Kenyan Methodists defy ban on campaigning at church, saying ‘humans are political’

Kenyan Methodists defy ban on campaigning at church, saying ‘humans are political’

Kenya, in red, located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Some churches in Kenya have barred politicians from addressing their congregations, saying campaigning during services disrespects the sanctity of worship.

The national Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches have all issued bans, as many of the politicians begin early stumping for next year’s general elections. The Methodist Church, however, is keeping the church doors open for all.

The Rev. Joseph Ntombura, presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, has said his church is not dissenting from the effort but is taking a different approach. The bishop said shutting the doors to politicians would mean discriminating against some of its members.

“The church is for all people,” Ntombura told Religion News Service in a telephone interview. “Human beings are political, so there is nothing wrong with inviting the politicians in church.”

According to the bishop, congregations need to hear the views of politicians on issues of national interest, such as the sharing of resources. In the past, Ntombura said, the church has invited other experts to speak to congregations on important matters, and politicians are no different.

“Some of the politicians are our pastors,” said Ntombura.

The Rev. Joseph Ntombura, with microphone, presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, prays over former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, left, in Nov. 2015. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Kenya is about 85% Christian. About 33% of that group are Protestants and 20.6% are Catholic. The rest belong to evangelical, Pentecostal and African denominations. Muslims make up 11%  of  the population.

In issuing the bans on politicking in church, denominations have said they feared that church services would become campaign rallies and that candidates would use language bordering on hate speech in an attempt to win votes or sway the views of congregations. In the past, politicians hijacked church services to sell their agendas or criticize their opponents. Some have appeared in the churches with huge sums of money as offerings or as funds for church projects.

The no-politicking effort gained momentum this month when Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, the Anglican primate of Kenya, announced his church’s ban.

“Everyone is welcome in the churches, but we have the pews and the pulpit,” said Ole Sapit on Sept. 12, during the ordination of Kenya’s first Anglican woman bishop. “The pulpit is for the clergy and the pews for everyone who comes to worship.”

On Sept. 15, the Roman Catholic bishops said their places of worship and liturgy were sacred and were not political arenas. They urged politicians to attend Mass just like any other worshippers.

Analysts say the churches are seeking to reclaim their position as “honest arbitrators” in a country where elections often generate violent conflicts.

The most deadly came in December 2007 and January 2008, when two months of ethnic fighting left at least 1,000 people dead and more than 600,000 displaced from their homes. Among them, 30 people, mainly ethnic Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe, were burnt alive in an Assemblies of God church in Kiambaa Village in Eldoret.

Henry Njagi, program and information manager at the National Council of Churches of Kenya, said resistance to church guidelines on political speech risks a repeat of the events of 2008.

“When things went wrong, they turned around and accused the church of being silent and abandoning Kenyans,” said Njagi. “So right now is a call on political actors, aspirants and other stakeholders to listen to the church … and stop toxic politicking.”

Though the politicians have not been as present at mosques, Muslim leaders say they are supporting the ban on toxic politicking in the churches.

“I support the Christian leaders. Such a ban is long overdue,” said Sheikh Hassan Ole Naado, national chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

He added that Muslims were not facing the issue at the moment.

“When you go to a place of worship, you know what you are supposed to do. They are taking advantage of people who are gathered for worship. It should not happen in the first place,” said Ole Naado.

 

Kenyans see ‘hand of God’ in Kipchoge’s record-breaking marathon run

Kenyans see ‘hand of God’ in Kipchoge’s record-breaking marathon run

Eliud Kipchoge celebrates as he crosses the finish line Oct. 12, 2019, in Vienna to make history as the first human being to run a marathon in under two hours. (Bob Martin/The INEOS 1:59 Challenge via AP)

The two-hour marathon barrier has finally been broken. As Eliud Kipchoge arrived back home in Nairobi on Wednesday (Oct. 16), citizens of his country pointed at a “hand of God” in his record-breaking, sub-two-hour run on Saturday in Vienna.

