Kobia pinpoints ethnic and political rifts hampering Kenya's churches

By Stephen Brown
February 17, 2008

Ethnic and political divisions have prevented church leaders in Kenya from responding to the political crisis in their country, the main governing body of the World Council of Churches has been told by its general secretary, the Rev Samuel Kobia.

"At a time of dire need for a ministry of reconciliation and healing, many Kenyan church leaders are polarised along ethnic and political lines, making their voice less credible and limiting their ability to claim a moral high ground," Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, said in his report on 14 February 2008 to the WCC's central committee.

Kenya's political crisis erupted after the 27 December national elections in which incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential contest but which opposition leader Raila Odinga says were rigged. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the unrest and at least another 300,000 driven from their homes.

"What Kenya is going through is not unique to that country, and it severely tests the notion of elections as a panacea for democracy and good governance," Kobia said in his report presented to the WCC meeting. "In the case of Kenya, there are issues that, for a long time, have been lurking below the surface, ready to boil over at a moment’s provocation. There are historical, political, constitutional, electoral, ethnic and land issues which tend to surface every five years at the time of elections."

During its 13-20 February meeting, the WCC governing body will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 1948 founding of what is now the world's largest Christian grouping to promote the cause of church unity.

The WCC now groups more than 340 churches, mostly Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, but it cooperates with the council on a number of issues.

In his report to the WCC governing body, Kobia noted the emergence of new church divisions in recent years, however, based on "new alliances" concerning moral values.

"Societies and groups based on traditional community values see themselves under strong pressure," explained Kobia. "The divisive debate on moral values reflects resistance against the strong individualism, indifference or the 'anything goes' mentality of market driven post-modernism and the hegemony of Western neo-liberal values, which are supported by the economic, political, media and military power of North America and the European Union."

The central committee is the WCC's highest governing body between its once-every-seven-years assemblies, and meets every 12 to 18 months. It implements assembly resolutions, reviews programmes, and approves budget plans.

[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.]

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