Should Christians take the COVID Vaccine?

Like many crises in history, the COVID-19 pandemic forces Christians to come to terms with related medical issues. The question in many people’s minds is – should Christians receive the vaccine? I have had to contend with this question as friends and immediate family members have gotten the virus. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives and brought grief on a scale that I have not experienced in my lifetime. The social and economic effects of the pandemic will remain with us for a long time to come. This is why as Christians we will do well to determine what a proper Christian response to a vaccine should be.

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A number assert that the vaccine is a part of a sinister plan of evil forged against our world today. Some go as far as to connect the vaccine with the end time prophecies. Some will not take it as a matter of principle because of the vaccine’s problematic connection with immoral economic institutions. Others are reluctant to take the vaccine because such an action explicitly demonstrates lack of faith in God’s healing. Others are indifferent. Then there are those who will take the vaccine. I fall among those who would take the vaccine. The question is whether there is a valid Christian reason why one should take the vaccine [or should not take it for that matter.] As a Christian I am convinced that there is a strong argument why we should receive the vaccine. The following paragraphs are for those who would like to explore key reasons why as a Christian one should consider the vaccine. One who is strongly compelled by conviction or compulsion from other quarters (such as imminent prophecies, objections to industry issues, friend’s stories or WhatsApp forwards) might not find this as useful as they might like. I invite you to follow with me for a moment, and cross check my scripture references for yourself as you follow my train of thought.

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So, should Christians take the Covid vaccine? To answer this question one needs to address 3 important related questions which generally guide Christian engagements with issues. Does God explicitly forbid it? Does God explicitly allow, or encourage it? What does Scripture teach? 

Coronavirus: How soon can we expect a working vaccine? - BBC News

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Does God forbid the taking of vaccines? There is no mention of vaccines, or similar substances, in the Bible. It follows therefore that the Bible does not stop people from taking vaccines. There is no verse that says “thou shalt not take vaccines” Does God then allow or encourage vaccines? The answer is somewhat more technical, but still in my view straightforward. The Bible does not explicitly recommend the taking of vaccines. In other words, there is no verse you will find telling you “thou shalt take vaccines.” (One though could argue that the smearing of blood on the doorposts in Exodus was a kind of vaccination against first born death. But vaccination doesn’t work that way, and in any case, that was not really the point of the passover. We can discuss that another day.)

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In the absence of prohibitions or recommendations for vaccination in scripture we have to go to the third question. This is where we have to look at the body of Biblical teaching to give us guidance. This is standard practice for Christian living. Where we do not find explicit mentions of particular issues we look at the counsel of scriptural principles to guide us. This is how we discern, for instance, whether or not to ride in public transport, listen to radio or surf the internet. 

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With the issue of vaccines there are a number of important principles that give us counsel. I will pick 3 of the most important. The Bible teaches the sacredness of life and the importance of stewarding such life properly. God also teaches in Scripture about the purposeful pursuit of knowledge. Thirdly, through the person of Jesus, God demonstrates to us His sovereignty over human limitations, of which illness is an ever present example. Let us look at each of these principles in turn.

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Human life is sacred before God. He forbids the wilful destruction of human life (Exodus 20:13, Deut 5:17). Furthermore, human life held in these earthly bodies means something to God, because it facilitates worship (1 Cor 3:16-17). We are made in God’s image which connects human life with God in way that is unique from other creation. (Gen 1:27)Through these passages, the Holy Spirit is teaching us about the sanctity of human life and the importance of protecting it as a duty to God, to community and to ourselves. Vaccines are one of the ways God has allowed us to to fulfil this sacred duty to ourselves and the most vulnerable among us. 

sanctity of life Archives | Imagine Conference

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Much of science is the quest to gain knowledge for a particular use. God intends us to responsibly apply ourselves in research and profitable learning. There is something beautiful about discovering amazing things that God has woven into our earthly existence. (Prov 25:2). A profitable quest for knowledge can be helpful in establishing people and communities for God’s purposes. (Prov 24:3). Scripture also cautions us about the futility of an endless quest for knowledge for its own sake. ( Eccl 12:12, 2 Tim 3:7). That is why we need to balance our search for knowledge with an understanding of God and His purposes for us. (1 Thess 5:21, 2 Tim 2:15). Many prominent scientists acknowledge their faith as instrumental in pursuing excellence in their work. Isaac Newton, Michael Farraday, Blaise Pascal, George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale, Charles Babbage and Gregor Mendel are a few from the history of science. Mendel for example, developed the foundational building blocks of modern genetics. He was a priest! The development of vaccines in the last two centuries is one example of how God allowed us to fruitfully pursue knowledge to help preserve life. 

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God is sovereign over our lives. Christ’s death on the cross illustrates God’s redemptive plan for all humankind. Nested in this powerful image of the Cross is a very important assertion of God’s sovereignty over death. As Christians we believe that through the Cross Jesus defeated the ultimate limitation – that of death. Death and decay are the result of our sin and rebellion from God. One of the ways death and decay assails us is through disease. Sometimes we overcome disease. Other times we do not. However, even when we overcome illness, we cannot escape the ultimate consequence, which is death. But God’s redemption is available for us through Christ. The apostle Paul puts it beautifully when he writes, “ “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:55-57). 

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This means that our commitment to preserve the sanctity of life, must be balanced by a humble recognition of our indebtedness to God for life. Taking a vaccine is, in my view, a recognition of the importance of life to us and to God. The uncertainty around this action is always an opportunity to reflect on our human limitations even with the best science. No vaccine is 100% effective. There are no guarantees. Scripture teaches that God is 100% faithful by His own impeccable standard. It is for these three reasons that I am convinced that when vaccines emerge from the best of efforts, and with reasonable prospects of success, that we should take them. 

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Two questions arise. The first is – What if this vaccine is the product of a plot to dupe humanity into an evil plan? (Or a similar argument.) I will admit here that there have been medicines and medical activities which were used for evil. Evil experiments made in the dark European history of the world wars provides some ghastly examples. It is provable, however, that most of these present day stories of evil vaccines fall far short of the diabolical plans of these examples. One important argument against vaccination, and much of modern medicine is the profit motive of the medicine manufacturing [and selling] industry. This issue requires careful consideration because of its serious implications on the lives of individuals, communities and nations. Many have written, with credible evidence, of how industries, policies and even governments have been manipulated to promote medicines for monetary gain. As an example, our country witnessed national borrowing and corporate corruption in the name of the pandemic.

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That said, my response to this range of concerns is guided by Paul’s counsel to the Thessalonians to “examine everything carefully; hold on fast to what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21). Not every story on print or social media that claims to inform us is true. In fact many of these stories promote fear and discord. This isn’t new. Paul told Timothy about the peddling of fear. (2 Tim 1:7) We must use the knowledge and wisdom acquired mingled with prayerful discernment to establish the truth in many of these stories. Careful examination of many of the stories will usually reveal lies, misinformation, fear, political agendas and contradictions. I have often found that a principle developed by Occam, a devout Christian scholar from hundreds of years ago remains true. He taught that when faced with theories and explanations, the simplest explanation that does not require unfounded or unknown assumptions, is usually the best explanation. This is a helpful rule for research and study and is called “Occam’s razor.” Many of these theories fail this test.