Kipchoge, a Roman Catholic, ran the 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) in 1:59:40 in the race dubbed “No Human Is Limited.” He became the first runner in history to run the distance in under two hours. Later, the athlete compared the achievement to Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon in 1969.

“I am … celebrating. I always celebrate in a calm and humane way,” said Kipchoge, after quietly reentering the country.

The race has united the people in villages, towns and cities in Kenya and stirred religious responses in the East African nation, where more than 80% of the population are Christians.

“I think he made it by trusting in God that all is possible,” the Rev. Nicholas Makau, a Roman Catholic priest in Nairobi, told Religion News Service. “He seemed (to) challenge a widely held view that humanity is limited, but he has shown that when people try, they can succeed.

“I think he is a religious person by upbringing who was doing it for his belief,” added Makau.

Kenya, in red, located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

The Rev. Wilybard Lagho, vicar general of the Mombasa Roman Catholic Archdiocese, followed the race from the coastal city of Mombasa.

“This means we can achieve more than we have always thought,” said Lagho. “Faith contributes to the success of human beings in mysterious ways we may not be able to quantify. But I think Kipchoge knows how to balance between spiritual and physical ability.”

The race has set a good example for humanity, said retired Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa, who keenly watched the race from the start.

“I was impressed by the pacesetters, who I think did a good job,” said Kalu, comparing their work to the call of Christians. “They supported Kipchoge to the end. This is what we should do as Christians — support each other in both good and bad times.”

Since the 1960 Rome Olympics, Kenyans have dominated long-distance running, from 800 meters to marathons, in the Olympics, World Cross Country Championships and the world road racing circuit.

The long distance running success has often stirred debates, with analysts citing physical attributes, the food and an ingrained culture of running. Recently, some religious analysts have also thrown in faith and ethics.

“The runners need their faith for endurance and perseverance, whether in training or in the actual race,” said Kalu.

In April this year, Kipchoge told Running Coach, a blog for runners, that religion played an important role in his life.

“It keeps me from doing things that could keep me (away) from my goals. On Sundays, I go to church with my family and I pray regularly, even in the morning before a race,” he said.

His latest race gripped the world as live coverage drew thousands of people to social and public places, including church centers in Kenya.

On Sunday, Kenyans went to church and thanked God for his achievement. They praised it as the work of a Christian role model.

Eliud Kipchoge is hugged by his wife, Grace Sugutt, after breaking the historic two-hour barrier for a marathon on Oct. 12, 2019, in Vienna. Kipchoge has become the first athlete to run a marathon in less than two hours, although it will not count as a world record. The Olympic champion and world record holder from Kenya clocked 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds Saturday at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, an event set up for the attempt. (Jed Leicester/The INEOS 1:59 Challenge via AP)

Even before Kipchoge left Kenya, Christians converged in churches to pray for the success of the race.

The St. Paul’s University Catholic Chapel at the University of Nairobi held special prayers for Kipchoge. The choir wore black and yellow T-shirts with inscriptions INEOS 1.59, the name of the challenge.

His elderly mother also watched with keen interest.

“I prayed and fasted for him so that he achieves what God had planned,” Jane Rotich told the Kenyan newspaper The Standard soon after the race.

She said she had been waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to pray for her son.

Kipchoge, who even before this race held the world record in the marathon, is one of Kenya’s most consistent marathon runners. He has participated in 11 marathons and won 10 of them, including the 2016 Olympic marathon. He has come oh-so-close to finishing several marathons in under two hours. In 2017, in Italy, he came within 25 seconds of the two-hour mark. And in Berlin in 2018, he was just 1 minute and 29 seconds over.

However, the record-breaking run in Austria on Saturday will still not count as a record. The “race” was designed specifically for Kipchoge and for the goal of finishing in under two hours. There were no other competitors in the run, the date was chosen for optimal weather, and he was supported by a rotating team of pacesetters as well as a car that used lasers to show the best place to run. These advantages are not allowed during typical marathon running and will keep this achievement off any official records.

