Politics of the Church-By Edward Maroncha

I love history. That could be partly because I enjoy stories, and partly because I grew up in a house with many history books. They were my grandfather’s books, my mother’s books and my aunts’ books. I read about the Omani Arabs at the East African Coast and their trips from Muscat in dhows. I read about the cloves, spices and slave trade at Zanzibar, and about Said bin Sultan Al-Said, the Omani Sultan who shifted base from Muscat to Zanzibar. I read about the Great Trek and the Boers in South Africa. I read about Portuguese sailors Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco da Gama and their quest to find a sea route to India.

I read about Alexander the Great and his exploits. I read about Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire (somehow I missed the story of Cleopatra, and I didn’t get to know about the great Egyptian woman Pharaoh until last year). I read about the Ethiopian Empire and the Kingdom of Aksum. I read about the Kingdom of Mali, the City of Timbuktu and especially the reign of the great Mansa Musa. I read our Kenyan history, from the pre-independence to the reign of Nyayo.

My grandma, Mrs Maroncha, took me through the culture and traditions of our people, the Ameru. But the history I find most fascinating is the history of the Church. My grandfather, Stephen, is a staunch Catholic. His favorite topic, besides politics and CIA, is the church. He told me numerous stories starting from the alleged first pope, St. Peter. Naturally, I dug up for more.

I think the most interesting characters in the history of the Church are Pope Julius II, the Warrior Pope and Pope Alexander VI. These men were ambitious, and seemed more interested in political power than their spiritual duties. But then again, political power was crucial to popes then. Julius II was courageous (he personally led troops to war) as well as cunning. Now, before Julius came to power, the previous Pope, Pius III, had reigned for only 26 days before dying. Before Pius III was the other crafty fox, Pope Alexander VI.

The difference between Julius and Alexander was that while Julius wanted power for himself, Alexander wanted power through his son, Cesare Borgia. Now, while popes were politically powerful, their power was not hereditary, unlike other rulers of the time. Just like today, Popes were elected by Cardinals. And while the election of the Pope was often heavily manipulated by external powers, and popes often appointed their sons and nephews to be Cardinals (thereby making them potential future popes), no one could be assured of getting their preferred successor, especially because the election was done after the death of the incumbent, just like it is today.

Pope Alexander had sired Cesare with his mistress  Vannozza dei Cattanei. In fact, Vannozza and Alexander (that time he was Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia) had three other children besides Cesare: Giovanni, Lucrezia and Gioffre. Initially, before becoming Pope, Cardinal Borgia denied the children, perhaps so as not to hurt his chances of becoming Pope. But having becoming Pope, he acknowledged all of them, and lavished them with gifts. His favourites seem to have been Cesare, who became a Cardinal at 18 (at around the same time his father became Pope) and Giovanni.

Giovanni held powerful secular posts including being the 2nd Duke of Gandia , the Duke of Sessa and the Grand Constable of Naples. He was also the commander in chief of the Pope’s armed forces, bearing the title the Captain General of the Church. Giovanni was however assassinated. Some allege that his brother Cesare was behind the murder. Be as it was, Cesare resigned from being a Cardinal following the death of his brother. He took over the military duties of his brother and went ahead to conquer many territories, with the support of his father, Pope Alexander VI. By the time Pope Alexander died, Cesare was so powerful that Cardinals wishing to succeed his father had to secure his backing. Like I said, the election of the pope was heavily manipulated.

After the death Pius III, who supported Cesare but lasted only 26 days as pope, Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere tricked Cesare into supporting him in his quest for the papacy, promising to give him money and to support his military expeditions when he became Pope. Cesare supported Rovere, who then became Pope Julius II. But Pope Julius had no intention of keeping his promise, because he had ambitions of his own. Cesare tried to out-maneuver the pope after realizing he had been duped, but Julius defeated him and captured all his territories, making them Papal States. The rise of Pope Julius II was the fall of Cesare Borgia.

The reason I am fascinated by the story of these two popes is because they clearly represent what is happening in churches up to today. Politics in the church are often intense. On January 29th, this year, the Standard reported that a power struggle in the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) had found its way to court. The same paper reported that President Kenyatta had in the past intervened to help settle the dispute, to no avail.

On August 9th, 2015, the Nation reported that three people were killed when rival groups of the Africa Israel Nineveh Church clashed on a Sunday. On March 28, 2016, the Star reported that worshippers had to flee when two pastors of a Deliverance Church in Migori and their supporters started fighting over the control of the church. This happened during a Sunday service.

These are just a few that were reported in the media. Many churches do experience intense in-fighting. This is because many clergy men are greedy for power, money and fame. Leading a church is often not about serving people, it is about the money, the prestige, and the power. It is not any different from what politicians do.

Just like politicians claim to be chosen by the people, clergymen claim to be chosen by God. And because the people are sovereign, politicians act like demigods, with total disregard of the wishes of the very people they claim have chosen them. Similarly, many pastors behave like demigods, contrary to the Scripture and disregarding the wishes of the very God they claim to have chosen them. That is why many pastors lead churches like their personal property, and fights like the ones above occur when they are challenged.

The most amazing thing is that politicians, however wicked, will always have supporters. Even Adolf Hitler had many supporters. Similarly, clergymen, even the most notoriously and unapologetically sinful, will have supporters. A clergyman will swindle orphans of their eductation bursary money, unapologetically boast about it, and his faithful will remain faithful to him. It often matters little what scripture says. What the Man of God says overrides scripture. Sure, no one is perfect, but you would expect Men of God to act with humility, especially when they do something wrong. Many don’t.

We are in an election period, and we are asking for a free and fair election. We are asking for accountable political leaders. We are asking for credible institutions. While at it, this should be a season for Christians to look inward. Who gives our pastors the power to do what they do? Are those powers in line with what the Bible teaches? Are our institutions and processes open, fair and just? Because if we are to point fingers at politicians, we have to ensure that we are also above board. After all, isn’t it Christ who talked about removing the log in our eyes before pointing at the speck in the other’s eye?

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