Peace in Our Time: Church and the State

    by Oduor Obura
    September 30th, 1938. The British PM, Neville Chamberlain signs an agreement with Herr Adolf Hitler in Munich, Germany. The document essentially contains an appeasement of Hitler’s expansionist policies in Europe. The Munich Agreement is an agreement between France, Italy, Nazi Germany and Britain. After Germany invaded the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, the British and French prime ministers tried to get Hitler to agree not to use his military in the future, in return for the land he had taken. Hitler agreed. Czechoslovakia was given to Hitler, in exchange for peace in Europe. The concession that the British made, in the name of peace, later proved to be a costly error. An error of strategy and an error in reputation.

    There are similarities between the church, peace and the world then to what we have in Kenya now. I wish to point out a little bit of the convergences. Be your own judge.

    Chamberlain went to his people, victorious that there would be “peace in our time”. The message of peace was delivered to the British nation on a Sunday. The British were happy. It turned out to be a short bliss. In the same manner, the state goes on to glorify the peace of Kenya. Behind the glorification of peace prawls a total crackdown on dissenting voice, where possible.

    If your church only talks about Raila or/and Uhuru only, and importantly preaches only peace, it is time to reconsider your membership to that church. If it conveniently forgets justice, for Moraa, Kimani, Yebei etc, run away. That is a church which has found a way to tactfully sit on the fence, in view of a state overaching its mandate, while (mis)using the church. Go to the mountains and pray alone for Kenya and her future. Pray not for a short-term peace. Oh that someone gave me the old time religion today. The future of the nation does not lie in a short term appeasement of hostile regimes, like Chamberlain did. As an institution trusted with speaking the truth, and with its large following in Kenya, the church must make its unequivocal stance known, without favor.

    Article 24 of the 1920 Nazi Party Platform read:
    “We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.”

    Notise how flowery the language was to so many.Be wise! Many Germans found this Nazi statement acceptable, because no one felt immediately threatened. The framing of the article was all a non-discerning christian would have looked for. It was only the Jew, after all the Jew is the other, who was going to be affected and not the German Christian. Decades later, the church has no voice in Germany, stemming from its role in world war two. Let us compare this with the Kenyan scenario now, where we are at a make or break moment. It is easy to be insensitive to the plight of a different group, once one has categorized a person as of a different genealogy. The separation of the jews from the Germans demarcated the boundary lines. In Kenya, this is epitomised by the Luo-Kikuyu binary, fronted by Odinga-Kenyatta.

    Does this peace ring a bell with the countless church attendance of the political leaders to church on Sunday? It does. The political class, loves a church that toes its line. History has an example of nationalised churches. The state has found what the church has always wanted, money. How do you invite an alleged corrupt person to your church without questioning the source of their money? And how will the church speak against teargassing of children when they gladly receive proceeds of buildings built on grabbed property? So we end up in a cycle in which a few steal but the church majority are silent because their voices have been dampened by political monies.

    Acceptance of money from political leaders by the church has been one of the reason the church uncritically supports the status quo. Consequently, the conundrum in which Kenya (and Africa) finds herself is partly propped by the church. It would only be plausible to conclude that the church leadership cannot stand against mal-functional governance because they are accomplices in the creation of the mess. According to UNICEF 2016 country-specific info-sheet, 45% of Kenyans leave below the poverty line. That is roughly 18.5 million people earn less than KShs 200 per day. It is a diamond mark of dishonesty for a church to unquestionably receive a donation of KShs 10m from a sitting deputy president.

    The need to remain ethnically loyal has meant that the church becomes only willing to appease its members, by either remaining neutral (read preaching peace) or simply taking a political stand (then looking for justifications afterwards) that would contradict the Biblical need for truth. The devil lies is in the details.

    The message of peace resonates with so many Christians as it is central to the teachings of the Bible. It is a honest Biblical peace and it is attached to no propaganda. The peace narrative that the state has advocated for is imbued with political propaganda. It is meant to silence a section of the electorate from speaking their mind. When peace no longer means peace but a way to entrench discordant ethnicity, isn’t it then time to call out the state and its deceitful premise of peace? Peace has taken an eerie political tone, yet the church is unable to see it. It cannot separate the Biblical peace from the politicised peace.

    This message of peace was first popularised Neville Chamberlaine, the PM of Britain at the beginning of second world war. It was an allusion to the English common prayer book. The message of peace that the state delivers echoes this. The peace document enhanced Hitler’s surprise element in declaring war. If the church knew the history of peace, as used by politicians, they would have been a tad slower in embracing this sort of peace. The peace echoed by the state has resulted in the deaths of people perceived to be anti-state.

    The message of peace in view of the Kenyan elections has been propagated further by western countries. It is our duty to point out the genesis of peace as a political tool. If it did not work out for Europe in 1938, why should it work in Kenya now? Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” led to his political waterloo. Why should the foreign missions support this peace message now? With all the intelligence they have on the institutionalized animosity Kenya? Of course their business interest must come first, like it did in Lumumba’s Congo.

    The Reichkonkordatt treaty 20th July 1933. Whereas the Nazi Germany gained control of the church through the Reichkonkordat, the Kenyan government gained church control through government employee harambee contributions (guised as personal donations). In both cases, the church loses grounds to challenge the state. However, no western world leader goes to church to donate questionable amount of monies. Their people would not even allow it among themselves. Kenyans, who bewitched you?

    Having been deceived by the political peace, the church pitches in with its support for peace. In return, the state gets emboldened by the church’s support. And so when the state descends on dismembering the constitution, the church looks sideways. The church staggers dangerously in its response to the whims of the regime. It cannot courageously speak out because it has been in a prostitutional relationship with the state. It is only a matter of time, before the state reminds the church not to go to it for funding. After all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once the church has lent legitimacy to an increasingly authoritarian regime, the church will be completely devoiced, like it was done in Germany.

    In 1999, the author John Cornwell assessing the role of the church in World War indicted the Catholic Church’s Pope during the World War 2 as “Hitler’s pope.” The pope was Pious XII (Eugenio Pacelli). And yes, he had personally rescued Jews, but his reputation was stained from his wider roles. It is thus commendable that the Anglican Church of Kenya has stood against attempts to amend the constitution. The attempts to mutilate the constitution is for the profit of a few politicians and not the Atieno, Wekesa, or Wanjiku. As a lone wolf, their stance might not be able to stem the wave of the ethnic mobilization going on in the country. An ecumenical cooperation is paramount if the people have to hear an unadulterated message of hope in this age of precariousness. No house divided against itself stands.

    Exactly, one year after the Munich Agreement, Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939. Chamberlain declared war against Germany but during the next eight months showed himself to be ill-equipped for the daunting task of saving Europe from Nazi conquest. After British forces failed to prevent the German occupation of Norway in April 1940, Chamberlain lost the support of many members of his Conservative Party. On May 10, Hitler invaded Holland, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The same day, Chamberlain formally lost the confidence of the House of Commons. And Winston Churchill became the prime minister that Britain needed. The blitzkrieg that Germans would later on rain on Londoners knew no measure. The message of peace was an egg on the face of Chamberlain.

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