Kenyan Pastors Ask for Guns Amid Christian-Muslim Violence

Kenyan Pastors Ask for Guns Amid Christian-Muslim Violence

c. 2013 Religion News Service 

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) As attacks on Christians mount in Kenya’s coastal region, some evangelical pastors in Mombasa area no longer may be willing to turn the other cheek.

The Rev. Peter Karanja (center), of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, addresses a news conference on Wednesday (Oct 30). He said the government should see this as writing on the wall and that Kenyans are getting tired of the continuing insecurity. (Photo Credit: Fredrick Nzwili)

Worried about attacks against their churches and congregations, some pastors are asking for rifles to protect themselves from suspected Islamic extremists.

The violence intensified on Oct. 20 and 21, when two evangelical church pastors were killed inside their churches. Pastor Charles Mathole, 41, was killed Oct. 20 as he prayed inside his Vikwatani Redeemed Gospel Church. The following day, East African Pentecostal Church pastor Ibrahim Kithaka was found dead in Kilifi, about 35 miles north of Mombasa.

Christian leaders blame the attacks on increased radicalization of Muslim youth. The attacks have occurred amid protests by Muslims that they were being targeted in Nairobi’s war against terrorism.

“Our many churches are not under any protection. They do not have walls or gates. The government should issue AK-47 rifles to every church so that we can stop them from being burnt, our property from being looted and our pastors and Christians from being killed,” said Lambert Mbela, a pastor at Mathole’s church, during his funeral.

Three weeks before the latest murders, Muslim youth torched a Salvation Army church in the Majengo area in Mombasa to protest the killing of the popular Sheikh Ibrahim “Rogo” Omar and three others by unknown gunmen on Oct.4. The same church was torched last year after the murder of another prominent Muslim cleric, Sheikh Aboud Rogo Mohammed.

Some church officials say the request for arms reflects a growing frustration with the rising insecurity, but others say the move contradicts traditional biblical teachings on nonviolence, or could put churches and congregations at more risk.

“I don’t think arming Kenyan (clerics) will ensure security,” said the Rev. Peter Karanja, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, at a news conference in Limuru, near Nairobi, on Wednesday (Oct. 30).

“However, the government should see this as writing on the wall. Kenyans are getting tired of the continuing insecurity.”

Karanja challenged the government to marshal enough personnel and resources to improve security in churches, offices and homes without having to arm clergy. “What we do not agree with is that every pastor should be armed to ensure they are safe,” he said.

Interfaith initiatives in the coastal region have allowed different faiths to live in relative calm, but the attacks are threatening decades of peaceful coexistence, according to the Rev. Wilybard Lagho, vicar general of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa.

“I think we need to restrengthen interreligious dialogue. The problem is in the minds, and we need to win them back,” said Lagho, calling the request for guns a shallow solution to a complex problem.

Some Muslim leaders, meanwhile, have backed the pastors’ call for arms but said there should be a thorough vetting of who gets a gun.

“It is a good idea, but not all clerics should get the guns. Some are rogue clerics and may pose more danger to other religious leaders,” said Sheikh Juma Ngao, chairman of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council.

Copyright 2013 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

Do Strong Religious Beliefs Help Cancer Patients Battle the Disease Better?

Do Strong Religious Beliefs Help Cancer Patients Battle the Disease Better?

Belief can make the difference for a life in transition. During difficult times when an individual must prioritize their health, a spiritual or religious faith can ease tensions, boost attitude and support overall improved health. Research strongly suggests that individuals with religious and spiritual beliefs cope better during their battle with cancer.

Prayer also leads to optimism, reduces stress and can bolster the immune system, studies say. According to a Women’s Heath Initiative study conducted by the U.S National Institute of Health, those who regularly attend religious services reduce their risk of death by 20 percent. In the book “God Changes Your Brain,” Dr. Andrew Newburg found that those who prayed and meditated have a highly developed parietal lobe, which improves memory and improves wellbeing. An article in “Critical Care Clinics” states that prayer is the second most common form of pain management, next to oral medicine.

Because of these and other findings, increasingly, the medical community seeks to boost health by understanding and encouraging practices of belief. Tapping into strong spiritual practices/beliefs during a healthcare threat are the “X” factor in many cases of survival. Therefore, one cannot and must not, ignore the profound opportunities that spiritual beliefs bring to the table of hope.

Part of my work with Our Journey of Hope (OJOH) is to encourage the use of faith, religious or spiritual practices, to promote wellness and facilitate an infrastructure of clergy and others with strong spiritual beliefs to provide a network to help patients and their families to restore health.

OJOH is a seven-hour training session for pastors, and lay members to equip them with the tools and ideology to empower them to address and respond to the needs of individuals who are dealing with cancer. We teach caretakers as well.  They are empowered by the belief that they too have access to a source greater than themselves to call upon for strength and help!

Our program was created by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) largely because of a suggestion from a patient and her husband. They asked if I would be willing to meet with local clergy persons that they knew for an informal discussion on cancer care and support from a faith perspective!

The importance of OJOH to the treatment centers continues to position the organization as one of the leaders in the healthcare arena. We truly value and encourage the faith community to marshal the strength of its value system to fight back against cancer.