How Bayesian methods embody Occam's razor | by Felix Laumann | NeuralSpace  | Medium

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The second question is – What if I personally do not want to take the vaccine? My refusal does not affect anyone else’s choice to take a vaccine. While it is true in theory that one person’s decision may not affect others’ decision, in reality it doesn’t work that way. Illnesses that affect entire communities, like pandemics require collective action.(One example of personal desire vs community protection is the wearing of masks in public.) It seems to me that the opposite is actually the most Christian response. That I should take the vaccine, precisely because taking it promotes the chances of life and health for someone else. Rather than think about my own desires, God’s grace given to us freely, teaches me to consider the lives of others as I live my own. Afterall the power of life and death is in God’s hands.

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In sum, God will hold us accountable for – decisions we made to hold life as sacred, to apply and promote the quest for profitable knowledge (such as vaccine development) and to acknowledge God’s truth and sovereignty over our frail limited human condition. No vaccine will offer a full guarantee for life. That said, I consider it my Christian duty to do everything I can to protect life, especially of the vulnerable ones in our community. My considered opinion is that God will hold us accountable for what we did when presented with a vaccine which to the best of our knowledge was meant to preserve our own lives, and the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities.

Book Launch

Kyama Mugambi launches his book. Exploring the movements’ religious visions in urban Africa,  A Spirit of Revitalization: Urban Pentecostalism in Kenya highlights antecedent movements set against their historical, social, economic, and political contexts. Kyama Mugambi examines how, in their translation of the gospel, innovative leaders synthesized new expressions of faith from elements of their historical and contemporary contexts. The sum of their experiences historically charts the remarkable journey of innovation, curation, and revision that attends to the process of translation and conversion in Christian history.

Is there a Canaan for the the Urban African Church beyond the COVID-19 wilderness?

COVID-19 has meant that for the first time in my lifetime Christians have had a mandatory break from weekly church services, in most major urban centres of the world. As I write this, church leaders here in Kenya, met today to consider cautiously opening their doors to resume meeting. The announcement has not been made yet – and many are waiting with bated breath. There are obvious health concerns associated with opening church gatherings to the general public. It is also true that the ravages of a pandemic should not outweigh the very important role that religion plays for the long term [spiritual] health of the society. After all this is not the first or the most serious pandemic humanity has faced since 32AD.

The question then is what the urban church in Africa will likely return to after the pandemic. Before I attempt to reflect on that, let me get some important things out of the way.

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One: There is much talk of the new normal. A useful way to reflect is to see the present situation as normative in a way that facilitates better anticipation for and integration with the future. It might help to think of what we have now and going forward as ‘normal,’ and the past as the “old normal.”

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Two: Technology has been hailed as the way of the future. Some assume that technology will change everything and replace current modes of physical relationship with virtual means. One analogy sometimes used to describe the technological shift has been the total replacement of camera film with digital photography. I am not yet convinced that virtual relationship and interactions will completely supplant the need for interpersonal interactions such as those in churches. I find it helpful to think of technology as a modifier or accelerator. The entry of mobile phones made phone booths obsolete, but mobile phones multiplied the number of conversations people could have with each other. People never stopped meeting – they still do, but they added mobile communication to the arsenal of relational tools at their disposal. Emails eclipsed hand written or typed personal letters, but people still crave physical meetings. In the same way, I do not expect that zoom will completely replace the need for physical community in church. I will get back to this in a moment.

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Honk (Or Zoom) If You Love Jesus: How Churches Are Adapting Amid ...Three: Of all the things that will change – the core tenets of Christian faith will not change. The message of reconciliation between a loving God and an obstinate humanity will remain relevant for all time. The at-times gripping, at-times in your face, at-times baffling, at-times winding story of that reconciliation recorded in the Bible will remain relevant for as long as the human race will struggle with its brokenness.

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So, if Christians in African urban centres have had a break from Church, will they go back to church? Will churches survive? Will there be a need for people to meet again in the communities we have come to know as the church? The short answer to all these questions is “Yes.” The long answer is “it will really depend,” and here is why –

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People will be yearning for the message of life: The average congregation member or potential church goer will be very exposed to a lot of information, trends and ideologies on the internet. Christianity will be one among many ‘ideologies.’ They will also be exposed to all kinds of ‘feel good’ spiritual experiences in the form of music, talks/sermons and even online experiences. The thing that will move them from the comfort of the screen to the church building, is a message that goes beyond attempting to produce a feeling [though that has its place]. People will go to church if what they find there is an authentic, life-giving experience of Christ and his people. It will go beyond intellectual engagement with the content, or some good old razzmatazz. They will want to see, and connect with people who are human, genuine about their humanity, but also bold and willing to stake their life on their message. I will not be surprised if people will flock to churches of pastors who are trolled or vilified for standing up for their faith in Christ online. I won’t be surprised if people seek out preachers with high personal integrity, and church members who care more about applying the message to their daily lives than trying to be suave or PC. I won’t be surprised to see churches emerging which meet in simple ways but put a premium on authenticity and fidelity to Christ. They will crave a meaningful faith not just a fleeting spirituality.

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People will be yearning for a holistic gospel: I expect people will leave the couch to attend churches that look beyond personal religion. They will find enough of that online – after all the online experience is very much like a supermarket [of global proportions] where people can pick whatever each wants without having to consume it with someone else. It is very individualistic in that sense. People will leave the screen if they find something that offers more – something that offers a community dimension of faith lived out for the benefit of society. The opposite is also true. People will want more than just ‘giving back to society.’ People might leave the couch to attend a church that isn’t just another NGO trying to solve societies’ issues without a bigger vision and motivation. There isn’t a shortage of causes to follow on the net. I think urban Africans might be moved to communities that tie their message of hope for the society with a bold, well-thought through, and authentically articulated commitment to Christ.

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People will be yearning for holistic supernatural encounters: Social media has done anScience and Religion - Debate On Religion excellent job of ridiculing charlatans who manufacture miracles for show. The pendulum has also swung on the opposite end where the same media has idolized a humanism that glorifies [even worships] science. Unfortunately, this humanism leaves more questions unanswered about bigger life issues than it answers about the mechanics of it. I suspect that the discerning public, church-going or not, are already suspicious of the two extremes and are looking for more. That ‘more’ may likely be found in communities that unashamedly offer the possibility of a God who isn’t bound by human constraints, is free to perform miraculous acts, not for show but as interventions revealing his sovereignty. These will not be limited to the spectacular. It seems to me people will be very much attracted to Acts 2 communities where God can be seen at work in big and small ways in people’s lives without the lights-camera-action mode we have seen recently. People might be willing to leave their laptop at home to go hear the Word of life preached boldly, thoughtfully and authentically, producing life change in people who previously had no hope.

