong with churches involving themselves in political activities, and indeed, sometimes religious people must enter political battles out of moral obligation. But the church’s mission should not be relegated to the role of the lobbyist; that deprives the church of the spiritual nourishment that comes with actually performing acts of mercy. Political activity also implies a moral obligation to be informed about the economics and the consequences of certain kinds of statist policies,” says Father Robert Sirico in A Moral Basis for Liberty.

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