Kenyan bishop breaks ranks and defies his archbishop over politicking ban

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News Analysis: The bishop of Mount Kenya South has challenged the authority of the primate of Kenya, the Most Rev. Jackson Ole Sapit, rejecting the archbishop’s ban on politicians speaking from church pulpits. Sunday’s repudiation of the authority of the primate, a member of the Masai tribe, by a bishop from the Kikuyu tribe underscores the archbishop’s precarious political hold over the province. 

On 10 October 2021 the Rt. Rev. Charles Muturi, Bishop of Mt Kenya South told the congregation of St James Cathedral in Kiambu that Kenyan citizens had a right to hear the views of the leaders of the different political parties as the nation prepared for general elections.  The bishop was speaking at a fundraiser for the diocese’s Extra Mile Project which is raising money to renovate the Bishop Kariuku Center, build student dormitories and support the Super Seed program. The speaker of the Kenyan National Assembly Justin Beadon Muturi addressed the gathering.

In his sermon of 25 Oct 2020 from the Memorial Cathedral in Mombasa marking the start of the Anglican Church of Kenya’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Archbishop Sapit banned politicians from speaking from the pulpit. “We must guard the pulpit in the church so that even if somebody comes to worship, then their space is in that pew,” he said.

Allowing a politician to speak from the pulpit clothed his words with the mantle of the church, he warned. Churches needed to “test” the words of politicians to ensure they promoted the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than party interests.

“Are we giving politicians and other people an opportunity to come and promote that which is not Christian? That is why we say as the Anglican Church, we don’t have that space available” for politicians to usurp church pulpits.

The archbishop has consistently stressed the importance of keeping the church at arms length from Kenya’s tribal based politics

A member of the Masai tribe, which numbers 1.2 million in Kenya, Archbishop Sapit has not had the loyalty of some bishops from the 8 million member Kikuyu tribe in Central Kenya, the nation’s largest ethnic group, and bishops from the 5 million member Luo tribe in Western Kenya. 

A signatory to the 2018 GAFCON moratorium on women bishops, Archbishop Sapit was forced to back down and consecrate a woman bishop, of Luo heritage, this year when he could not count on the full support of the House of Bishops to uphold the moratorium. Tribal rivalries and jealousies, accompanied by foreign funding by Western interests undercut the archbishop’s authority.

In 2008 a number of Kenyan bishops, primarily of Luo heritage, rejected the lead of their primate, Benjamin Nzimbi, and attended the Lambeth Conference. The Kikuyu bishops followed the lead of their primate and stayed home. The repudiation of Archbishop Sapit’s no politicking agenda by a Kikuyu bishop indicates he may not be able to keep his church in the GAFCON line for much longer.