Are Kenyans notoriously religious? The answer is both yes and no. It is yes because poor people, which most Kenyans are, cling to religion. It is no because religion is not genetic.
But poverty explains why a majority of Kenyans are so devout. Even so, the Church has terribly misjudged the sway that it holds over its Kenyan flock. Kenyan Christians know that man does not live by the word of God alone.
That’s why, in a historic rebuke, they will defy the Church and vote overwhelmingly for the draft constitution. The vote could be a tsunami – a repudiation of the clergy – that irrevocably destroys the Church.
I will focus on two key clerics who are the faces of the No campaign. The first is John Cardinal Njue, the chairman of the Kenya Episcopal Conference.
He purports to speak for all Kenyan Catholics on issues moral and religious.
However, he has lately conflated – totally confused – his role as a religious guide with his rights as a citizen.
As a citizen, he can speak up on any political issue, but he cannot purport to order the Catholic faithful to take a political stand on any matter.
He can voice any political opinion as Mr Njue, but he is out of bounds when, as Cardinal Njue, he purports to dictate to Catholics how they must vote in the referendum.
Cardinal Njue must be careful to distinguish which of the two hats he is wearing when he speaks. His Cardinal hat is a spiritual one. He cannot wear that hat to enter the arena of politics. That’s why he must take off the Cardinal hat when he talks about the referendum.
He can oppose the referendum, and even lead the No campaign. But he cannot do so as a cardinal.
As a spiritual shepherd, he cannot use his leadership of the institution of the Catholic Church to deny Kenyans a new constitution. He must let his flock vote with their conscience on matters political.
He cannot behave as though Kenya is a theocracy in which he is the grand ayatollah. He must respect the fact that Kenya is a secular state inhabited by people of all faiths, including non-believers.
The other notorious face of the No campaign is Canon Peter Karanja, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya.
Canon Karanja has taken to talking like a religious potentate. No one denies that he sits at the head of one of the most powerful religious organisations.
But he is abusing the trust that Kenyans have placed on him. The NCCK boss sounds like the Taliban every time he opens his mouth.
He appears scornful and intolerant of any view that he disagrees with. He comes across as shrill and fundamentalist. His desperation is evident in his choice of words.
Why is he so deathly scared of kadhis’ courts and the small window permitted for abortion to save the life of a mother? Doesn’t he know that kadhis’ courts have always been with us?
Conscience of the flock
What surprises me about both John Cardinal Njue and Canon Karanja is their utter dismissal of the conscience of their flocks. Their dictates amount to nothing less than religious tyranny.
Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the draft constitution is likely to pass with more than a two-thirds vote, the Christian clergy is still hell-bent on shoving its will down the throats of Kenyans.
Cardinal Njue may be under instructions from the Vatican to fight to the very bitter end, but he does so at the peril of the church. Canon Karanja may have more wiggle room.
I urge him to listen to the voices of his congregation and take a step back. Both he and Cardinal Njue cannot be leaders if they have no followers.
I have a very strong suspicion that their hardline positions have already alienated the faithful. Why are they so determined to chase good Christians out of the Church?
I thought retired Anglican Archbishop David Gitari had it right when he said that Christians need to understand that Kenya’s legal system is Judeo-Christian in origin. That’s why kadhis’ courts should cause no ripples whatsoever.
In Kenya, both faiths have co-existed peacefully, even though Islam has been subordinate. Why stoke the embers of religious bigotry to upset the peace?
Do Cardinal Njue and Canon Karanja want a legacy of religious tension and suspicion? Why not live and let live? Isn’t that what democracy is all about?
I have a final word for the Church. If the country votes overwhelmingly to approve the draft constitution, the Church will have dug itself a hole too deep to climb out of.
The referendum could be the single event that destroys the Church. The Church cannot afford to lose more credibility given the paedophilia scandal – which is yet to hit Kenya – that has eroded its moral authority. Cardinal Njue and Canon Karanja must listen to their better angels.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.