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People will be yearning for simplicity without being taken for simpletons: Lets face it Advanced Biblical Theology and Christian Doctrine | Udemy, the online world is a highly complicated one with numerous twists and turns. Add to that the complexity of managing virtual relationships with multiple levels of very public interactions. Add to that the real-life friends. Add to that work. Add to that family. Add to that the nagging existential questions of life. An uncomplicated genuine encounter with Christ which touches the heart, the mind and probes the deepest of our emotions will likely inspire a person to make that trip to church. It is possible that, while there may likely be a number of large communities, there will be many more new small communities thriving in this simplicity. Cities are already highly complex places which are expensive to live in and costly to run large gatherings in.  This will inevitably make it hard to financially sustain large teams of full-time clergy. I would not be surprised if this dynamic of our growing African cities will contribute to the shift towards simpler church setups and services.  Teams might end up being smaller with mostly bi-vocational members. It will be simple but not simplistic. That generation will want to engage their faith with their minds as well as their hearts. They want to grapple with the hard personal and societal questions and probe deep for answers. They will hope for leaders [both clergy and lay] who won’t be afraid to reflect and probe with them. I can see people leaving that online perch and make the trip to sit under the teaching of such leaders. I can see some gathering around their bi-vocational pastors after service and talking till evening weaving theological issues, with life questions, with counselling matters, all with a measure of seriousness but peppered with some light-hearted fun.

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COVID-19 is not the end of the church. For a part of the world, things might continue as they did before. There is another part of the world for whom that will be the old normal. The normal will force them to grapple with the issues I raise. After the COVID-19 wilderness, it is very likely that a number of churches in African cities will be unable to adjust to this life in Canaan and may have to give up their existence to make way for a generation of churches that might be very different from what we know. These ‘new’ churches might have an uncanny similarity with New Testament communities. And that won’t be a bad thing for urban Africa. It actually could well be the answer to the fervent prayers of many in my generation and before.

On Pentecostalism Today

This is an excerpt of a Facebook conversation about an insightful article calling for a Pentecostal response to COVID-19. You may find the article here Coronavus Calls for Revival of Pentecostalism. In my Facebook post I hailed the article as a reminder of who we are, and what should be normative. The following is a part of the dialogue that ensued with Kevin Muriithi, a youth pastor, apologist, and theologian.

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Kevin Ndebz Muriithi Kyama thanks for the read. It was helpful in articulating, at least in my reading, the place of being open to the Spirit’s leading. I like how Richard Foster looks at the various Christian traditions as "streams" that help us to flow to the same river. To that end I think Pentecostalism reminds us of the place of the Spirit. A few questions for clarity:

1. The writer talks about prayer and love as descriptive of healthy Pentecostalism. Isn’t this just descriptive of being a Christian in which case what does Pentecostalism offer as a distinctive Christian tradition?

2. Openness to the Spirit should be center in our Christian life. I think the danger however can be a leaning towards individualistic and subjective experience above what we see in God’s entire revelation in scripture. I think this is a major critique towards Pentecostalism in general, and "excessive Pentecostalism" in particular. So the question would be what balance does a healthy Pentecostalism offer and how does it differ from other Christian traditions on the same?

3. I guess these questions point to this underlying observation on my end – that either because Pentecostalism as a Christian tradition is relatively young or because there have not been distinctive "healthy" Pentecostal theology(ies), then that is why we see the aberrations in doctrine and practise? If it is my ignorance, especially on the last point on lack of a distinctive healthy Pentecostal theology, what would you say are the basic pillars of Pentecostal theology that make it distinctive?

4. Although I see the biblical and practical emphasis on the Spirit and gifts, my major critique is that in most cases these seem to be emphasized outside the guidelines of Scripture. This remains my major critique on the movement and on it’s rather concentrated scope on the biblical revelation i.e Pneumatology. Is there more to Pentecostal theology beyond this?

These will greatly aid in my understanding my dear brother.

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Alex Shianda Kevin Ndebz Muriithi streams of living water by Richard Foster is a fantastic book.

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Kevin Ndebz Muriithi Alex Shianda it really is. Very helpful in learning from one another.

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Kyama Mugambi Kevin Ndebz Muriithi most popular (and scholarly) discourse on Pentecostalism starts from critique. There are many angles this launches from, eg critiques against American Fundamentist pentecostalim (and its related televangelist variants), excesses of African charismatcism (in independent and historic mission churches) etc. Every Christian tradition (even evangelicalism that is fierily scathing towards most other traditions) has areas where it needs Christ, and where it can learn from other traditions. This particular article is set within that context where Pentecostalism is said to have nothing to offer. (A narrative that is fast growing here). Even the site where it is published has in the past been impatient with Pentecostals/Charismatics. This article offers a corrective for Pentecostal/Chrismatic insiders (of whom I am one) and (hopefully) observers.

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Kyama Mugambi All theology is in some way contextual. Post enlightenment Euro-Christian thought has tended to promote theological discourse (learning) by (often fractious) critique. Simply put, find the fault in others, then present your considered opinion. This is …See More

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Kevin Ndebz Muriithi Kyama Mugambi I hear you and wholly agree, all theology is contextual. In total agreement especially on the idea that the various traditions have something to offer the global church – and that all traditions are imperfect. Agreed. I think this answers most questions but I’d like to hear from an insider’s perspective on this:

What would an insider say are some foundational pillars of healthy Pentecostalism? Or what would an insider say is Pentecostalism’s unique contribution to the global church?

Let me emphasize that I am asking for my own understanding and that I ask with a desire to learn from an insider’s perspective.

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Kyama Mugambi That’s the subject of whole books [see Alan Anderson, Walter
Hollenweger]. I would say Pentecostalism is but one expression of Christianity. It is found both in independent churches, and in historic mission Christianity [where it is sometimes called
Charismatic Christianity…] It’s key emphases [which would be its
pillars, or contribution if you like] are – a recognition of the prominent place of the Holy Spirit in the lived-out Christian experience, a profound appreciation of the power of God at work in the miraculous, an appreciation for New Testament experiences in the life of the Christian today, a vibrant orality that makes a place for experience as a valid expression of Gospel truth. There are others but I think those are the key ones. Let me also add here that there is a whole spectrum of Pentecostal expression and even nuances to Pentecostal theology. But I would summarize the key points that way.

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Kevin Ndebz Muriithi Kyama Mugambi thanks for these. Very helpful.

Two Passovers plus One

Traditional Jewish MatzoThe first Easter happened during the Passover, a celebration commemorating how God’s people depended on Him for life and deliverance from slavery. Knowing the end of the story from the beginning, God instituted that Holy day for Israel before the last plague in Egypt. He instructed His people to remember how He cared for their plight as slaves and rescued them at a great cost to Egypt (Exodus 12). On that fateful night and going forward He told his people to slaughter a lamb, smear its blood on their front doors, then roast the meat and eat it quickly with unleavened bread, as a memorial. God didn’t need the festival – it really was meant to be a lasting reminder for people through the generations of their indebtedness to God.

