Church & African State

Church & African State

Kenyan John Cardinal Njue is leading a national boycott of taxes.
The conflict between church and state is an abrasive one in the U.S. as it is in Africa. But even as in Kenya when the church is on the right side, it doesn’t belong in the room.

The nearly three centuries of western religious involvement in Africa has had mixed success. There have definitely been periods where religious activism has helped Africa develop, but in the main I think it has had a negative net effect.

And today in Kenya, Christian activism threatens the finely tuned and arduously developed political movements that are otherwise directing Kenyan society down the right path.

This is such a touchy subject that I feel before explaining the previous statement, I need to highlight the good work that has been done by Christian activism.

Outstanding clerics like South Africa’s Desmond Tutu and Nigerian Cardinal Ekandem played sometimes pivotal roles in the peaceful developments of their societies. And during troubled times, such as Kenya’s 1990 street riots, the churches not only offered sanctuary but sanity to a disturbed society.

I don’t believe that Liberia could have survived as it did resulting in the promising situation found there today without a bevy of Christian religious leaders shoring up the little of sane society that was left after Charles Taylor was forced out.

But right now Christian activism is dangerously far too politicized in Africa, and Kenya provides the best example.

Kenya is holding a referendum for a new constitution in August. This is the end of a lengthy process of reconciliation between two warring political factions which caused the violence that followed the December, 2007, elections.

Those elections were so close, and certainly now proved so fraudulent (on both sides), that a clear winner couldn’t be determined. The slums of Nairobi erupted, and violence overtook much of the country. By the time the smoke settled more than 1300 people had been killed, and more than 150,000 displaced.

But credit to those in charge with serious help from Kofi Annan, Britain and America, the two factions formed a coalition government that works well, today. And part of the agreement required that a new constitution be adopted, which at its core would better regulate and adjudicate elections in the future.

That constitution will certainly pass. The process by which it was written was often tortuous but mostly transparent, and every segment of the Kenyan population contributed.

And now, the Christian church coalition opposes the constitution. And this is not just a tacit opposition, but an aggressive one. Every Sunday pulpit has a ranting cleric telling its parishioners to vote NO.

No matter that a NO vote will disintegrate Kenya. The church is opposed to a section – a small section in the constitution that allows for abortion in certain life-threatening situations. (And secondarily, it is opposed to the establishment of Mahdi courts, Islamic courts, for civil cases in Islamic areas, and when requested by all the litigants.)

Like the American right – which is openly and actively funding the church campaign against the constitution – there is little interest in the wider and much more profound issues like executive power and taxes. They cling to this one moral issue as paramount. Paramount to destruction.

And today, the church announced it would organize the country to not pay taxes, if the current legislature raises its salaries.

Now believe me, the move by the current legislature to raise salaries is patently wrong. The country like the rest of the world is in recession and piling up debt. The new constitution, if passed, will disallow legislatures to set their own salaries as they do, now.

And the current Finance Minister, who must approve by integration the bill in the legislature into his overall budget, appears dead set against doing so. In that regards, it’s a mute issue.

But the churches are ringing the church bells in opposition – what could be properly described as unnecessary opposition.

Church involvement in Kenya is not just irritating because of the positions taken. Recently, a coalition of more than 100 Christian organizations, the Micah Network, announced ”a strong statement that the church has no option but to be fully involved in making a difference to reduce carbon emissions and the impact of climate change on particularly the poor and disadvantaged” and “particularly to be lobbying governments to implement legislation to reduce carbon emissions.”
– (Summarized in a blog published by A Rocha Kenya on July 31.)

Wow. I totally agree. Well, I mean with the thing about climate change.

But NOT when it is framed as a Christian (religious) issue, as was elaborately done here. To embrace this methodology would suggest that unless something has a Christian stamp of approval, it’s not vetted enough, not sufficient to become public policy.

So it’s not just a matter of issue: abortion, on the one hand, or climate change, on the other. Christian organizations have every right to support or oppose public policy, but it is dangerous when that position includes “lobbying governments.”

Government is always acts of compromise. Religion is just the reverse. I’m hardly the first to suggest the two should be separated.