Address by Archbishop Dr Eliud Wabukala at the annual National Prayer Breakfast hosted by the President of Kenya

‘I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life that you and your offspring may live’ Deuteronomy 30:19

When we gather for the next Prayer Breakfast in twelve months time, I wonder what will be on our hearts. Will we be praising God for his mercy and enjoying the fruits of peace, or will we come grieving for a nation which is in turmoil and where the rule of law is breaking down? As we approach the General Election, the choice we face is not just between political leaders and parties. In fact I would say that is the less important choice. What really matters is the choice we make about how we will conduct ourselves and the attitudes that will control us.

In our reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard the challenge given by Moses to the people of Israel as he nears the end of his life and they prepare to enter the Promised Land. He wants to impress on them that there is a choice to be made and it is matter of life and death. There is no middle ground between life and death and good and evil. We are going one way or the other. We have already had a warning of what death and evil looks like in our nation. After nearly fifty years of independence, there is much that we can thank God for, but these gains were nearly thrown away in the violence and savagery that erupted in our midst after the last General Election. Thousands of people were killed with impunity, severed heads were laid out along the roadside and great damage was done to our infrastructure.

 

I am sure we would all like to forget about these shameful and degrading things which happened in our beloved nation, but we need to face them without flinching or turning away. Denying the facts or blaming others may make us feel a bit better, but it will not heal the wound. Our Christian faith helps us to face these things because it also speaks to us of the reality of God’s power to save and restore and to give new life to those who know there need of him.

The shocking events of our recent past are a reminder that underneath the appearance of normality, there lurked deep hatreds and resentments. Longstanding tribal hostilities still smouldered and were ready to be fanned into flame by those who thought they could exploit them for their own ends. Have those attitudes of the heart been changed and dealt with? As I look at the way politics are being conducted in our nation, I fear they have not. We managed to negotiate a truce which has allowed life to get back to an appearance of normality, but we need more than a truce if Kenya is to be a stable and peaceful democracy. This is because there are two basic requirements for a democratic society.

Firstly, there must be respect for the rule of law. This law is grounded in the revealed nature of God himself and our laws owe much to the Christian tradition. The rule of law expresses the understanding that there are moral values and commitments which lie outside the democratic process because as creatures of the Creator we do not have a right simply to do as we please. Quite how that works out will vary in different times and places, but it is the basic understanding upon which democracy must work. Otherwise the democratic process will eventually degenerate into an electoral competition to see who will bury who.

Secondly, this respect for the rule of law must include the fundamental Christian belief that we are all created equally in the image of God. In this sense each human life is sacred from the womb to the grave irrespective of race, tribe, gender, socio-economic status and creed. No democratic mandate has the right to transgress this boundary.

How then can we strengthen our democracy as it faces the test of a General Election? Respect for the rule of law and for one another is a matter of the attitudes of the heart, not just self interest or habit. We need to look below the surface of things. Christians cannot call the truce we reached after the last General Election peace. True peace is much more than the absence of open conflict and the biblical understanding is found in the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ which means wholeness, things working as they should, as God intended. We are fallen creatures and the root of our problem is not to be found in education, social policies or development programmes, necessary though they are, but in the human heart. All our fighting and alienation from one another is ultimately because we are alienated from God. But God has made true peace, shalom, possible through repentance and faith in his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose again for our sins.

If we know peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we must in turn be peacemakers and Jesus’ teaching in our second reading from the Sermon on the Mount takes us right to the heart of the matter. The peacemakers are the people Jesus calls blessed and sons of God. As God in Christ loves us, even though we are by nature his enemies, so we, like him, must love even our enemies.

Do you see how relevant this teaching of Jesus is to the practical matter of a strong democracy in Kenya? If a healthy democracy turns on respect for the law and for one another as created in God’s image, then loving our enemies is a radical way of showing both obedience to God and recognising his image in others, even those who may hate us.

So will you commit with me to take the lead in being peacemakers for our nation in this truly radical way? It is costly because it will mean walking the way of cross in repentance and loving those we find most unlovable, but think what a wonderful transformation it would bring to our beloved nation. Think for instance of how much more secure our democratic institutions would be if we learned to follow the way of Jesus’ radical peacemaking rather than using democracy just as a way of trying to keep the lid on our hostilities. Do you want to be known as those who had the moral courage and faith to change our nation’s story? We have a choice before us – between life and death, between blessing and cursing. Let us not harden our hearts. Choose life! Let us be obedient to the divine summons and show the world what a nation can become when it is blessed by the Lord our God.

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