Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Clergy is Stumbling over the ICC

Many people are quite surprised when the church voices its opinion or makes known its stand on hot potato political issues. But as the salt and the light of the world, the church sometimes has to make strong judgments about what is false, unjust, and evil in the society and this inevitably means making forays into politics where deeply consequential value and moral judgements are made in a democratic society. The dilemma however for the church which has to contend with the pervasive error of privatized faith which is privately engaging and publicly irrelevant is the opposite error of politicized faith through which Christians become “useful idiots” for one political party or another and Christian beliefs are used as weapons for political interests.

A couple of weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) conclave issued a communiqué which touched on all major issues affecting our nation today but one couldn’t help but notice that the communiqué conspicuously failed to address the contentious ICC issue which is arguably the foremost issue affecting our nation at this point in time. Personally, I think it is a shame that the PCEA conclave chose to bury its head in the sand on this matter. By failing to take a stand on the thorny issue, it missed a great opportunity to be the salt of the earth. Instead of letting its light so shine on this grave issue, the conclave hid its light under a bushel.

But just as I was coming to terms with the PCEA’s error of privatized faith, the Episcopal conference issued its shocker communiqué last week defending the rights of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto to vie the presidency despite the fact that the pair is indicted on several counts of crimes against humanity at the ICC. To be sure, the pair is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty but whether or not people indicted with crimes against humanity should vie for the presidency is a debate which calls for making moral judgments the constitutionality of the issue aside. It is a political discourse that all citizens of goodwill and believers of all faiths and none are engaged in.

The Episcopal conference has made known its stand on the issue. Needless to say, their stand has caused consternation among the general public. It is not that the clergy should not make forays into matters politics, no. the freedom of conscience and speech guarantees them the right to express their opinion. Suffice it to say, the vast majority of Kenyans are of a contrary opinion which for all intents and purposes is underpinned by a moral standard that is superior to that which was applied by the Episcopal conference. This is quite puzzling given that the clergy who are considered the custodians of moral values are expected to champion the highest possible moral standards.

At the risk of pontificating, I dare say this appears to be a classic case of the salt of the earth having lost its flavour. Jesus Christ told his disciples that they were to be the salt of the earth. Just as salt renders food pleasant and palatable and preserves from putrefaction his disciples were to be blessing and a force for good in the earth and by their lives and instructions were to keep the world from moral corruption. He further warned them to guard themselves against losing their flavour because if they did, they would be good for nothing and they would be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (Matthew 5: 13)

The Episcope’s convenient application of a lower moral standard on the issue of ICC suspects vying for the presidency is suspect but I will not speculate the reasons and motivation behind it. Like everyone else however, I think the Episcopal conference was wrong but in a democracy we must respect the right to be wrong because everyone is entitled to their opinion even though that does not mean that any opinion anyone holds is right and as such every opinion in the public square regardless of who its holder is, is subject to a debate conducted with respect.

In view of the foregoing, there is a need to stand clear from the widely held perception that clergy clubs speak for the church. The church in Kenya as we know it has no supreme leader or official spokesperson, so no one speaks for the church, least of all those who claim to. The various church councils, conferences, associations and conclaves do have a constituency of believers but they do not speak for the church as is often thought but rather they speak only for themselves. They point direction for their respective flock and the society but their standpoint is neither binding on the flock nor is it representative of the church. The 2010 referendum on the constitution is a case in point.

Finally, the church and the clergy in particular must seriously rethink its place in public life. The credibility of the church as we know it has never been so severely dented. In other parts of the world, the church has made a shining contribution to politics in general, to many of the greatest moral and social reforms in history such as the abolition of slavery and woman’s suffrage, and even to notions crucial in political discussions today. The church it seems must literary recapture the lost moral high ground.

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