His soft voice belies his intellectual rigour and his firm defence of his convictions. The Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala is a learned man whose conversation is laced with many academic allusions.
When in 2008 the Archbishop of Canterbury invited the Episcopal Church of the USA, which has openly gay clergy, to the Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Wabukala rallied the Global Anglican Future Conference — which he chairs — to boycott the assembly.
He has now faulted the Primate of All England for writing to the presidents of Uganda and Nigeria over anti-gay laws instead of communicating through the Church leadership in the two countries, saying the move is counterproductive.
We met Dr Wabukala this week at the All Saints Cathedral, where he whispered to us how he managed to convince Nairobi women’s representative Rachel Shebesh to forgive Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero over a slapping incident.
Q: You have just come from seeing the President and his Deputy. What was your mission in the house on the hill?
We had gone to discuss a Bill on education. We wanted our input taken in. Currently, educational policies are being drafted in a manner which is slowly edging out Christian values.
Remember, the history of formal education in this country is intertwined with the Church Missionary Society — which gave birth to the Anglican Church — and without the coming of these missionaries, our Western education as we know it now would be non-existent.
Q: The essayist Francis Bacon wrote that reading maketh a man. What kind of literature made you a man of cloth?
A: I am an interdisciplinary scholar of all subjects. I have taught sciences — biology and chemistry as well as Systematics Theology — famous theologians and how they shaped the Christian faith, and how to interpret the Bible. I was the first born in a family of preachers and my parents planted in me the word at an early age. But I can say as early as Standard Five, I knew Christ had called me.
However, I actually left the civil service to teach and preach when I felt the office was cold. That was when I went for a teachers’ training course and thereafter taught at Nangili Girls High School.
Q: Besides the Bible and theological works which other body of knowledge do you find fascinating?
A: I am a student of Shakespeare, Dickens, Ngugi, Achebe and the philosophical works of such scholars as Soren Kierkegaard and John Stott.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: The Victory of Reason: How Christianity led to Freedom Capitalism and Western Success by Rodney Stark. I like reading on how Christianity has shaped civilisation. The Christian God is the only one you reason with. He says: Come we reason together. It is for that reason that we are here debating over these varied subjects.
Q: If you were to suggest one book for Kenyans what would it be?
A: The book of Ecclesiastes is applicable whether you are a Christian or not. It interrogates all aspects of life and then it humbles you and eventually it tells you, what is the point? It is all vanity and that we are made to glorify God, not the many earthly things we labour so much to achieve.
Q: But how do you explain that a munificent God can allow so much suffering and death of even innocent children?
A: That is theodicy (the attempt to answer the question of why God permits the manifestation of evil). At a certain point in an individual’s life, that question comes and if this person does not get the right environment to provide answers to this, the question becomes destructive. But if it gets the right environment, the person comes out the purer.
Look at Job, for example, when God questions him on the wonders of creation. At the end he asks for forgiveness, admitting he could not understand it. Even Christ at some point asks why God has forsaken him but still gives way to God’s will. We can ask questions but when we realise that some things are really beyond our comprehension then we learn who we really are.
Q: Many saw the death of retired Archbishop David Gitari as the beginning of the end of an era of a bold generation of Church leaders whose brave activism helped usher in the second liberation. What will the present generation of prelates be remembered for?
A: The context in which we live shapes how we behave. The system then was very restrictive and the presidency was a no-go zone. In fact, I have just come from a meeting with the President now. The system then was anti-reform. But, mark you, I was the chairman of the National Council of Churches of Kenya when we agitated for some of these freedoms.
Even today, when things are not done correctly, you still see me come out to say that this is now too far. Archbishop Gitari did very good work that had to be done at the time. Anybody who was really true to his calling had to rise to the occasion. Remember people like Alexander Muge, Henry Okullu and Mutava Musyimi.
Q: With the run-away commercialisation of the gospel, don’t you think if Jesus came today He would take a whip and run most of the clergy out of town?
A: That’s an area of concern. I remember writing a paper on Pentecostalism while at the University of Toronto on this. There was a time when Theology of the Cross ruled. When Pentecostalism came, it was good because we needed the power to revamp the Church but it has now come to a point where people want to make wealth out of it and I think this is wrong. We need faiths to regulate themselves so that people do not take a scripture out of context and use it to manipulate people.
Q: Would Jesus have flown jets that we now see even pastors from Africa flying if he had lived at this age?
I wish you knew how I started. I used to ride my bicycle to work. I am guided by three principles in my Christian life: Walk humbly with God, do justice and show mercy to all — they guard me from any excesses.
