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.