In keeping with our national tradition we have become a reactionary country, time and again the state has not â€œdisappointedâ€ in its endeavor to come out with regulatory framework whenever an issue arises. In an effort to add the volume of our statute books the Attorney General in his wisdom has seen it fit to introduce legislation to try and curb the spread of the televangelists and their supposed machinations to steal from the viewers and listeners. Now, not too long ago after the â€œseed pastorsâ€ saga I argued in this forum that the Kanyarisâ€™ of this world â€œepitomizes what has become of our societyâ€ they have become â€œthe personification of what is wrong with all of us as a societyâ€ and in that article I was compelled to make a case that we like to â€œhide behind our veiled holier than thou professions, businesses, mannerism, attitudes and familiesâ€ while in essence we continue to be consumed by the doctrine of materialism that have allowed us to ride on the backs of the poor, orphans, widows and the illiterate.
Coming back to our issue of church regulation, at the core of the current circus is whether the Kenyan government can regulate the â€œchurchâ€. The simple answer is yes and it should. However, the essence of regulating the â€œchurchâ€ as understood lies in a long held principle of the separation of church and state. The famous third president of the United States of America Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association noted that religion is a matter between man and God and as such no government can legislate to limit this freedom of worship. In other words the state has no business in establishing a state religion. This is the narrow sense of defining the separation but in reality the church and state are interdependent and in some countries like Britain and Denmark have constitutionally recognized state religion while others like India have clear prohibition.
In Kenya, churches are registered under the Societies Act (Act No. 4 of 1968, Act No. 10 of 1997). Like any other societies or organization there are provisions that guide it as an association of members of the Kenyan society. I guess the broader question is whether we can be able to regulate individual conscience or what you might call the spiritual realm. Historically, wars have been fought and debates tabled and general principles seem to have been reached on what is acceptable or not acceptable even though in some societies this has been put in their constitutions or the general cultural practice. In Kenya there is always a thin line where the state ends and the religion starts but over the years we seem to have accepted a marsh-up, so it is not surprising that our leaders are sworn into office or take oath of office with a Bible or the Koran if they chose to do so and this as a public gesture goes to indicate the religious tolerance.
Why is the kerfuffle now? The recent explosion and mushrooming of tent ministries that have bought every airwave available seem to have informed the recent â€œencroachmentâ€ of the spiritual realm by the state. The government has to step to protect and defend the weak. The traditional meaning of the church seems to have metamorphosed to commercial enterprises. This growing cults for they are not churches since at the center of their existence is the worship of the leaders as demigods through perversion of the Christian religion in what we may call organized heresy by making the leader the object and demanding obedience rather than understanding, have devised ways and means to attract the distance â€œflockâ€ through the media. They have capitalized on the long tested marketing strategy of targeting the weak points, that is, peopleâ€™s emotions and insecurities. Human beings in general are religious and the thirst for the supreme being is innate, hence, these conmen dwell on the susceptibility of those who truly wish to serve God and by hiding their true intentions behind the cloak of religion they have become like vending machines that sell false hope in return for cash through M-pesa.
The call for theologically trained men of the cloth in my view is a sensible requirement not in the government eyes but for a regular Christian who would like to attend the Sunday service and drink from a pulpit that is sound and firm in the Christian doctrine. The argument that God calls you from the shamba and you pick the Bible and interpret on the go is simplistic. Historically, the true meaning of education was within the Church, even in Judaism the men of God were the most educated in the matters of the law. Do not be deceived Jesus Apostles were under the tutorage of the Master Himself for not less than three years while Saul and later Paul of the road to Damascus was a man well informed in the matters law.
Traditionally for over a thousand years after the emergence of Christianity the Bible and by extension preaching was taught within the institution of the Church. You did not wake up and ordain yourself as the servant in the altar. Christian traditions and doctrines required you not to be a heretic and that meant preaching and proclaiming the Truth and nothing but the Truth. The sprawling of the modern day street preachers has its genesis in the enlightenment period to which even the proponents of the doctrine of the Bible and the Bible alone had not foreseen the distortion of the Bible teachings that we witness today.
By Macharia Githui