Q: How did you manage to reconcile Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and women’s representative Rachel Shebesh, seeing as earlier attempts had hit the wall?
A: Obviously it was not easy but at the bottom line is they all wanted peace. If you do not forgive, you forever carry a burden with you. I relied on the theology of atonement, which was my doctoral dissertation — I have never been able to complete it though.
In all mediations, you first endeavour to earn the trust of the protagonists, you do not publicise it. It all started after the court gave them the ultimatum.
Governor Kidero came to me and I told him I didn’t even have Shebesh’s number. Then after sometime Shebesh herself came, saying she really wanted to forgive unconditionally. She had come with her family. The father is a member of my Church.
Q: Some insist Dr Kidero actually bought forgiveness from Ms Shebesh and that you were only brought in to sanitise the process.
A: That’s not true. From the counselling room where I was with them, money never exchanged hands. In fact Shebesh’s father complained bitterly that people out there were painting them as greedy people who were taking advantage of the situation. But it was wrought with challenges. I know for sure many brokers were opposed to the mediation.
Then at some point (Nairobi Senator Mike) Sonko made outbursts just when Kidero and Shebesh were supposed to sign the agreement and he really put us off balance. Sonko and Kidero had their own words for some time before the mediation got back its footing. The day they struck the deal, we worked up to 1am. Then I advised her that if the genuineness of her forgiveness were to be seen, she had to do it in a Church.
Q: The English College of Bishops has accepted a recommendation for two years of “facilitated conversation” about gay marriage. What is your problem with this conversation?
A: What the College has done is to magnify only a section of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution. We resolved to put a lid on ordaining same sex bishops, but affirmed that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ. Nobody amongst us is against offering pastoral care to people of all shades of orientation.
But the conversations should not be used to question the Bible and you see in the West, they have wonderful theologians who can advance this debate. God says the order of creation is between a male and female in a union. But the secular western world, and particularly the media, has taken gay debate as a human rights crusade. Remember when President Obama came to Africa, the first thing he mentioned was on the rights of gays.
What is of so special about this that the West must force it on Africans? Why is our church being used to advance an agenda which is already being executed so well by the western media?
Q: What do you say of the African Bishops who have not “come out” like their Western counterparts?
A: We cannot say that this thing is not in Africa, we have had these cases, but we cannot revise the Bible to accommodate them. If I were a thief, I cannot revise the Bible to accommodate my wayward behaviour.
I also did not like the manner in which the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to the President of Nigeria on the gay question. I mean he should have done it through the church. The province of Nigeria is the biggest church in the world in the Anglican Communion. If I have an issue now I cannot write to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But I can write to him through the church as I have done many times.
Q: Are we starring at another imminent split in the church?
A: No, unlike the Roman Catholic, we are independent provinces held together by affection. What will happen is that if one province is going to do what is contrary to the Bible, I will not invite such a Bishop to talk to my people. The worst will be a lessened affection. But if they continued with their wayward ways, we would be occupying their countries in 50 or 100 years as they will be extinct.
Q: What did you make of leading writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s recent “coming out?”
A: We have opened a lot of space in the country and sometimes I tend to believe that the media channels some information that is not good for the society. I mean what good does it serve? It will encourage more people who are hiding to come out although this does not help the situation.
Q: Bus preachers often invade personal spaces, even threatening hell fire or road carnage for passengers who don’t make offertory.
A: That is heresy. Christianity is selfless but such is inclined towards self-gain. I remember a case when a faithful from another church told me that she had given all her first salary to her pastor as part of planting the seed for blessing, I mean such is a wrong doctrine. The lady could not even pay her own rent.
Q: Kenya is largely a Christian nation. What explains the fact that the country is beset with so many ills?
A: There is a wrong notion that Christianity is a dose that you dole out or inject to heal. However, it is a judgement on us as Christians that indeed we need to see why we cannot order the society. As humans, we have shortcomings, but we are also the salt of the world who must shape it accordingly.
Q: Do you — Anglican and Catholic leaders — feel threatened by the proliferation of the ministries, you know, offshoots of the Pentecostal churches?
A: No. No. God has allowed me to live long enough to know such things can’t shake the Church. I am ecumenical in nature and by nurture. As chairman of NCCK, I used to be invited by all churches to be part of their activities. Even last week I opened an APC church in Ukambani. To me this is strength as it builds the body of Christ, winning more souls.
Q: Recently, Bishop David Owuor and Dr Margaret Wanjiru went for each other’s jugular to the chagrin of the faithful who look up to them for guidance. What went wrong?
A: We are all human and there are bound to be temptations, but it is important that when we differ on opinion, we show some restraint. We are the salt of the earth.