Religious freedom no license to politicise the pulpits
Munene A Mutwiri
Just as the media should refrain from giving political endorsements so should the Church.
The Church should be a neutral party and play the role of educating and informing its members objectively and in a non-partisan way so that the members can make an independent decision on who they want to elect in political offices.
In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-party secular state as ours the Church, and in general spiritual organisations, plays the single most important role of uniting us all regardless of our backgrounds.
An institution playing such a role should ensure neutrality in politics so as not to bring more division in a fragile democracy such as ours.
The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya Jackson ole Sapit on Sunday, in an unprecedented move, hindered politicians from speaking at a church function.
Sapit was overseeing the consecration of Rev Rose Okeno as the Bishop of the Butere Diocese at the Butere Girls’ High School grounds in Kakamega county where former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, among other politicians, were welcomed as guests.
Sapit said he would not permit any political remarks in the church, adding that it is a no-go zone for political rhetoric.
He revealed that politicians would just be permitted to worship at the church and leave quietly like any other ordinary individuals of the congregation.
Though some might perceive this as a move to gag politicians and deny them a platform to sell manifestoes, it should be noted that our laws and the Constitution outline the separation of the Church and the State.
The separation of Church and State is a philosophical concept for defining political distance in the relationship between religious organisations and the nation.
In Kenya, most politicians have used the pulpit to make political remarks — even chiding, contemptuously or outrightly insulting — once given the chance to address the faithful.
It has been common to find politicians in churches popularising themselves or their parties. More often than not, politicians utter inflammatory and derogatory statements to their rivals right in front of the congregation.
There have been instances where politicians have expressed ugly political differences in churches.
Separation of Church and State is the idea that government should remain neutral toward all religions and not officially recognise or favour one. In that principle, Church refers to religion in general, while State refers to the government.
The Constitution stipulates there shall be no State religion and prohibits religious discrimination.
It also provides for freedom of religion and belief individually or in communities, including the freedom to manifest any religion through worship, practice, teaching or observance.
Again it provides for freedom of religion and guards its citizens from unwelcome religious pressure.
In one sense, the wall of separation between Church and State is sharply drawn because the establishment of a State religion is prohibited although the Constitution acknowledges the supremacy of the Almighty God of all creation.
Additionally, political parties cannot be founded on a religious basis nor may they engage in religious propaganda.
Religious instruction, observance and celebration at State-aided institutions is permissible, but only if equitable and only if attendance is voluntary.
The Church, by reason of her role and competence, should not be identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system.
The Church and the political community are autonomous and independent in own fields while being both devoted to the social and personal vocation of the same individuals.
Both church and faith leaders are legally permitted to speak out on political and social issues, that ills the society including corruption, poverty, health care and a variety of other matters.
The Church should promote good morals and encourage members to vote in leaders who share good morals and same beliefs so as to ensure accountability and justice for the people. This will ensure social ills starting with corruption which is the biggest pediment to our development as a country is gradually eliminated.
Kenya holds a generally strong record on religious freedom and this should not be used to politicise the Church and religion. — The writer is a media analyst