But, according to the runner, that was not his goal. He wanted, simply, to see if it could be done. In his tweet before the race, Kipchoge wrote: “I don’t know where the limits are, but I would like to go there.”

“I expect more people all over the world to run under 2 hours after today,” he said after the race.

Kipchoge hopes to run in the Olympics in Tokyo next year and improve his world record — and perhaps, finally, get an official sub-two-hour marathon on the books.

Kenyans see ‘hand of God’ in Kipchoge’s record-breaking marathon run

Kenyans see ‘hand of God’ in Kipchoge’s record-breaking marathon run

Eliud Kipchoge celebrates as he crosses the finish line Oct. 12, 2019, in Vienna to make history as the first human being to run a marathon in under two hours. (Bob Martin/The INEOS 1:59 Challenge via AP)

The two-hour marathon barrier has finally been broken. As Eliud Kipchoge arrived back home in Nairobi on Wednesday (Oct. 16), citizens of his country pointed at a “hand of God” in his record-breaking, sub-two-hour run on Saturday in Vienna.

Kipchoge, a Roman Catholic, ran the 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) in 1:59:40 in the race dubbed “No Human Is Limited.” He became the first runner in history to run the distance in under two hours. Later, the athlete compared the achievement to Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon in 1969.

“I am … celebrating. I always celebrate in a calm and humane way,” said Kipchoge, after quietly reentering the country.

The race has united the people in villages, towns and cities in Kenya and stirred religious responses in the East African nation, where more than 80% of the population are Christians.

“I think he made it by trusting in God that all is possible,” the Rev. Nicholas Makau, a Roman Catholic priest in Nairobi, told Religion News Service. “He seemed (to) challenge a widely held view that humanity is limited, but he has shown that when people try, they can succeed.

“I think he is a religious person by upbringing who was doing it for his belief,” added Makau.

Kenya, in red, located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

The Rev. Wilybard Lagho, vicar general of the Mombasa Roman Catholic Archdiocese, followed the race from the coastal city of Mombasa.

“This means we can achieve more than we have always thought,” said Lagho. “Faith contributes to the success of human beings in mysterious ways we may not be able to quantify. But I think Kipchoge knows how to balance between spiritual and physical ability.”

The race has set a good example for humanity, said retired Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa, who keenly watched the race from the start.

“I was impressed by the pacesetters, who I think did a good job,” said Kalu, comparing their work to the call of Christians. “They supported Kipchoge to the end. This is what we should do as Christians — support each other in both good and bad times.”

Since the 1960 Rome Olympics, Kenyans have dominated long-distance running, from 800 meters to marathons, in the Olympics, World Cross Country Championships and the world road racing circuit.

The long distance running success has often stirred debates, with analysts citing physical attributes, the food and an ingrained culture of running. Recently, some religious analysts have also thrown in faith and ethics.

“The runners need their faith for endurance and perseverance, whether in training or in the actual race,” said Kalu.

In April this year, Kipchoge told Running Coach, a blog for runners, that religion played an important role in his life.

“It keeps me from doing things that could keep me (away) from my goals. On Sundays, I go to church with my family and I pray regularly, even in the morning before a race,” he said.

His latest race gripped the world as live coverage drew thousands of people to social and public places, including church centers in Kenya.

On Sunday, Kenyans went to church and thanked God for his achievement. They praised it as the work of a Christian role model.

Eliud Kipchoge is hugged by his wife, Grace Sugutt, after breaking the historic two-hour barrier for a marathon on Oct. 12, 2019, in Vienna. Kipchoge has become the first athlete to run a marathon in less than two hours, although it will not count as a world record. The Olympic champion and world record holder from Kenya clocked 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds Saturday at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, an event set up for the attempt. (Jed Leicester/The INEOS 1:59 Challenge via AP)

Even before Kipchoge left Kenya, Christians converged in churches to pray for the success of the race.

