Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Biblical, Prophetic Ministries of Henry Okullu and David Gitari

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Biblical, Prophetic Ministries of Henry Okullu and David Gitari

Article excerpt

The late 1980s marked the beginning of the second liberation in the continent of Africa as its peoples struggled to overthrow the political systems that had increasingly oppressed and pauperized them. The character of the struggle varied from place to place, but one of its common features was the significant role played by the churches.1 In Francophone Africa, citizens' groups forced the dictators to convene national conferences to debate the nations' future. The dictators, vulnerable and deserted by their previously supportive Western allies,2 had to concede, at least in the short term. A remarkable feature of these conferences was the way in which Roman Catholic bishops were asked to preside over them. In Anglophone Africa, the churches' role was just as significant, though it took different forms. For many years, in Kenya, the strongest criticism of President Daniel arap Moi's autocratic rule came from individual church leaders, especially the Anglican Bishops Henry Okullu and David Gitari.

The astonishing contribution of Henry Okullu and David Gitari to the process leading to Kenya's political transition from a one party dictatorship to a multiparty state is well documented.3 The bulk of this literature, however, focuses on the two clerics' confrontation with the state over issues of governance. Few studies have examined the sociological, theological and biblical bases of the bishops' political convictions. The only notable exceptions are Paul Preston's Evangelicals and Politics in Asia, Africa and Latin America4 and George P. Benson's research on church-state relations in Kenya.5 Preston's book is a pioneering comparative study of the evangelical involvement in the politics of twenty-seven countries from the three major continents of the "Third World." In a chapter on Kenya, Freston pays special attention to Bishop (later Archbishop) Gitari, whom he describes as "the most articulate representative of Kenyan evangelical hermeneutics."6 He recommends a sociologically and theologically informed case study of the bishop's ongoing role "as an evangelical leader with a national prominence to which many Third World evangelical leaders (for various reasons) aspire."7 Benson's work deals primarily with the church's confrontation with the state during the tenure of President Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002). Benson also discusses the theological aspects of Gitari and Okullu's political convictions and their biblical hermeneutics,8 but he does not explain why the two bishops' theological methods are so different. This paper is a response to Preston's call for "a sociologically and theologically informed case-study." It builds upon Benson's fine scholarship but goes beyond it in examining the socio-historical and theological roots of the two prelates' biblical hermeneutics.

Kenya, the home of Bishops Okullu and Gitari, has a population of twenty-nine million. It consists of over forty distinct language groups, of which the most numerous are the Kikuyu, the Luhya, the Luo, the Kalenjin, and the Akamba. Kenya obtained independence from Britain in 1963 under a multiparty system of government. At the time of independence, the two main political parties were the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). KANU was the larger of the two parties. It drew the bulk of its membership from the Luo and the Kikuyu, then the largest and most politically conscious ethnic groups in the country. KADU was the party of minority ethnic groups, who feared the possibility of domination by the larger ethnic groups. The two parties also differed in political orientation. While KANU supported a strong central government and open competition for resources, KADU favored majimbo (regionalism), a policy of federal government with regional autonomy.

Within one year of independence, KADU members of Parliament had crossed the floor of the National Assembly to join the ruling party in creating a government of national unity. …

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