Retired Kenyan Anglican archbishop, David Gitari, has advised church leaders there to back a draft constitution which has provoked controversy and division among them, describing his suggested course of action as a "lesser evil".
Fredrick Nzwili writes: Gitari spoke as debate on the new measure was seen as developing into a confrontation between churches, most of which are opposed to the draft constitution, and [the] Muslim groups that back it because it supports having Islamic courts in the country's legal system.
"Voting 'yes' is an evil; voting 'no' also an evil," the former leader of Kenya's Anglican church told worshippers last week at All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Nairobi. "Remember as a Christian you have to choose between two evils," he said. "If I were to choose, I would go for the lesser evil."
The former archbishop's stance contradicts that of the Roman Catholic Church, the National Council of Churches of Kenya, the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya and the Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa.
The groups have said they are opposed to the draft constitution because it enshrines the Islamic judicial system, or Kadhi courts, for Muslims on matters such as marriage and divorce, and it makes provision for abortion if a mother's life or health is threatened.
Gitari said the choice facing Kenyans is to live under the Lancaster House constitution drawn up in London before the country became independent from Britain in 1964, or to support a new basic law that is flawed, but developed in Kenya. He said the lesser evil is to back the new draft and push for it to be amended afterwards.
The current Anglican archbishop, Eluid Wabukala, earlier in April also urged support for the constitution when it is put to a referendum on 2 July 2010 and for the controversial provisions to be revised later.
"We are called upon to do as much as we can to defend the lives of unborn children, who cannot of their nature defend themselves," Cardinal John Njue told journalists on 16 April explaining why Catholic bishops oppose the constitution.
"Once abortion is sanctioned by parliament and the law, it becomes the minds of many, and as a result a society loses its respect for the value of human life."
On the Kadhi courts, the Catholic bishops said, "It is a question of justice not to give privileges to certain Kenyans because of their religion, race or tribe. That is the beginning of discrimination [and] more so if the issue refers to a religious group."
Muslims have warned against abrogating a 1963 agreement which allowed for the entrenchment of the courts in the current constitution.
"Be very careful bishop, pastor ... Be very careful," lawmaker Ali Hassan Joho told a rally in Mombasa on 18 April. He reminded Kenyans that the courts had facilitated peaceful co-existence at the coastal strip where most Muslims live.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]