When Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko took to the pulpit on Sunday during Cotu’s Labour Day prayers at St Stephen’s Church in Nairobi, he started off with a warning to politicians that they should keep politics out of church.
But no sooner had he finished his statement than he embarked on an embarrassing political rant punctuated with insults and received with cheers and jeers by the congregation.
He was not alone. Around the country, politicians took to the pulpit last Sunday to spew politics, fundraise, and, in extreme cases, castigate senior clerics for suggesting that pastors and priests stop hobnobbing with the political class.
That the Kenyan Church has been turned into a citadel of vice, where congregants are treated to weekly political drama is not for debate, but what is worrying observers is why nobody seems eager to stop the politicians, who appear to have been re-energised by the attempts to cleanse the Church.
In Bomet County, Bomet Central MP Ronald Tonui accused the head of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit, of engaging in doublespeak by banning monetary contributions from some politicians while continuing to receive the same from others.
“At the weekend, we all witnessed the Anglican Church hosting a section of politicians, some of whom are known for running down institutions while others are accused of drug trafficking, theft of public funds, land grabbing and all manner of ills,” Mr Tonui said.
“When the Church leadership says it would not receive money and other forms of support, then a few days later goes ahead to host and receive donations from leaders of questionable character, is that not doublespeak?”
His was an act of defiance that was replicated by several legislators around the country, all of whom vowed to continue dishing out money to the Church. They include Ms Catherine Waruguru (Laikipia Woman Representative), Mr Oscar Sudi (Kapseret), Mr Caleb Kositany (Soy), Mr Robert Pukose (Endebess), Mr Swarup Mishra (Kesses), Ms Aisha Jumwa (Malindi) and Mr Hillary Kosgey (Kipkelion West).
Speaking in Cherangany during a funds drive for 15 local churches, they said those not ready to support the Church should ‘shut up’. “The money we’re donating to the Church is clean, and if you fight the Church you are lost,” Mr Sudi said.
Anglican clerics from Mt Kenya region were the first to openly defy their head, Archbishop Sapit. They were soon followed by the evangelicals, under the umbrella of Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, who said it was unfortunate the matter has been politicised yet politicians have played a huge role in the development of many churches.
Bishop Kepha Omae, presiding Bishop of the Redeemed Gospel Church, said churches should not be blamed in any way when they accept politicians’ contributions. He noted that they had no mechanism to determine whether the money received from politicians consists of proceeds of corruption.
“We have no right to ask you where you get your money,” said Bishop Omae in Huruma, Nairobi, last week.
“Let us not politicise the issue as politicians have helped build many churches in the country. Do we ask our congregants where they got their money when they pay tithes and even give offerings?”
The current storm was kicked up by Archbishop Sapit, who earlier this month advised that the Church should be left to the clergy and politicians kept away.
“Let us not allow harambee money to become a way to sanitise corrupt leaders,” the Archbishop said. “Let us learn to worship God with our resources quietly and not hide behind harambees and guests of honour, because that is where we go wrong.”
There is a reason why these views are not popular with some clergy. For long, the line between Church and politics has been thin and, in some cases, completely blurred.
For instance, the ACK’s assistant bishop for Mt Kenya South Diocese, Mr Charles Muturi, who is aspiring to replace retiring Bishop Timothy Ranji, has not only declared support for Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 candidature, but also said there is nothing wrong with politicians dishing out their money to the Church.
During a fundraiser at Mary Leakey Girls’ High School in Kabete, Kiambu County, which was presided over by the DP in March, Mr Muturi promised to use his position to rally believers in his diocese behind Mr Ruto. He also defended contributions by politicians.
“Which is better: to contribute to the Church or to contribute to casinos? Which is better, to build schools or fund other useless things?” Mr Muturi posed.
On Sunday, Bishop Timothy Gichere of the ACK Mt Kenya Central diocese criticised leaders who have been castigating churches for accepting donations from politicians. He said they will continue receiving the money until the courts declare such leaders corrupt.
“We’re not here to rebuke and label people as corrupt,” Bishop Gichere said. adding, “that is the obligation of the courts.”
Similar views were expressed by church leaders from elsewhere.
In Maseno, ACK Bishop Charles Anginjo and his Episcopal Church counterpart Joshua Koyo said churches have development projects that need funding, and that there is no reason to reject politicians’ money.
Reporting by Gerald Bwisa, Vitalis Kimutai and Eric Wainaina