The St. Paul’s University Catholic Chapel at the University of Nairobi held special prayers for Kipchoge. The choir wore black and yellow T-shirts with inscriptions INEOS 1.59, the name of the challenge.

His elderly mother also watched with keen interest.

“I prayed and fasted for him so that he achieves what God had planned,” Jane Rotich told the Kenyan newspaper The Standard soon after the race.

She said she had been waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to pray for her son.

Kipchoge, who even before this race held the world record in the marathon, is one of Kenya’s most consistent marathon runners. He has participated in 11 marathons and won 10 of them, including the 2016 Olympic marathon. He has come oh-so-close to finishing several marathons in under two hours. In 2017, in Italy, he came within 25 seconds of the two-hour mark. And in Berlin in 2018, he was just 1 minute and 29 seconds over.

However, the record-breaking run in Austria on Saturday will still not count as a record. The “race” was designed specifically for Kipchoge and for the goal of finishing in under two hours. There were no other competitors in the run, the date was chosen for optimal weather, and he was supported by a rotating team of pacesetters as well as a car that used lasers to show the best place to run. These advantages are not allowed during typical marathon running and will keep this achievement off any official records.

But, according to the runner, that was not his goal. He wanted, simply, to see if it could be done. In his tweet before the race, Kipchoge wrote: “I don’t know where the limits are, but I would like to go there.”

“I expect more people all over the world to run under 2 hours after today,” he said after the race.

Kipchoge hopes to run in the Olympics in Tokyo next year and improve his world record — and perhaps, finally, get an official sub-two-hour marathon on the books.

African churches demand end to xenophobic attacks in S. Africa

African churches demand end to xenophobic attacks in S. Africa

Video Courtesy of CNBCAfrica


As the latest wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa dies out, churches in the country and others on the continent are demanding an end to the persistent problem, affecting economic migrants in one  of Africa’s biggest economies.

The attacks, targeting nationals from other African countries, began in early September with mobs looting foreign-owned businesses in Johannesburg, the nation’s financial capital. The violence – which left at least 12 people dead — also triggered revenge attacks and looting in Nigeria, Zambia and Congo.

“The attacks jettison cultural and ideological philosophies of Ubuntu (humanity) and Ujamaa (oneness),” said the Rev. Lesmore Gibson Ezekiel, a Nigerian who heads the Peace, Diakonia and Development department of the All Africa Conference of Churches, a continentwide ecumenical group. “This culture of violence must be rejected by all with accompanying actions of entrenching a culture of hospitality.”

Ezekiel urged the government and churches in South Africa to tackle the “recurrent and needless attacks on fellow Africans, who find South Africa as a safe space to thrive and (who) contribute to its well-being.” He urged the churches to open their doors to the migrants seeking protection and shelter and to provide humanitarian support as well as psycho-social support to them.

“We commit (AACC) to accompany all stakeholders in South Africa and the continent … to bring to a halt all acts that project Africa as a continent that eats its own,” said Ezekiel.

This is not the first time South Africa has experienced xenophobic attacks. Before the country’s independence in 1994, immigrants still faced violence and discrimination. The problem continued in post-independent South Africa, with about 67 people dying between 1994 and 2008. The attacks peaked in 2008, with violence and looting targeting Mozambicans and leaving more than 60 people dead. Those attacks ended with the deployment of the army, but nearly 20,000 people were displaced and countless injured. The violence resurfaced in 2015 and 2018 and has been occurring in poor neighborhoods in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

According to Ishmael Tongai, a self-employed Zimbabwean residing in Cape Town, the attacks often spark over allegations that foreign African nationals are taking away jobs meant for South Africans.

“Foreign African migrants are found (in) all sectors of the country’s economy. There are doctors, teachers, vendors and academics. Pastors and priests are also finding space among the millions of Christians,” said Tongai.