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This first Passover was also a prophetic event pointing us to another Lamb sacrificed to save humankind, God’s people. God responded to our tendency to sin by sending Jesus, His Son to die a cruel, shameful death on the Cross. On the Passover week on that first Easter, Jesus was slain and His blood poured out to avert the plague of eternal spiritual death. (Matthew 26-27, Mark 13-14, Luke 22-23, John 18-19) This deliverance event is the most important Christian Holy day (holiday if you like). Each year Christians celebrate it, usually with family, food and fun memories. Each year I look forward to the Easter church service, my highlight – the communion and hearing again those powerful words about Christ’s Body broken and His blood poured out for us.

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Photo Of The Inside Of A ChurchWithout conventional church services to attend, Easter 2020 is one of the most unusual Holy seasons in recent history; certainly different from anything I have ever had. It may well be different from any Easter many of us will ever have. This year’s Pesach finds us in the middle of a struggle to come to terms with the pain, grief, loss and confusion of the moment caused by Covid-19. We are confronted with a historical moment which, if I am to be honest, I have no other means to make meaning of except through faith. It is a season when an entire community (humanity in this case) comes face to face with illness and mortality. Israel faced this community-wide cross-roads at least twice in Biblical times, each time depending on God for deliverance, and instituting a Holy day of remembrance. (The Passover in Exodus and Purim in Esther)

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One month into the crisis, the small number cases in Africa at this moment confounds the science of it all. On the continent we now live with the grim anticipation of a deluge of confirmed infections waiting to happen. This may well be the case, but it may not. There may be no tsunami of illnesses after all. The possibility exists that the cup may pass by with less destruction than projected. What will a Christian response be?

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Silhouette of Person Holding Glass Mason JarThe Passover message contains a potent, pertinent lesson. It teaches us that our health, indeed our existence, depends on God. An appropriate practical response may be to set aside moments of reflection (as Dr Sahaya Selvam wisely pointed out) to remember how much we owe God for our lives. But what if the angel of death strikes, as he has elsewhere, and the storm beats worse than what is predicted? Even here, the Passover message still applies. The Easter Passover is about our indebtedness to God for all that we are. When that storm blows over, there will be a place to retreat and remember God in solemn praise, and resolute dependence, as Hosea (6:1-3) and Habbakuk (3:17-19) remind us. It remains a Passover after all, should we live to remember the days.

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Brown Wooden CrossGod prescribed the Passover ‘feast’ to Israel during the last and greatest Plague in Egypt. As we grapple with these circumstances around us, I think it is fitting to set aside our own moment of remembrance. It may be well worth the spiritual exercise to reflect on what we will do to remind us about our indebtedness to God when Covid-19 is over. Here are some thoughts I have turned over in my mind. On the day of remembrance next year (whenever that will be), perhaps I should plan to eat dinner with only my family ensuring that on the menu are immunity boosting lemons, ginger and garlic (that have been a part of our diet now); to do a zoom call with other friends and loved ones with facemasks on to remind us how precious we are to each other – and that we owe our lives to God. Have you thought about what you will do when God delivers you from Covid-19?

Facts, Faith and Covid-19

Covid 19 confronts us with a barrage of fear inducing facts. How are we as Christians to come to terms with the impact of these numerous pieces of frightful information? This has been the subject of much discussion with some decrying the failure of “Christians” to acknowledge the facts of science. Some Christians clap back with comments ranging from references to God’s sovereignty to Apocalyptic prophecies. This article isn’t about the details of who is right or wrong in these arguments. It is a [rather lengthy] piece for Christians who want to figure out what role their faith plays in relation to alarming facts in crisis such as this one.

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Concept Of Covid-19 In Red BackgroundFacts within a specific context are what constitutes one’s reality. Some facts will only apply within a given context while others do not. For example mangoes in our village fall on the ground under the pull of gravity. That might be true all over the earth but it is a different matter on the NASA space station four hundred kilometers above the earth. The behaviour of a mango on the space station does not necessarily negate the laws of gravity but it just means the facts apply differently in that different context. The fact of gravity is the same but these are two different realities as experienced by the people in those places.

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It follows, therefore, that someone else’s fact, in a different context may not constitute our reality. For example, a person without previous an infection of chickenpox will likely respond differently to exposure than one who has had it. One important point, however, and this is the point of this post, is that different people process the same fact differently based on the resources they have to process their reality. In other words, the same reality, with the same facts and the same context, will evoke different responses. The range of responses is wide. Some responses are more informed by faith while others are less informed by faith. Other factors such as fear, pain, and so on also influence people’s response. How then are we as Christians to address the information we have about covid-19?

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Person Holding Laboratory FlaskFact, scientific or otherwise, helps us know with some certainty what the measurable, verifiable elements of our reality are. Religion, however, is what should guide us in coming to terms with this reality. My faith as a Christian helps me make sense of what we know so far about our situation. Should the situation change, my faith will also help me find understanding and purpose. I return to this shortly. From a Christian perspective, it is possible to be aware of particular facts about a reality but miss the mark in making sense of them. I illustrate this with a well known Biblical account in Numbers 13 and 14.

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Israel came out of Egypt with a promise for a bright future. Their long and winding journey in the wilderness brought them to the promised land. When they arrived at its threshold, Moses, their trusted leader sent spies to bring back a report. Twelve men went out with specific instructions to gather information – facts, about the land. At the end of six weeks brought back the same facts. The land was productive, but unlike Israel, the people lived in large fortified cities and had considerable military might. This where the commonality of perspective among the spies ended.

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Ten spies looked at the facts and concluded, according to their interpretation, that the promised land was a no-go zone. In their words, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” In the same way many of us with potentially useful morsels of info share [on social media], the spies took it upon themselves to present the facts, and their assessment to the people. The result of their introspection was a riot and possibly mass hysteria among a travel-weary, poor, fearful and anxious Israel. “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder,” Israel complained to Moses.

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Photo of Person Peeking through the HoleJoshua and Caleb, the remaining two spies, encountered the same facts, acknowledged them but saw greater purpose. They did not dismiss the negative, potentially overwhelming downsides of Canaan. They instead chose to see the whole picture. Their assessment of the facts led them to conclude that the land presented an opportunity for Israel. They accepted that Canaanites had great military might but this was no match for God’s promise to Israel. It was not lost on them that there would be a struggle, but they gave meaning and context to the facts by putting God in the picture.

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Similarly, Covid 19 presents us with the opportunity to assess the facts of post-corona-virus life. Our Christian assessment should be honest about what the situation on the ground is. We should also be aware of who God is and what he intends for us.

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Let us be clear here that hope does not mean dishonesty about the truth. A harsh indictment is given for those who deny the truth about a dire situation. Such unwise people (the prophet uses stronger words) put themselves on a collision course with God when they “whitewash” the truth with false claims. (Ezekiel 13:3-12) While the temptation is great to bend the facts to give hope to a desperate people, such hope must be rooted in the actual situation. Covid-19 is a serious disease that has caused widespread suffering, and death. Every presentation of hope needs to make sure it is not “whitewashing” this fact.

