Confronting Power in Kenya
Every year new bishops from across the Worldwide Anglican Communion gather in Canterbury. This year they were challenged by Dr Evie Vernon to be courageous in confronting power. On the day that the Pope officially declared Oscar Romero as a Martyr, Evie reminded the bishops of his witness alongside that of Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda and Obispo Maximo Ramento of the Independent Philippine Church. All three had been murdered by the powerful as they stood up for the weak and the poor.
Evie offered the Prophet Nathan confronting the all powerful King David as the example for the bishops to follow. For one of the bishops this was both a poignant reminder and powerful endorsement of his ministry. When Christopher Rutto was elected bishop of Eldoret in Kenya his thoughts turned to the first bishop of the diocese who had bravely confronted President Moi. In the 1980s and 90s Moi and those close to him had developed political structures that encouraged tribalism institutionalised corruption and injustice.
Bishop Muga, the first Bishop of Eldoret, was not alone in his campaign. Anglican Archbishops Gitari and Okullu also spoke out, along with Timothy Njoya of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. In one of his most notable sermons Gitari drew a direct referece between their stand and that of Nathan. All were ridiculed and intimidated, but it was Muga who suffered the most. Almost 25 years ago he died in an unexplained car crash.
Bishop Rutto has vowed to continue in the way of predecessor and this year he has led protests against land grabbing. Once again politicians are whipping up tribalism to exploit small scale business people and farmers as the wealthy get richer and those with huge plots of land get more. He is bound to make powerful enemies, but he sees this as his calling.
Other Kenyan bishops will stand with him and so can you. You can do this by praying for him and you can do it by standing up to injustice in your own context. If all Anglicans become people who live for a reconciled world we will be transformative.
This article appearing on the ACNS web-site gives an indication of the Churches’ need to confront injustice, by challenging the powerful who may not be acting justly. To do this, of course, the Churches must take care not to exert political power that might further enshrine systems of endemic injustice.
Those present at the meeting, described by Fr.Phil Groves, at Canterbury in the U.K. earlier this year, were reminded, by Speaker, Dr. R. Evie Vernon, of the martyrdom of eminent Church Leaders like Janani Luwum, Oscar Romero and Maximo Ramento – All three of whom had been murdered by the powerful as they stood up for the weak and the poor.
On today’s commemoration in Aotearoa/New Zealand of our own Waitangi Day – in our prayers for the relief of poverty, want and endemic injustice, we need to pray for ways and means of addressing our own injustices from the past – resolving to play our part as the Body of Christ to ‘stand up for the weak and the poor’.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand