With the government hungry for a YES win, after receiving assurances it would attract US investment , the constitutional referendum on 4 August 2010 threatens to split the Kenyan Church into pro-government vs dissident/oppositional camps.
Religious liberty observers must watch Kenya to see if this division translates into favoured vs persecuted status.
Kenyan churches are united in their support for constitutional reform, but not in their support for the draft constitution that will go to a referendum on 4 August. Most churches are advocating a 'NO' vote because the draft constitution makes abortion more accessible; it entrenches Kadhi (Islamic) courts; and it advances ethnic federalism (Balkanisation/Majimbo) which many fear could trigger ethnic violence.
On Sunday 13 June, six died and over 100 were wounded when a church-run 'NO' rally in Nairobi was bombed. Tensions are extremely high.
The Kenyan government desperately wants the constitution passed. This puts much of the Kenyan church in the dangerous position of political opposition in a country known for its propensity for political violence.
(See earlier post: KENYA's churches oppose draft constitution over concerns about abortion, 'Balkanisation' and Kadhi (Islamic courts). 16 June 2010)
A group of clergymen operating under the banner, Christians for Yes, have come out in defence of the draft constitution and are advocating a 'YES' vote. The group, led by retired Anglican Archbishop David Gitari, includes PCEA cleric Timothy Njoya, bishops Peter Njenga, Beneah Salala and Mwai Abiero as well as the Rev John Njenga of the Anglican Church of Kenya, evangelical bishop Patrick Mungai, and outspoken Catholic priest Ambrose Kimutai.
Speaking at a ceremony recently, Dr Gitari exhorted Christians to fight falsehoods peddled by preachers who oppose the draft. He trivialised the amendments to the abortion law and claimed that fears over Sharia laws were misplaced fears. "There is a lot of sharia-phobia in the Christian church," he said. "More than 80 per cent of Kenyans are Christians. There is no way 20 per cent can push their way over everybody." (emphasis mine)
According to Dr Njoya, church leaders who advocate 'NO' have abandoned the gospel and are peddling lies on the kadhi courts and abortion. "They have substituted 'No' for God," he said. "Christians should boycott such churches. These peddlers of lies should be smoked out. Their conduct has shown that the church needs redemption."
MP Professor Nyong'o supported Dr Njoya and compared church leaders opposed to the constitution to Pharisees in the Bible who rejected Jesus.
At a subsequent press conference, the Nairobi archbishop of the Catholic Church, John Cardinal Njue and the Anglican head, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, along with Bishop Mark Kariuki, maintained that the Church leadership would not relent in its quest to shoot down the document, but also, they would not be being forcing anyone to vote against their conscience.
Reformers Take Battle to Church
By Emeka Gekara-Mayaka, 7 July 2010
Kenya: Cracks in Church as Clerics Join 'Yes'
By Peter Leftie, Daily Nation (Kenya), 22 July 2010
Meanwhile, Church leaders in the 'NO' camp report receiving threats on their mobile phones. On Saturday 17 July, a renegade 'pastor', John Kamau, and two accomplices were arrested and charged with being in possession of explosive materials and for plotting to bomb a 'NO' campaign rally in Mombasa.
Police question man found with explosives
By FRED MUKINDA, Daily Nation (Kenya), Sunday, July 18 2010
PHOTO: Some of the 300 bomb detonators that police recovered from a suspect in Ongata Rongai, Nairobi July 10, 2010. Police arrested two men, one of them a pastor and recovered bomb material in their car July 17, 2010.
Pastor with bomb had bus ticket to Coast
By Cyrus Ombati, Standard Media, 19 July 2010
Bomb pastor faces seven years in jail
By NICHOLAS NGOLYO, Daily Nation (Kenya), Monday, 19 July 2010
PHOTO: Rev John Kamau Mbugua in Kibera court on Monday 19 July.