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We also must understand that a message of hope in Christ that does not acknowledge God’s sovereignty over human frailty also attracts God’s displeasure, as we have seen in the Numbers narrative. Our Christian faith response cannot be despondent and despairing, even with harsh facts – this is not the vision we see of our God in scripture. Our faith furnishes us with the resources to accept both the severity of our situation, and appreciate God’s sovereignty over it.

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Man Holding His FaceI can see three responses that we can adopt as we process meaning behind the facts of our Covid-19 situation. The first is a retreat into lament. (See N.T.Wright’s reflection on this Here.) Christian faith teaches us that there is a place for a quiet weeping over our state. A solemn, soul-searching moment that invites us to grieve over our weak physical and spiritual condition, as God would, and does. Jeremiah in his eponymous book, and the book he wrote of Lamentations gives us excellent lessons on this. Many Psalms also do a great job modelling this, and giving us the vocabulary for lament. In our lives lament involves prayer, meditative readings and even music that puts us in touch with the feelings of grief, loss and sense of utter dependence on God in our lamentable circumstances.

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This grief cannot be perpetual but must give way to a resolute dependence on God. Such a dependence recognizes the seriousness of the situation but also acknowledges that God can bring deliverance in any form to the afflicted. It challenges our one-track view of modern medicine, and causes us to consider other avenues of God’s miraculous intervention, whether by medical or other means. This dependence is so fervent that even if God did not heal in the way we desire, we still remain devoted to him. (See Habbakuk 3:17) This dependence prioritizes seeking after God in His Word. (See Hosea 6:1-4) It also highlights spiritual disciplines such as community worship [in whichever form available], prayer and fasting.

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Brown Concrete Cross Near a Palm TreeFinally, a third Christian response to our difficult realities should inspire an outward orientation. The alarming facts of Covid-19 must re-sensitize us to the most vulnerable in our midst and how severely they are affected. It should drive us to care for them by considering their livelihoods as well as their health. It will require those with means to give generously to safeguard the well-being of the vulnerable. Christian employers, landlords and other people of means – must think outside the box to find humane solutions to the difficult dilemmas of life, especially in cities and towns. A Christian response to Covid-19 realities is a call to reach deep into our Christian experience, to cultivate a sense of purpose and hope at a time when the facts tempt us to fear. In the face of the hopelessness of skepticism towards God, our Christian faith invites us back to the Cross, to cling on to God with even more devotion.

Leviticus 25, Covid 19 and the triumph of Hope

Covid19 shook most assumptions we have held about the proper functioning of our world. It affected how we relate with our loved ones, when and how we travel, how we do business, what is important in business, whether politics is a crucial media topic in times of crisis, how nations relate, what is the first world or the third world in terms of a pandemic, and so on. We return to this shortly but first let me talk a little about another occurrence that was intentionally designed to periodically rattle the fundamentals of a nation.
Jubilee was an extraordinary economic, social and political phenomenon (See Leviticus 25). Image result for virgin forestGod instituted it to occur every fifty years, as a kind of sabbath after seven seasons of seven years each. Farmed land was put on furlough. Even the soil, trees and vines were given a rest. Economically speaking, land previously sold was returned to its God-instituted custodians. Creditors had to forgive the debts of those who sold themselves to servitude on account of poverty. (That is if their kin did not ‘redeem’ them before the day.) Slaves by reason of money were freed, and relationships potentially are given a new lease of life.
At face value, this seems like a wonderful time of favour, celebration and good cheer. One must read the text more carefully to see that the Jubilee was an institutionalized periodic knock on the head for anyone who missed God’s directives about justice in society. Jubilee was a difficult time. The resulting societal changes affected the dynamics of power, leadership and governance. In other words, the sabbath of sabbaths had a politico-economic dimension. It was also a moment of reckoning where the society, especially its leaders, should have taken a long hard look and addressed the issues.
Look closer and see that Moses instituted a total upset of the systems of ‘good economic practice.’ Such ‘good practice’ required that the owners of the means of production paid for labour. Money loaned to a person ‘did its work’ to bring in interest, both to recover the time value of money and to generate value for the lender. Means of production, ie land, was to be worked to generate maximum value for its owner, working it at every open opportunity. Jubilee tossed all that on its head. Image result for upside down graph
Workers giving value in exchange for money loaned in the past (but still unpaid), were released. The remaining amount of money owed – was pardoned. The land lay unfarmed. It is easy to see how this was a moment of jubilation for slaves freed, and for workers who didn’t have to go to the fields. Jubilee was a season of uncertainty where the well-to-do were plunged into the unknown. The society pushed the reset button.
There are many dimensions of this reset. Fundamentally though, the haves and have-nots had to name, then come to terms with the inequalities of society. “What do you owe?” “It is now pardoned.” I can imagine how a person who had completed only 3 out of 6 years of servitude happily left their implements on the farm as soon as the Jubilee year started. I can also imagine land owners determinedly working their bond-servants to the bone in the few days remaining before the Jubilee year began just to try and get that last unit of value before the reset. There was little recourse when someone owed you, and did not pay, and had to be released -all that because the Jubilee had come. The pardon of the season protected the debtor but instituted a kind of preference against the person of means. (Remember Fr Gutierrez’s preferential option for the poor?)
More could be said, but suffice it to say that Jubilee was such a difficult manoeuvre to execute properly that some say it likely was never observed as instructed. It remained an unfulfilled longing awaiting a Messiah. (Isaiah 61, Luke 4) It is not hard to imagine why it was the substance of wistful dreams. Anyone with the power and societal wherewithal to effect it would have had to endure immense uncertainty, angst, and pain for the reset to happen properly. It is easy to see political reasons why Jubilee might not have seen the light of day. Hope for the poor came at a cost. Jubilee challenged everything and everyone – Leveling the playing field in an unequal society, in an uncomfortable disruption for one group, which simultaneously projected rays of hope for another group. Jubilee was the reminder that before God, all humanity is equal and vulnerable.
Despite its unclear origin, obscure trajectory, and unprecedented consequences so far, Covid19, like Jubilee, gives us a glimpse of what it looks like when all humanity is equalized and vulnerable.Image result for covid 19 It has forced a rest, in some places, of all but the essential means of production. The proverbial soil, trees and vines have to rest, along with those who tend them.

It exposes us to the angst and fear in a person [people, society, societies] when money, health care cover, one’s government, can do little to offer assurances against a reality that shakes the very foundations of what makes us secure. It also exposes us to the seeming recklessness of those who, having nothing more to lose in the humanly induced inequalities of society, choose actions to try to secure their daily subsistence. It exposes our vulnerabilities as humans. It brings out the dangerous human potential for pain, fear and indifference in all levels of humanity. It flips the table on what we normally see. The indifference of the privileged towards the poor, and the systems that make society so unequal, is exchanged with the fear the privileged have when the systems threaten their own existence. The fear that the poor have of the worsening of their plight, is exchanged with an indifference towards the dire context, as they try to make ends meet.
Covid 19, like Jubilee, can also present for us hope. Covid19, like Jubilee, is a moment in time that will change everything. In changing everything it gives a fresh start, just like unfarmed the fields. Society may never really be equal, but Covid19 shows ‘the least of these’ this one thing. It shows them that the privileged are also human, they fear, they ache, they cry, and their lives are fragile. Perhaps this moment is even more important for the privileged because it shows us that our humanity is real and finite. It shows us that we can no longer hide in money, systems, and policies. These things can fail us, as they have failed those we have been indifferent towards.

