Kenya’s Constitution and the Church
A wide range of Christian churches
in Kenya have issued a joint statement opposing
Kenya’s proposed new Constitution, which is being voted on in a referendum on August 5. They argue that the new Constitution would expand abortion rights, and they oppose provisions that would allow Muslims to use khadi
courts “for matters such as law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance in proceedings in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion and submit to the jurisdiction of the Kadhi’s courts.”
I claim no expertise in the dynamics of the Kenyan Constitutional process or in Kenyan culture. I have to confess, however, that the issue of khadi courts generally seems more difficult and subtle than the Kenyan Church opposition suggests.
Is it in the interests of religious liberty to require religious people to use government provided courts rather than also having access to the judicial system of their religion? Is a conflict between secular Western and Islamic views of justice inevitable in any democractic state with a Muslim population that desires to employ internal community / religious justice mechanisms?
I also have to confess a worry that America’s religious-cultural wars have been exported to the Global South through the influence of American fundamentalism on Kenya’s evangelical Christian groups. At least one Kenyan religious leader and civil rights activist, Rev. Timothy Njoya, feels the same way. Watch the clip below from about 2:00 to about 7:00 to get a flavor for Njoya’s views.
But then again, Njoya suggests that Kenya’s evangelical Christians should read Thomas Payne’s “The Age of Reason” — a strange choice to say the least — and makes some other outlandish claims. Moreover, it is not only Kenya’s evangelicals, but also the Catholic and Anglican Churches in Kenya, as well as Njoya’s own Presbyterian Church of East Africa
, that oppose the new Constitution.
And, if an amendment to the U.S. Constition were proposed that would allow abortion whenever it is “permitted by any other written law,” I would expect opposition from an equally wide range of Churches in the U.S., not only from fundamentalist groups. I’d be very curious to hear from Islamic law and religion scholars about their views on this dispute. I’d also be curious to hear from anyone with more knowledge than myself of Kenyan politics and history about whether the opposition of these Kenyan churches has deeper historical and cultural roots that overshadow the influence of American culture war politics.