South Africa, with a population of about 55 million, estimates that more than 2.2 million foreign nationals from African countries live there. Although most migrants have arrived in search of jobs, the country’s unemployment rate is estimated at 29 percent.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, apologized for the attacks but said they presented an opportunity for the continent to tackle poverty, unemployment and inequality, according to news reports.

While the country urged other African nations to manage the migration of their citizens, several African nations pushed back, calling on South Africa to protect their nationals.

But some South African religious leaders questioned the role of political leaders in the violence. Roman Catholic Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who heads the KwaZulu-Natal Church group, said the clerics are concerned that some  politicians are responsible for the violence through their derogatory and inflammatory statements about migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable people, according to the African News Agency on Sept. 9.

“Poverty and competition for scarce resources are some of the factors contributing to this violence,” said Napier. “Violence is not a solution, and blaming the weak and the marginalized is not a solution.”

Nigeria has taken a hard stand, saying it will evacuate about 600 of its nationals trapped in the violence. The West African country’s Catholic bishops censured the attacks but also praised the response to them by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“We advise Nigerians living at home and abroad to be good and law abiding,” said Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria.

Noting that Nigeria and South Africa have long-standing diplomatic relations, the archbishop urged the two nations to work to solve the problem affecting their people.

Church leaders in Congo urge the country to go to the polls

Church leaders in Congo urge the country to go to the polls

Congo is preparing for a crucial vote to elect a successor for President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since 2001. A successful election would mean the first peaceful transition of power for a country whose rule by dictators has been broken only by coups and civil wars.

But church leaders have put the stakes higher for Sunday’s vote (Dec. 23), demanding deeper change for Congo’s 81.5 million citizens.

“What is at stake is unity of our country, the integrity of our national territory, justice, peace and the improvement of the people’s living conditions,” said the country’s Catholic bishops, spiritual leaders to half of the population, in a statement last month.

Two years ago the bishops brokered a pact between Kabila and the opposition that allowed Kabila to remain in power until his successor is elected.

The Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

Now the bishops, joined by leaders from other churches, are urging their followers to turn out in large numbers to elect leaders who can defend the country, guarantee freedoms and do not steal the country’s resources, among other qualifications.

“We are urging the people to elect those who stand for progress and those (who) would not steal people’s mineral wealth,” said Bishop Josue’ Bulambo Lembelembe of the Church of Christ in Congo.

The bishops say they do not support any particular candidate but instead want the people to vote their conscience and elect a leader they deem trustworthy.

“We have told everyone to prepare to participate in the elections. We have urged them to ensure the process is carried out in a peaceful atmosphere,” Archbishop Marcel Utembi, president of the Congo Catholic bishops conference, told Religion News Service.

More than 40 percent of the country’s people are Roman Catholics, while a similar proportion is Protestant. An estimated 10 percent are Muslims, while others follow an indigenous group known as Kimbanguist.

While rallying people to the polls, religious leaders have been leading prayer vigils and preaching against the violence that has marred the electoral campaigns.

On Dec. 13, a mysterious fire burned down the electoral commission’s warehouse in Kinshasa. Police reports indicated that nearly 8,000 of the 10,000 electronic voting machines and ballot boxes to be used in the capital for the election were destroyed. The computerized voting system, purchased from a South Korean firm, has been met with mistrust after a similar system was abandoned in Argentina because it was vulnerable to hacking.

Bishop Marcel Utembi in Kinshasa, Congo, on Dec. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/John Bompengo)

In eastern Congo, people are also dealing with an Ebola outbreak, posing a further obstacle to getting people to the polls.

“I think some people are running out of patience,” said Lembelembe. “This raising (of) tensions days before elections is not good.”

The race has attracted 21 presidential candidates, with Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, widely viewed as Kabila’s proxy, as a front-runner. The opposition has fielded two main candidates, Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu.

The Rev. Donatien Nshole, secretary-general of the bishops conference, stressed that the bishops only want to ensure that the election is credible.

Church leaders have urged the international community to accompany the people of Congo in this process.

“We want them to be there and tell the truth and defend the truth when the results are released,” said Utembi.