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Hopefully, covid19 will challenge us to be more human, and humane. I pray it will change the way we behave towards others, from different social strata, and different races – calling us to challenge systems and hold leaders accountable. Hopefully, it will push a reset button that gives us a fresh start to rediscover our humanity as God intended it – making us call, talk to and appreciate those who are not like us. It will remind us why it is so important to be mutually respectful, to be interdependent, even with those we think little about- helping us to guard our language and thoughts whenever we talk or refer to others who are not like us. It will also show us why we need God in our broken world, brokenness for which we do not really have all the answers. These are the reminders that point us back to the Cross of the Christ who promised the real Jubilee. (Luke 4) It is a call to put our Hope in Him who knows our human condition, and Who recommended that every now and then we need a fresh start a reset.

ps. While this in one sense has nothing to do with Jubilee politics in Kenya, in another sense, it has everything to do with it!

Scorpions, Debt and Rehoboam

The story is told of how a son of a great king ascended to the seat of rulership after the death of his father. At the initial meeting, the gathered nation spoke their hearts out to the new ruler, pleading a different future from the heavy burden his father had saddled them with. They cried out for relief from the previous regime’s oppressive environment. The young ruler retreated for some days to consult with wise elders seeking a way forward. The wise men suggested a compassionate response, full of empathy and justice for the groaning nation.

Having listened to the elders, the young ruler sought a second opinion. He went to the inner circle of his handlers for their thoughts. They had a radically different approach. The men the young ruler had grown up with advised him to be tough, and unrelenting if he was going to accomplish what they wanted during his tenure. They trashed the elders’ divinely inspired wisdom. So, coached by his confidantes, young ruler came back to the groaning nation with these words, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.”

Scorpion

2019 Kenya is struggling under a heavy debt burden. Numerous calls have gone out to the leadership for caution against an oppressive debt regime. The words returning to the groaning nation are that if the big agenda is to be fulfilled then the public must be content with a heavier debt burden. Those opposed to the back-breaking load are, therefore, enemies of progress, often contemptuously scorned. It is not clear at this point if Kenya is too far gone to beat an about turn away from the fast-approaching onslaught of debt-induced turbulence. What is clear is that the pain of slow business will only be multiplied on the public through higher interest rates, to ostensibly stimulate economic growth in the flailing banking sector. The scourge of whips will turn to the scourge of scorpions. To paraphrase the respected, most senior banker, I also ask, what use is this growth if it does not translate into the lives of the ordinary citizen?

Debt trap

The story of the young ruler has a dramatic ending. The nation couldn’t take it any more. The people refused the young ruler’s leadership. They essentially denied the ruler a kingdom, ripping away from him what he had desired to have. His courage and audacity were met with the consequences of harsh political realities. Despite the big vision and smooth words, Jubilee has consistently met the groanings of economic duress with promises of more of the same economic activities that cause the pain. More debt, less action against systemic and individual corruption, and apathetic responses to the plight of the common man. Could it be that Jubilee is inviting upon itself Rehoboam’s fate? Is it possible that the Kibra election will be a prophecy of whether the young ruler will have a kingdom or not in 2022? Could it be that 2022 portends a multitude of rulers who will be stripped of their kingdoms for their lack of wisdom in times such as these? If I was Jubilee, I would study the story in 1 Kings 12 thoroughly and see what I can learn from it, because the issues are the same, the key characters in the story are the same, and the same frightening end might be their lot.

What on Earth is the Church here for?

“Churches have a right to expose evil, to reject and to speak openly…But not to say they join politics and such. If he wants to be a politician, join politics.” President Daniel Arap Moi cNov 1984

“The issue is courage to do their calling. Hospitals is not the call of the church. Justice is.” Dr. Wandia Njoya October 2019.

These statements prescribe what the church shouldn’t or should do in a society that remains broken and in need of urgent attention. Though separated by vastly different contexts, time, and stature of the speakers, in essence both statements by self-professed Christians [church people?] point to at least two things. The first is obviously the importance of the Christian organization in dealing with particular maladies in society. These include things like, in the words of the speakers, justice, the exposition of evil and so on. The second is the poignant frustration at this organization’s propensity to overstep its [real or imagined] mandate in pursuit of matters for which it has no business engaging in. The arguments embodied in both statements speak into our post-independence context and require some engagement. My point is that the inherent problem with these statements in today’s discourse about the church is a lack of clarity about what the church is, and what it exists to do. Such fuzziness may misdirect some, and bring confusion of intent in others. It is such confusion of intent that, quite unfortunately, places these two statements next to each other.

corruption-kenya

What is our context? I state the obvious when I say we live in a Kenya driven by greed that fuels the violent and epic-proportioned theft that we seem to have sanitized through what we glibly call corruption. It runs from the ground up, from the little bribes we “ordinary people” give to parking attendants to avoid county fees; right up to the mega-deals brokered by politicians and business people that turn up on our newspapers every day.

As one politician put it “siasa mbaya, maisha mbaya” – bad politics, bad life. The perpetual farce that is our politics remains the fertile breeding ground for these vermin that ruin our economy and destroy the very fabric of our society. We see this dysfunctionality everywhere, in education institutions, healthcare, the exposure of our vulnerable members of society, and the inadequacies of our infrastructure. I will grant that we have made much progress since say 1984, but in the same breath I will say that we should have been so much further as a nation were it not for these systemic injustices.

Few institutions, if any have the sheer raw power to challenge this status quo. Civil society, the knight in shining armour of yesteryear has struggled to sustain the pressure with the turn of Kenya’s political tide, at the turn of the century. Perhaps the diverse perspectives within this group, coupled with existential concerns of its members have sapped their energies. Or perhaps the very same issues the nation struggles with are also the substance of their localized experiences. I don’t know for sure.

voting1

The voting public is the other bloc with the power. The power of the numbers is in their hands to be exercised every few years at the election. Working together, they can outvote anyone or anything they choose to reject. If that fails, no government organ can contain a resolute public tired of the state of affairs. But alas, the public cannot at this point rely on itself to act in unison towards its best interests. Confused by constant shifts in political winds, disillusioned by ethnic visions of the future, and oppressed by the economic context, the voters seem paralysed, unable to act. They yearn for leadership which at best comes in fits and starts. The media is the other major player. It however, has been a mixed bag. Sometimes we see flashes of brilliance, rallying all who will listen as it challenges, highlights or amplifies the voices of reason and justice. Most of the time, the public is treated to the profiteering racket that is sensationalism. Thoughtful representations of our truth are few and far between.

That leaves us with the church. I speak of it in very general terms here recognizing that “the church” is a nebulous term which can mean something, someone, people, places, ideas, faith, faiths all at the same time, while at the same time meaning nothing. I will return to that in a moment. The church, whose message is to bring liberation and justice, is meant rise up and call evil for what it is. To use the now-popular phrase, the church is all we have left to “speak truth to power.”

