By Blamuel Njururi, Kenya Confidential Editor-in-Chief, Nairobi – August 13, 2017
The fight for sound leadership for prosperity should recognize that morality and justice is not confined to one party and that even if you’re correct, your actions can still be harmful
It’s been said that a pastor should preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. This becomes difficult when the news is so political and contentious. But increasingly pastors are now able to preach with iPads and smartphones combining access to online Bible and newspapers.
Even in a normal election year, the vast majority of pastors and religious leaders try to stay away from politics. There are certainly some who were unflinching in their support or opposition to the new president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta, but most pastors knew that their congregations would have both Jubilee and NASA/ODM in attendance. Preaching directly about political preferences is a quick way to offend someone.
Now here we are after the most successful and transparent election. Ethnic hate crimes are rising; violent misogyny has become routine; education (or the lack of it) divides citizens as partisans; media organizations can track neither our lies nor our leaks; politicians proudly vow not to respect judicial avenues. A State Counsel and Senator dismisses Supreme Court as not an option for electoral dispute resolution.
This Sunday we take on post-election events head-on. My sermon is directed at Christians. There will be some language that those who are not Christian will find wrong or offensive. Still, I believe that there is a lot of wisdom that others, religious or not, will find useful.
I start with a video clip by Africa’s everlasting political icon Nelson Mandela on political virtues that define good leadership qualities. He emphasizes that humility is one of the most important quality one must have.
This fight for sound leadership for prosperity should recognize that morality and justice is not confined to one party and that even if you’re correct, your actions can still be harmful. In that vein, let me say this: if this sermon helps, then use it. If it doesn’t, then I hope you find insight elsewhere. We could all use more wisdom to help us understand how to live better in this difficult time of political transition.
The past week will be a week to remember. Many haven’t really had the time to digest it all or make sense of its meaning. That may take months though, not days. So if any of you still feel at a bit of a loss, remember, it’s only been days. It’s OK to not know what happened, where our country is at and what lays ahead of us.
It’s OK to be fearful and anxious
It’s alright to be fearful and anxious. Sometimes our gut, our emotions are telling us something we can be attentive to. Sometimes the fear comes from a real source and it becomes important to be aware of that and be able to respond accordingly. There is nothing wrong with fear, if we are getting accurate information from the fear.
The kind of fear we want to move beyond is immobilizing fear, the traumatic kind that freezes us so we can’t get on with the business of life, and the business of moving ourselves and transforming our world. And some people are there, they are ready to take on this world to transform it. But some people are not there. They are mired in pursuit of personal gain politically and commercially in life.
Unfortunately there is no set timetable that we can impose on others, when it comes to the cycle of emotional grief triggered by loss – even in a football match. Resist imposing a timetable on yourself or others. The stages of grief will unfold for folks; it doesn’t have to be pushed. Reality eventually overcomes emotional grief.
What I want to do today in this sermon is to give us some theological language to get a hold of what we are seeing and facing now and in the years ahead. The first thing, which the sermon title asks, is this: where was God in this election?
It is possible to affirm that God was not in the election campaign by some leaders. That is, to the degree that campaigns were based on hatred, based on claims that dehumanized rival leaders as thieves, liars and non-performers, the poor were entertained to episodes of how miserably they lived. From tongues of some politicians God was not there. This is because God is only to be found in what connects us to one another.
God is to be found in what builds up the dignity of every person. God is found when the well-being of people are secured and when the ethnic walls that divide us crumble instead of being built up – with claims of exclusive 2-tribe government. Kenyans must dissolve the super glue that blocks their tongues and brains from exposing the thick layers of corruption eating into our social fabric.
That is not a partisan statement. I think we might have the tendency to avoid this language because we don’t want to make God a Democrat. And yes God is not a NASA/ODM or a Jubilee, nor is God even a any other party member or independent.
Kenya needs moral values re-armament campaigns
But this last election was not an ordinary election with ordinary candidates. Nor were the things said in this campaign ordinary. It represented two families feud dating back to Kenya’s independence in 1963. The disadvantaged were mocked, professionals were mocked, development projects vilified, lies were told in public rallies, foreign investors in agricultural sector were vilified as a threat not as our neighbours who have built and continue to build this country.
That is not of God. We should have the clarity and the language our religious tradition affords us to make this case. Because we know 85% of evangelicals, 70% of Catholics and almost two thirds of mainline Protestants did not vote for that. However, the church has failed to be a witness, it has failed to stand in solidarity with every group that was attacked in this season. That is, it has failed to be a witness to God’s love for all people, for the Kenyan Nation. Kenya needs moral values re-armament campaigns.
Our nation faces massive moral catastrophes, with corruption at the helm, which will require real sacrifices and struggles to address. We will overcome them only insofar as we are willing to speak honestly about the extent of our losses, the nature of our struggles, and who we have asked to endure them. I’m a journalist and not a scholar of religion; I don’t pretend to have answers to these questions.
But if there is anything the Christian churches should be well poised to offer in the wake of this election, it should be our willingness to look directly at loss, to speak frankly about death and despair. Not because we have solutions, not because we are winners or know how to win, but because we insist the losers matter. We worship a man put to death, remember.
So the progressive church has to play that role, to be that witness, and to challenge the church to take on the ministry of reconciliation that the apostle Paul charges us with. We’ll need all the resources of our Christian and Moslem traditions to do this. And we’ll have to be able to connect our language of God, Salvation, Reconciliation to a country that is deeply divided, deeply estranged from one another.
What are the first steps in this process?
Many of us will follow the news. Social media fake news will be great, even overwhelming. A sort of shock and awe of ethnic sentiments will be peddled. So I’m grateful for the work of progressive groups, including the Catholic Church Bishops, who holding our politicians and government to account if they commit an injustice against any person or group. Follow them on Facebook and online, donate to them, support them.
But as important as that is, there is a limit to that kind for response. For one, it can’t be our only response. Because if it is, the compounded losses of lives and destruction of property, that will hurt Kenyans and our motherland. We’ll soon discover an opposition that is constantly at odds with our desires, values and our priorities. That was demonstrated in the last government. It is actively being re-activated now.
But Kenyans must not lose a sense of patriotic responsibilities or develop a sense of helplessness. So I think other steps are needed. There is a distinction between what is in our power and what is not in our power. It’s an important distinction right now to ensure that we safeguard constitutional rights espoused in the new Constitution.
Kenyans must express the kind of solidarity that springs up when catastrophe strikes to deal with post-election destruction and misery provoked and driven by selfish intentions. What is it like, for instance, to hear national leaders constantly vilified by the opposition to incite ethnic hatred? Enough is enough. Kenya is for every one of us and those who endanger lives must be dealt with in accordance with the law.
No politician should get away with it. So when we think of personal acts as not expressing power, or not having an effect, especially as a national political figure or at governmental level, that’s not true. Current protests, demonstrators’ skirmishes with police and acts of arson are good examples of politicians fueling anarchy
When Paul wrote that line 3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. When the Gospel of Luke this says 21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. They were not thinking about the Roman Empire.
They were thinking, how can I live out the call of Jesus? What is within my power to do that indicates that the call of Jesus more than what any empire could say or do? That original imperative in the New Testament has that same power today. And it could change the world around you for a better, peaceful prosperous Kenya for us all.
I conclude with the video clip by Tanzanian evangelist John Mkeu who a week before the August 8th elections predicted Uhuru’s victory. There will be some you agree with; some you don’t. Regardless, it’s a sermon that reminds us that the election is not the end; it’s one point in history. Whatever your politics, you will need to keep fighting for what is right.