The Rev David Githii was poised to be a “different leader” from the moment he became the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa on April 22, 2003.
From denouncing harambee, a motto used since 1963, to calling for the pulling down of Parliament for ‘satanic’ symbols in its premises, Kenyans will remember the Rev Dr Githii, who retired on Tuesday, as the controversial head of one of Kenya’s mainstream churches.
The clergyman denounced the word harambee as a word that referred to, in his words, an Indian goddess and warned that Kenya was disaster-prone because it worshipped the Hindu deity.
Upon taking over the leadership mantle from the Rev Dr Jesse Kamau six years ago, the new moderator announced that the PCEA method of worship would change to adopt that “more agreeable to the modern Christian community”.
The harambee motto came into usage in Kenya courtesy of the Indian coolies who built the Kenya-Uganda railway and would chant the phrase as they toiled.
The moderator’s call for the ban of harambee was not received well by a section of Kenyans, including the retired outspoken PCEA cleric Timothy Njoya, who launched a scathing attack on the church leader.
Dr Njoya, at that time, said the condemnation of the word smacked of racism and appealed to other leaders to work towards attracting members of other races and ethnic communities to the church.
“To say that we ban a word simply because it originates from another race is to say we don’t welcome members of that race into our church,” he said.
Dr Githii was also opposed to the inscriptions at Parliament Buildings and outside the High Court. He argued that “the two snakes at the entrance of Parliament, the huge Masonic star at the entrance of the High Court, the frogs and tortoise signs in the High Court must be demolished.”
The clergyman also extended his tussle into his church when he said some symbols in the church were related to Freemasons.
Some of the symbols at St Andrews Church in Nairobi, were destroyed in 2004 by church elders led by the moderator for their alleged links to devil worship.
A dispute over Freemasonry split the PCEA, leading to the removal of priceless historical fittings from its prayer houses.
Two factions were locked in an expensive and potentially destructive wrangle over symbols and artefacts used in the church for many years, but which critics linked to Freemasonry and demanded they be destroyed. The other faction saw nothing wrong with the symbols that had been in the church for decades.
At least 30 stained glass windows and metal grilles, more than a century old, were removed from St Andrews Church – the main seat of the PCEA – and destroyed by supporters of one faction, who claimed the designs were similar to symbols used by Freemasons.
Police had to intervene more than once to quell confrontations between the two factions at St Andrews, whose members include prominent Kenyan businessmen and politicians. The 62-year-old clergyman will also be remembered for his strong opposition to ordination of gay priests by the Anglican Church in the West.
He warned Americans practising homosexuality that they were “doomed to hell”. The Rev Dr Githii warned that just as God refused to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from fire, He would not spare homosexuals and those defending the act.
At the height of post-election crisis last year, the church leader criticised Western countries for trying to prescribe a solution to political crisis in Kenya as Mr Kofi Annan mediation efforts were under way at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi.
The preacherman said despite the country being a sovereign state, some Western nations “had not let go the country from their hearts and minds”. He said a solution to the crisis should come from Kenyans and not through pressure from foreigners.
The Rev Dr Githii warned that the Annan-led mediation team would fail for having excluded religious leaders.
And at a rally in Molo early last year, the moderator said the deal signed by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga would not last because it had been rushed.
He said most negotiators were by-passed and only came to know about the details during the signing ceremony.
“The danger lurking ahead is that some of the key players in the talks from both sides appear not to be comfortable with the agreement as they were not fully involved as they had been in the past,” he said.
Critics say the clergyman was not sincere on how he carried out and managed the operations of the PCEA.The Rev Dr Githii was later quoted saying the targeted symbols and designs that had been in the PCEA churches for more than a century were simple Scottish internal decor engravings and patterns on stained glass windows with links to Freemasonry but not necessarily satanic.
One of the moderator’s last bans was feasting at funerals and burial meetings. Before that, he had also banned the viewing of bodies in churches and at graveyards, arguing that this contributed to more anguish to the bereaved. Currently, members of the church view bodies at mortuaries after which a coffin’s lid is securely nailed.
A few years ago the moderator released a revised edition of a book on his pet topic of satanism. The book, Exposing and Conquering Satanic Forces over Kenya, is published by Fragrancia Books.
It addresses topics like witchcraft, what various symbols mean in the satanic realm, how Kenya is held captive by idolatry and why national repentance is necessary for the country.
The Rev Dr Githii was succeeded by the Rev David Gathanju who became the 19th moderator of PCEA on Tuesday.