The church must speak truth to power and navigate its complex relationship with politics

  • 20 Jan 2024
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri


The clergy are being challenged to speak truth to power and act as a check on the government, particularly at a time when the church is grappling with a tarnished reputation, often accused of going to bed with the government. 

In recent times, the church has been struggling with a legitimacy crisis. During the 2013, 2017 and 2022 general elections, for instance, church, money and ethnicity were inseparable and defined political competition.  

Since independence, the church and the state have always had a symbiotic relationship. The church has always tried to co-opt political leaders, while the state has always been involved in schemes to co-opt the church. Additionally, leaders of certain mainstream churches have in certain critical political moments, stood their ground and urged the government to abandon its authoritarian tendencies and even pushed for constitutional reforms. 

Fearless clergy 

In 2019, Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Lawrence Njoroge wrote an article in one of the local newspapers and said this about Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, “He once told (President) Moi to his face the State was sponsoring ethnic cleansing in Molo where many people had been killed in ethnic clashes. ‘If I lied, may I perish,’ he said without batting an eyelid.” He went on to state, “Outspoken and a household name in his heyday, Archbishop Ndingi was the quintessence of a fearless leader.”  

Among the many battles Archbishop Ndingi fought was the 1988 mlolongo (queue) voting where voters lined up behind candidates, a system which was openly abused by the state to rig in preferred candidates. “Those were the days when the few dared to oppose government edicts.”

Rev. Timothy Njoya was also known for being one of the church leaders who publicly spoke and protested against the ills of the KANU government under then-President Daniel Arap Moi. Rev. Njoya used his sermons to call for the reintroduction of multiparty democracy and strongly defended the freedom of expression and association as enshrined in the former Constitution. Rev. Njoya endured several arrests and faced condemnation from the church leadership. He is also remembered for being one of the people who led the Saba Saba multiparty demonstrations on July 7, 1990, that forced President Moi to allow the re-introduction of a multiparty state. 

Archbishop David Gitari preached and campaigned against land grabbing by powerful politicians and challenged economic injustice on a national and local level. He preached against constitutional changes which introduced mlolongo (queue voting) instead of secret ballot.

Another fearless clergy was Bishop Alexander Kipsang Muge who believed in the power of the pulpit to transform and reform society. Bishop Muge advocated for social truth and scared politicians whose interest was to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. At one time, he was warned by then minister for Labour Peter Habenga Okondo not to set foot in Busia. However, on August 14, 1990, Bishop Muge defied the ban and travelled to Busia. On his way back, he died in a road accident near Kipkaren, Uasin Gishu county. 


On January 14, 2024, Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga challenged the church to join hands with other Kenyans to keep the government in check.

Mr Odinga recalled how the late Archbishops Alexander Muge, David Gitari, and Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki stood firm and spoke the truth when the country was facing challenges. “They spoke the truth to power, and the church must speak the truth to power and tell those in power today that the people are hurting.”

Mr Odinga said that the church and politics are intertwined, and the clergy must come out to talk about the ills of the government. 

Political leaders hide behind religion

Rev. Dr Sammy Wainaina, Adviser, Anglican Communion Affairs, in an interview with Spice FM, in Nairobi on December 20, 2023, said the current government was made to look like the godliest government. 

“You will see them frequent churches. However, in my view, politicians should leave matters of the church to the church people. I don’t think it’s a prerogative of politicians to lead spiritual events such as prayer rallies and so forth. These should entirely be left at the hands of the clergy,” Rev. Dr Wainaina said.

The church minister went ahead to state that, in fact, this public display of spirituality and Christianity is being questioned by people who don’t subscribe to the Christian faith. “For instance, some people are asking why those people who campaigned and were portrayed as if they had all the solutions, turned around quickly and are now overtaxing the very people who voted them in; they can’t listen to the poor Kenyans anymore,” he said adding that the church and clergy need to be vocal in speaking about the ills bedevilling the country. 

The place of the church

In the recent past, Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri and Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) have been forthright in their criticism of the government. 

The two leaders have been critiquing the government and  advocating for the concerns of many struggles faced by Kenyans, including the escalating cost of living and the burden of heightened taxation imposed by the government.  

The two religious leaders have cautioned political leaders against exploiting the church for political advantages. The two have, in different settings, advised clergy members to refrain from leveraging their faith to achieve political objectives and emphasised that church leaders should set boundaries for politicians within religious settings.

Archbishop Muheria says the church must engage political leaders regularly and continually, and not only when the house is burning.

The Catholic archbishop adds that the church must enhance its credibility, both real and perceived, as this is absolutely essential to mediation. He adds that all members, irrespective of their political persuasion, must work towards building this credibility. “Church leaders must be beyond reproach. We must present ourselves in a way that shows high moral standards. We must enhance and sustain our commitment to the truth. When the church compromises on the truth, its mediatory efforts will be fruitless.”