That is where the problems begin. This thing we call the church, is riddled with scandals. Its selfish egoistic leaders continually erode the church’s credibility in the public eye. Together with the corruption scandals, the other news we find with appalling frequency in the outlets is the latest of a seemingly endless series of shenanigans of my fellow people of the cloth. Some of what we see is not only unbiblical but outright criminal. This is further compounded by the demands of audacious, legitimate but often costly expansion projects which likely take a toll many who want to participate meaningfully but can feel the squeeze of an ailing economy.

Faith Politics SignProbably even worse is the silence, or seeming silence of many church leaders in the face of such matters, and its slackness in the work of restoring justice and freedom to the people. Thankfully, the silence is broken in some few places. I have argued elsewhere that if one is diligent, careful and honest enough to look, they will find the timeless message of justice and truth courageously spoken in pulpits scattered all over the country. There is the proverbial remnant for the worried Elijahs out there.

Church leaders from various places get together more often these days than they did 40 years ago, to deliberate and speak “truth to power.” In the neo-liberal scheme of things however, the fourth estate often neglects to report these important messages, in favour of what offers more commercial value – scandal! (I have often wondered who or what is responsible for the training and formation of the younger media practitioners in that important constituency of our society. But that is beside the point.) What I am saying however is that church leaders have done something. I am also stating that they could and should do much more in not just condemning the failure of leadership in our society, but also in holding the leaders accountable and actively discouraging the vice.

church harambeeThis is where I couldn’t agree more with those who argue that the church is not doing enough to speak and rally its constituency towards justice, freedom, righteousness and moral uprightness, not just for the individual but for the society. I am also on record as being critical of a prevalent, narrow, deficient and partially heretical theology that attributes a faulty logic of salvation to the individual only. Redemption is for the individual and for society. We cannot condone the virus that makes the entire society sick while hoping that the individual therein will find full spiritual healing. That is why I applaud the efforts of those bold leaders, mostly in the mainline denominations, who have taken a position on donations by politicians in churches. The driving of a personal, partisan political agenda in a church through money is flat out wrong. This dance with mammon and political intents not what the church exists to do. The politicians’ “thirty pieces of silver” should be literally and metaphorically thrown back at them, building projects notwithstanding. Better an unfinished building, than a sick Body of Christ with an angry Jesus to boot.

We need church community leaders with the discernment and courage of St. Peter in Acts 8 to purge these repugnant attempts to appropriate the gift of God’s community for personal gain. The politicians, the whole lot of them, from the President, his deputy, their political partners by handshake and others need to heed Peter’s warning to “have no part or share in this ministry, because [their] heart[s are] not right before God.”[v.21] At the risk of losing leaders’ favor and financial support, the pastors should direct them to “repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive [them] for having such a thought in [their] heart[s].”

Your-Place-in-the-Body-of-ChristSo, if the church does not exist to receive donations from politicians what does it exist to do. This is where my understanding is at odds with both Moi and Wandia. To avoid ambiguity we need to define two issues here. The first is what constitutes the church. The second is what the specific mandate of the church is. For purposes of this discussion, I will define the church as that group of people that self identify as followers of Jesus. I use that definition because it is evident the terms he uses to describe his relationship with them, calling them his “body,” or his “bride.” Conversely, this “church” acknowledges Jesus as “her” head, and as her groom. It is a flawed group, always painfully limping from the wounds of its own making. But still, strangely, for God’s own glory, this is the group Jesus left to represent him. That in itself is a testament to Jesus grace for the deserving [ie God’s people], and also a continual reminder of our perpetual need to depend on Him.

The purpose of this church, with its victories and vicissitudes, is to advance Jesus’ agenda. Discerning this agenda is not rocket science. We find multiple summaries of it throughout the Bible. The purpose of the church is to align our lives and our human experience with God’s agenda through Christ. [Ephesians 1:10] This spiritual endeavour necessarily covers our personal lives, our families, workplaces and the values and systems we see, as well as the underlying assumptions and motivations that drive the world around us. It also includes the physical, material circumstances that we find ourselves in. Where any of these varied situations are at odds with God’s agenda, then they must be brought back into dialogue and relationship with God. The term often used is that all these people, things, systems, and structures are to be “reconciled” with God and his purposes. [Col 1:20, 2 Cor 5:21]

One could argue that this is vague and non-specific. Where do we find the purpose of the church specifically indicated? Jesus gives us some pointers in his own mission, which he bequeaths the church in Luke 4:18-19. Referring to Isaiah, he said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[ Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 58:6]

The spirit of the lordLet’s exegete this. The church exists to make a difference in the lives of the poor. This is not just spiritual, emotional or intellectual poverty. A casual look at the New Testament demonstrates that God’s agenda necessarily includes all the above as well as material, economic poverty. Poverty alleviation is the business of the church! Jesus is also about liberation, setting people free. His agenda is for freedom. Again this is not just from spiritual, or intellectual captivity. Those are important but this also includes those in political, ethnic, and racial oppression. Many facets of this liberation message are political. And so, contra-Moi, politics is necessarily the business of the church.

God’s agenda is healing, for the blind. God is interested in people’s health, their ocular, aural, olfactory and every other kind of wellness. It’s been laid bare for us in the good book that Jesus and those he mentored invested themselves in the spiritual and physical health of the people around them. Hospitals are therefore the business of the church!

I note here, and this is significant, that God’s agenda is not limited to the freedom, health and well-being of just the believers. God’s agenda, mediated by His community, is for all of humanity. My purpose as a Christian is to make the world a better place for everyone. Sometimes my efforts as a Christian reduce the quality of my own life, but for the sake of someone else. That notwithstanding, Christ’s message offers God’s gifts shared for all humanity.

The last part of the statement is often overlooked. The proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favour. Elsewhere you will find the term, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s Jubilee. The Year of the Lord’s favour was a biblical concept where God required his people to push a reset button in society to restore what had gone off centre in the societal systems and structures. (Far cry for what Jubilee, the party has delivered…) Land was returned, slaves were released, and the marginalized were given a second chance in the Jubilee cycle which was to last 49 years. This was a time for hope and renewal for a society which had atrophied over time. In short, Jesus teaches me that the church is also in the business of hope. This hope is supplied at great cost written in blood at Calvary. This community exists to announce and where necessary engineer a reset both giving much-needed hope for the individual and for the society they live in.

Christian cross with Jesus Christ statue over stormy clouds

My reading of the purpose of the church necessarily requires the church to actively engage in politics and economics. Mr Moi was wrong on this one. It must speak about good and evil, but must also tangibly act on the same. It must encourage, dissuade and negotiate in order to fulfil its mandate. It hasn’t always done a good job of this, and I am sure article in at least one of this week’s newspapers may eloquently prove this. But its failure in practice does not negate its mandate in theory [in theology?].

