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Political cash debate hits church

Seth Onyango and Bernard Gitau @PeopleDailyKe

The Anglican Church of Kenya primate Jackson Sapit yesterday waded into the centuries-old ethical conundrum of whether churches and by extension clerics as moral lighthouses should accept contributions whose sources are questionable.

Speaking during the Multi-Sectoral Initiative Against Corruption on the role of the Church in the fight against corruption, and in what is bound to further strike debate on what constitutes tainted cash and whether the Church should accept such money, Sapit urged all bishops to reject donations from politicians.

He expressed concern that cash gained nefariously is increasingly being brought to the church to a warm reception thus tainting the image of the house of worship.

“Let the pulpit be for the worship so that when we are leading the service, there are no interference from other people who spell out subjects not the agenda of the church,” he said, adding; “We need to dissect and identify the way of giving. This hype that I have to be known, I have to be given an opportunity to speak is what the Church is now saying ‘No’ to.”

He acknowledged that the Church has lost in that game by allowing politicians to take over the pulpit and instead challenged churches to mobilise their own resources to fund development.

Fuelling controversy

Observers were yesterday quick to see the position taken by the ACK Archbishop as thinly aimed at Deputy President William Ruto, who in recent years has become a foremost generous and regular giver to churches. 

Ruto has been giving millions to churches, drawing applause and apprehension in equal measure. Critics have interpreted his donations as meant to endear himself politically to congregants.

However, the ACK prelate’s position has opened a can of worms within the Deputy President’s corner with Elgeyo Marakwet senator Kipchumba Murkomen, firing the first salvo, mocking Sapit over the claims and asked the church not to receive any form of donations.

“It will be great to see churches ban all harambees in church. It will be even greater to see them ban sinners from contributing tithes, offerings and harambee donations in church. Maybe then we shall truly say we are in Canaan or better still heaven on earth,” Murkomen tweeted.

Debate over what is tainted cash is neither new nor restricted to this country. 

Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw first gave the debate cogency in a celebrated play Major Barbara (1905), which concludes one “must either share in the world’s guilt or go to another planet.”

In Major Barbara, the lead character, who is manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction, offers his daughter a major in the Salvation Army, donation to feed the needy and starving. The daughter rejects the offer but her superior snaps it up saying he would use money even from the devil himself and turn into use for good.

It will be recalled that Sapit’s predecessor as head of Anglican Church of Kenya, Rev Eliud Wabukala, through his stewardship of the Church was strident that the clergy should be stronger in faith and keep their distance from manipulation from politicians, more so those who might come dangling goodies to win backing of the clergy.

But opinion of senior clerics is not unanimous. On Easter Sunday, Bishop Timothy Gichere of the ACK Mt Kenya Central diocese said no one should condemn others, as corrupt, asserting one is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“When one comes to church and contributes money, we cannot decline it because we do not know if money is gotten from graft,” he said.

It is, however, Ruto’s church donations that have fuelled controversy about cash given to churches. With some estimates putting the figure to as high as several million shillings, since he became Deputy President, he may have opened himself to scrutiny even as he has insisted that giving to the church comes naturally to him as Christian duty and to help with the work churches undertake. 

It is against that background and incessant snipping by political detractors, including former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, who have been cautioning churches not to be used to launder or sanitise proceeds of corruption.   

Enticing the church

Sapit yesterday termed corruption a cancerous bondage that has grown deep roots and is endemic weighing heavily on the back of every Kenyan and has found safe harbours even in churches.

Raila has questioning how the DP’s salary and his businesses can allow him to donate hundreds of millions of shillings as he does.

“There are some church leaders who are true to their calling while others are not. We need to question the source of the millions of money being taken to churches,” Raila remarked, adding: “The church should be careful with these people masquerading as being wealthy and giving out money that they have stolen from public coffers.” 

On his part, Sapit said things must be done differently where donations are done quietly, noting that harambee spirit started in post-colonial era to pull resources together where churches, hospitals, bridges were built, hospital bills and school fees paid and has been inculcated in the society even the church.

“To work against it now will not be an easy job but let us identify the bad and good in harambees,” he added and warned politicians against using harambees as a way of endearing themselves to the church.

“This hype that I must be given a chance to speak is what the church is saying ‘No’ to,” Sapit said.

On public debt, Sapit said it was worrying and urged those in power to stop borrowing and manage the current debt portfolio more prudently.

“Let us know how to manage our current debt without going for more debts because politicians will exit the stage and leave the burden to Kenyans, who will bear the burden to the next generations,” he said. Kenya’s current debt stands at Sh5 trillion.

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