An Open Letter to Religious Leaders in Kenya

17th May 2017

Your Grace, Imam, Swami, Rabbi and all priests of faith,

Why is there such a gap between your vision for our communities and the country and the reality we see every day. What is missing in your leadership that would make a difference?

Uncertainty, fear and suspicion of public institutions stalks our country. Too many young people feel powerless to create or instill democratic change in our system. This distrust has created insurrectionists who seek to disrupt public policy processes. As OAIC Secretary General Nicta Lubaale has noted, “As a country we miss collective reflection and discernment. Collective conviction is impossible without this.”

Your ineffectiveness as leaders has nothing to do with your intentions. It has everything to do with the lack of transformation around you. Even inspiring quotes have no power unless we can translate them into our context and they call us to care enough to act. As Reverend Phyllis Byrd notes; “We can’t only quote scripture. We have to be the living example of Jesus”. Remain uncomfortable with our daily circumstances. Discomfort is a very necessary part of being a leader whose congregation does not reflect the values you stand for. Look for new ways to translate your intentions for this country into real change.

You will leave a greater legacy if you assertively tackle the current challenge of ethical both among citizens and within our leaders. How can you transform the challenge of followers stealing the offertory or their neighbor’s phone while they are in prayer? Do not also allow your prophetic role to be compromised by the donations of thieves or the use of the pulpit to make political speeches without values or faith.

It is only by consciously taking bold leadership choices will you be able to recreate our country, moment by moment, conversation by conservation. Leadership is not always about popularity. If the status quo does not inspire you, you must work towards transforming it.

Historically, less than 15% of society have acted to make transform societies. Most Americans in the 1960s thought Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and the Dream Riders were reckless and crazy. Neither Martin Luther King Jr nor our very own Wangari Maathai, had the support of most of their societies. Yet, they are remembered decades later as icons of change. Surrounded by injustice, even Jesus was not popular. Palm Sunday march is a political protest against the leaders of that time.

Use all opportunities to discuss and elevate your followers into fearless influencers of change. Have a direct conversations with them. Do ordinary things with compassion and care – this will inspire us. Declare who you are for this country, take consistent actions and the result will show around us. Boldly declaring your life’s purpose as a way of being will place you at the center of change.

If you want a different country from the one we have today, as religious leaders you must stand out and be different. Bishop Salmon Obiero captured it best when he said, “The real tragedy in our lives is not that we die, but that we live lives without a higher purpose.”

Thank you for your attention and commitment to transforming Kenya,

Warmly

Irũngũ Houghton

This letter is adapted from a discussion on Integrity and leadership with Religious Leaders from the Organisation of African Independent Churches (OAIC), Nairobi, April. The author expresses his gratitude to Naz Njeru for documenting this dialogue. 

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