The church’s work of proclaiming the good news to the poor is a call to social work in all its forms. This proclamation of Jesus [and him crucified, and resurrected], necessarily involves work in schools, hospitals, orphanages, care for the aged, refugee work, mental healthcare and any other area involving the marginalized, and affects the well-being of the society. Such involvement will be at every level imaginable, so long as at least one member of the church is there. To suggest otherwise is to misdirect the community. It is on this count that Dr Njoya’s statement above misses the mark. While motivated by the chronic ineptitude of various church leaders, her prescription either dismisses or ignores the express purpose of the church.

Any discourse about what the church should [or shouldn’t] do will be strengthened by a proper understanding of who the church is, and what the purpose is. I have explained what the purpose of the church is and in general terms who the church is. Let me make a further distinction here. The church is a group of followers of Christ. It is a community. It is a group of people organically connected to each other by a common faith in the person of Jesus. This conversation is impoverished whenever the church is viewed primarily as an institution – an inanimate body built around a particular structure for a specific goal. Truth be told it is an institution with structures for a goal. In fact, it is a motley conglomeration of many institutions. It, however, is much more than that, it is a community, an organism more than an organization. That the church fails, for example, to speak prophetically to the Presidency is an indictment on particular institutions, but not on the community. Even here one has to specify which of the many institutions, that form the local, nationwide or worldwide church are being indicted.

Institutional failure may reflect on the institution but it does not absolve the community of its mandate to pursue its purpose in society. If the church has been silent as an institution, it must realize its own shortcomings as a community, and get back on its mission. The mission didn’t go away, its the institution that got distracted. If it stopped speaking prophetically, it must open its mouth again. On the same token, if some within its proximity require education, healthcare, or legal services, then the community must get in there and do what it can at all levels.

Oppressive government healthcare practices and policy must be confronted with sharp rebuke from church members [leaders] on the pulpit, church members in that sector of society [health practitioners] and the church members in the affected area [wananchi.] Other church members should revise, re-craft and push, by advocacy or other means, policies that address the inadequacies and issues of the sector. At the same time, church members also have a responsibility to the victims of the broken healthcare system [patients in the hospitals, nurses, doctors etc]. In addition to much fervent prayer, which we know can bring supernatural healing, the church [leaders and members] have to trust God to take further tangible steps. After all, as James pointed out, if a vulnerable person comes and the Christian community “does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” [2:16-17] An implication often missed in the reading of this passage in James, is that somehow, with all the needs of the institution, the cost of being Christlike community rests with the community itself. With wisdom, restraint and hope [all available in varying measures], Christ invites church members the privilege of fincancially supporting the work. And the work is a lot! Where the government neglected to build a hospital, the church members should build one. Where the government is failing to maintain the hospital, the church, that is the community of Christ-followers, should step in.Bible and Medicine

In other words, the failure of the government, civil society, the media, or NGOs is not a license for the church to abdicate its spiritual and physical mandate to fulfil its purpose. On this score, I would argue instead that we need to see much more engagement. The churches, especially the charismatic ones whose expression I belong to, [we] need to do much more than they have been doing. We the church, members, leaders and all, should build those schools, take over public hospitals, support the orphans, run for political office – and do whatever the mission and purpose requires. The church is more than an institution, it is a community. Its mandate is to do all within its power, engaging all its people and resources to align everything to God’s agenda for humanity. As it is, where we are now, there is too little engagement with politics, healthcare, education, infrastructure, economics and so on. I hear Jesus saying through Luke 4, that we need to get on with it already.  The church is mandated to have its finger in every pie, and keep it there until its mandate is fulfilled, or Jesus returns – whichever comes first.

Forgiveness, Irrationality and Choice

Brandt Jean statement https://youtu.be/xkOXpmePoDE

Image result for brandt jean

Faced with an opportunity to address the killer of his brother, Brandt Jean chose a difficult path. He voiced his forgiveness and even stated that he would not have wanted the Amber Guyger not to go to jail.

That felt wrong to me on several levels. A person of color died, unarmed in his own apartment, from bullet out of a white police officer’s gun. Forgiving one is not recommended, in a racially charged nation where many offenders are hardly brought to book. Justice needs to be served, if not for this family, for many others vicariously. Jean’s statement felt to me like it trivialized the gravity of what was at stake here.

However at another level Jean did something that sets him apart from the Pope’s words to his shooter or Mandela’s approach to peace in post-apartheid South Africa. Pope John Paul II had instruments of power. His forgiveness came at a great personal cost but his position of authority and responsibility in the world afforded him a certain status and possibly cushion from the effects of this heinous act against him. Mandela was already a famous leader by the time he left prison. He led the nation and had access to resources and status that is vastly different from Jean’s situation. While I don’t claim to be an expert in these matters, or to understand Jean’s environment from a first had perspective, it is not lost on me that nothing in Jean’s life now or in the future is set up to be spectacular or cushioned. He has nothing to gain materially from this situation. In fact, he lost his brother, his privacy, his dignity, his preferred future and so on. When Jean goes back to life, his racial background will predispose him to the same fate that befell his brother. I struggle with that in light of what he said. It doesn’t sit well with me.

Jean lives in a world where systemic injustice not only robs him of dignity but of choice. Systemic injustice exposes him to death on his person, and the possibility of grief every time he steps out. Even when he is at home or at school he has no choice about whether he will experience loss of a loved one by virtue of his race. He also has no choice about the remedy for his situation. When a person gets shot, the only choice he has for justice is to return to the same system that let him down. That is why his statement is at once both jarring and admirable to me.

Invited to address the court, for once Jean had a choice. A free choice to respond. Forgiveness became his escape pod from the matrix. He opted to voice forgiveness, renounce the impulse for revenge and free himself from Amber’s unwitting grip on his life as the killer of his beloved brother. His society’s choice (and mine) was for him to vent its pain and disappointment with the broken system and its broken people. The justice system offers an opportunity for victims to articulate their sentiments before sentencing. It is a part of the system’s way of dignifying the victims. For the rest of us this was an opportunity for Jean to accept partial justice and make legitimate demands for more. There are possibly people out there, even ones oblivious of the racial divide, who would have recommended forgiveness, in an abstract theologically philosophical way. It is a novel concept that is kind of unique to Christianity.

The ultimate choice though was Jean’s. He seemingly ignored these potential voices and demands and made his practical choice. Its irrationality is only matched by its audacity. I look at my own life and shudder at the struggle I have to forgive people, even for things they inadvertently did to me. It took an immense amount of ‘something’ to help him rise above the situation, rise above us and choose a difficult but potentially liberating path. It is that ‘something’ he called faith in Jesus that I find most intriguing because it offered him freedom that the state or society is unable to give. Granted perhaps a pastor or church person might have talked to him. But that isn’t enough. That faith must be activated in the heart to be any use in a situation like this. I have preached many sermons on forgiveness, but in the final analysis, after the sermon comes the decision. When it comes down to the wire the listener has to decide. After the decision comes the action. The decision and action are the prerogative of the individual. What did this faith do to Jean? What is this thing that for millenia mingles irrationality with audacity? Why is it that this faith inspires acts that that are both awe inspiring and repulsive? As people here would ask “kwani what did Jesus do to him?”