Faith works.

I have seen the power of faith and communities to change the lives of patients struggling with cancer. Thirteen years ago, Gloria, fell into a comma. Family members asked if I would pray for her to regain consciousness. Soon after I prayed over her, Gloria opened her eyes and indeed regained consciousness. She is still living 13 years later.

A faith or spiritual belief assures cancer patients that it is possible to live through challenging health threats, regardless of the odds of long-term survival and overcome the challenge. We don’t disavow science. However, those who rely on science alone often wrestle with the limitations of humanity’s knowledge. God has no limits. Faith and a spiritual belief are not rooted in limitation.

The best part of my work is providing a platform for genuine discussion for a topic that typically is ignored. The church and faith community in general lacks healthcare-related ministries organized in a meaningful way to address the very relevant issues surrounding this community of people. OJOH has equipped thousands to broach the subject of cancer with confidence and fearlessness. We have the opportunity to provide a meaningful relationship with pastors and their members concerning healthcare.

Ultimately, faith and spiritual beliefs equip individuals with the mental and emotional fortitude to withstand the travails and challenges of treatment and forge ahead in the effort to keep cancer at bay by tapping into a “power source” greater than themselves.

With engaged spirituality, informed clergy, caretakers and family we can support all patients as they brace themselves to live their lives, overcome obstacles and seek hope in their darkest hours.

The Playmakers: Smashing Sacred Cows with Humor

The Playmakers: Smashing Sacred Cows with Humor

Close up of a happy young couple looking at mobile phone

I recently heard Ben Huh the CEO of the popular Internet meme site say, “The greatest tool for engaging the 35 year old and under crowd is humor.” You have to look no further than the Christian comedy group The Playmakers to see this truth in action. Brothers Kevin and Jason Fredericks along with friend Anthony Davis give us a reason to laugh at the Black Christian culture. Their comedic hijinks and commentary on black church life have made them an Internet sensation with skits such as Stuff Black Church Girls Say and 10 Types of Black Preachers (see below). They have smashed many sacred cows in their attempt to bring humor to the masses but some may think they have gone too far.

Historically, the church hasn’t been a bastion of joviality and humor. Many believe that the church is about being gloomy and somber. That the church seems to take itself too seriously is probably one of the reasons it often gets made fun of. With such a weighty topic as the salvation of millions from hell, our sacred establishments can often be seen as killjoys to all the fun that life has to offer.

After all, most of the time the church is seen as criticizing sinners for going to parties, instead of hosting parties itself. Pictures of long-faced Puritans and old grumpy ladies fill our minds when it comes to our image of church. This makes church and humor appear as far apart as the east is from the west. But what if this is actually not in alignment with the character and content of the Bible?

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is full of humor. The subtlety and intellectual wit of the Bible is often not seen because of the lens with which we come to it with, but it is there nonetheless. Elton Trueblood, the author of The Humor of Christ, states “Any alleged Christianity which fails to express itself in gaiety, at some point, is clearly spurious.” To put it simply, from the pages of Genesis all the way to Revelation God’s “got jokes.”

  • The story of Jacob waking up married to the wrong sister sounds like a plot from a silly Hollywood rom-com flick (Genesis 29:16–30).
  • The pictures in Proverbs of a sluggard turning on his bed like a door on hinges (Proverbs 26:14) or of a man sitting on the rooftop to get away from his nagging wife (Proverbs 21:9) had to jar the first readers in a way that Internet memes now jar us.
  • The one-liners of Elijah making fun of  the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:27) or of Paul making fun of the Judaizers (Galatians 5:12) are as sharp as anything from the hottest comedians on the comedy channel.

And what does all this humor show us? God has a sense of humor, and He must have one to make such silly and foolish creatures as human beings. If the Bible is full of this humor, then how much more so should the church be full of humor? The Playmakers have caught on to this truth. Their videos expose the foolishness of the many sacred cows in Black religious subculture and, whether intentionally or not, we are brought to a place where we can go back to the Bible and obey what it really says.

Jesus cut to the truth in His sermons by focusing on humorous exaggerated realities in order to highlight convicting principles from God’s word. His hyperbole and caricatures of the Pharisees probably jarred his audience not only because they were so severe, but also because to the 1st century Palestinian mind, they were hilarious. Whitewashed tombs, camels going through the eye of needles, and blind men following other blind men into a ditch had to provoke chuckles from his audience.

The Playmakers comedy can be used in the same way. The 10 Types of Black Preachers and the Stuff Black Church Girls Say are definitely hilarious, and at the same time they remind us of our hypocrisy and disobedience and point to a different way to be the church in the world.

So how far is too far? It all depends on what we are making fun of. If we are making fun of religious people like Jesus often did, then humor is fair game. If we are making fun of God himself, then we are on dangerous ground. The Playmakers remind us that we have sacred cows that need to be smashed and some traditions are just that—traditions—and they have nothing to do with living the life that Jesus called us to live.

In the words of Elton Trueblood “Our problem is that we take ourselves too seriously. That is why we have difficulty seeing the humor of Christ.” On that note let’s applaud The Playmakers for allowing us to not take ourselves too seriously while taking Christ as seriously as possible.