Kenya Tragedy a Warning to Churches, Says World Reformed Head

The last few months of violence and bloodshed in Kenya should serve as a warning to churches around the world to be prophetic leaders in their communities, the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) told Christian leaders earlier this week.

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick was addressing a joint assembly of the Caribbean and North American Area Council (CANAAC) of WARC and the Caribbean and North American Council for Mission, which met this week in the capital of Guyana, Georgetown.

"Failure to be about the work of breaking chains of injustice has put things at the boiling point in Kenya," he told assembly delegates. "Kenya is an important warning to us of the consequences of waiting too long for our churches to be about ministries of integrity, justice and reconciliation."

President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who accused Kibaki of stealing the 27 December elections, signed a power-sharing agreement in Nairobi on Thursday, to the relief of Kenyans who broke out onto the streets dancing and singing. It is hoped that the deal will finally close the door on months of riots and horrific ethnic violence, which have left at least 1,000 people dead and another 300,000 displaced from their homes.

Under the deal, a prime minister's office will be created for Odinga, as well as two deputy prime ministers' posts, one for each of the two parties in the coalition.

The 45-year-old constitution, disliked by many Kenyans because of its concentration of power in the presidency, will also come under review in the coming months.

WARC head Kirkpatrick, who is also stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said a lack of integrity in public life, the need for land reform, and a deep gap between rich and poor had all contributed to the crisis in Kenya.

The fact that Kenya's churches were divided along ethnic lines meant that they had also been part of the country's recent problems, he asserted, a feeling also voiced by representatives of Kibaki's and Odinga's parties to a World Council of Churches delegation, which included Kirkpatrick, at the end of January.

The delegation's appeal for Kenyan churches to be full partners in the mediation process met a cool response from the parties' representatives who complained that the churches in Kenya had "failed" the country by taking partisan positions.

The churches "need to heal themselves first," they said.

Kirkpatrick commented, "This is a wake up call for Kenyan churches – and for us. It is clear for the Kenyan churches that if there is going to be a future for their people, churches must take prophetic leadership for integrity, justice and reconciliation. The same is true for us in our settings."