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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Church leaders lose face with Kenyans

Just as we predicted, church leaders have lost the trust of Kenyans. According to the Synovate post-referendum poll, only 19% of those interviewed said they fully trusted Church leaders, compared to 17% who said they fully trusted politicians.

And it gets worse — 38% said they don’t trust Church leaders at all, a bigger number than the 22% who said they don’t trust politicians at all. But Church leaders dismissed the notion that their credibility had suffered.

Replying to questions from the press in a separate meeting, the National Council of Churches of Kenya said Christians still have enough faith in the clergy. “On whether the Church has lost credibility, we state that those claims are not true,” said Canon Peter Karanja, NCCK general-secretary at the end of a two-day executive committee meeting at Jumuia Conference centre, Limuru.

The cleric, who became the public face of the Church’s campaign against the draft, said the Church retains an important “prophetic role” in the country that cannot be wished away — sentiments echoed by Father Vincent Wambugu, the Kenya Episcopal Conference secretary-general. “The Church is walking tall with no reason to be embarrassed because of its work,” he said. The pollsters, Fr Wambugu added, should find something more important to tell Kenyans rather than going after church leaders. The survey was conducted between August 8 and 9, only days after the referendum, and 1,012 respondents were interviewed countrywide.

Churches campaigned strongly against the new Constitution that was later approved by two-thirds of voters, and continue to object to clauses on abortion and Kadhi courts. The new Constitution retains the Kadhi courts, which are in the current law, and further says that Parliament will make a law specifying the circumstances under which a pregnancy should be terminated.

Mr George Waititu, the managing director of Synovate, attributed the low level of confidence in Church leaders to their stand on the new law, which a majority of Kenyans had earlier perceived as a good document. “Their decline in trust is basically on their stand and actions during the referendum period and not because of spiritual matters,” said Mr Waititu.

The Church, which has taken a neutral stand on various issues, came into the spotlight when it decided to rally against the new law after failing to convince the Committee of Experts and Parliament to change the clauses on abortion and Kadhi courts. Attempts by the government and the Church to engage in dialogue on the two issues collapsed after the latter pulled out, accusing the State of lacking commitment to tackle the matter. Even after the ‘No’ side lost, Church leaders came across as bad losers, showing every intention of carrying forward their campaign.

Mr Waititu said the trust had little to do with their day-to-day guidance on spiritual matters. However, some of the voters were unhappy with what they saw as misinformation peddled by a section of Church leaders on the two clauses. The results further show that three in every 10 Catholics claim not to trust church leaders at all, with the figure being higher among Protestants, at 40%.

To redeem their image, Mr Waititu said, the Church must be seen to be consistent by educating the public that their stand was a moral issue. “They should continuously engage their faithful on the issues they consider contentious,” the official adds. Mr Waititu said the Church might save face and get a major boost if the changes they are pushing are effected.

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