Mutiny in the Church

Daily Nation (Kenya), 17 December 1997.

More than 100 disillusioned former members are waging a ferocious war against the Nairobi Christian Church, both verbally and on the Internet. The truth, half-truths and outright lies feature.

Lucas Mboya, last born son of charismatic Tom Mboya, who was slain 28 years ago, was certain about one thing: He was starving for spiritual nourishment, a commodity once regarded as priceless.

Friends told him: "Just open up your heart and the door will open."

The door opened in 1991. He enrolled in the Nairobi Christian Church and was later made "disciple". His vigour and power enabled him to win followers for a young religious group competing with traditional denominations. He wooed them in numbers, to the extent that he rose to lead one of the church's provincial zones.

Sadly, this marriage with the church did not last long enough to consume him completely - body, mind and soul. Earlier in the year, the church - A branch of the Boston Movement founded by evangelist Kip McKean and whose teachings and operations have been criticised in the West - excommunicated him for causing "trouble".

He unwisely questioned its teachings, hierarchy and style of leadership. NCC considered this politics.

Had he not criticised the church he helped strengthen, he would now be part of its top leaders.

Nevertheless, six years may be a short period to change things but enough to discern good from bad. Mboya acquired information for two reports - The Empire Dies Screaming and Like Beasts of Burden - critical of his former group. The reports expose the church's "un-conventional" operations, he says.

Unconventional? Adherents - About 700 countrywide - believe the church is their passport to heaven. "I joined this church in 1994, and I have no regrets," says Anyango, an employee of a city media firm.

But Mboya and another 100 members have waged war against the Nairobi Christian Church. The battle is by word of mouth and through electronic mail: On the Internet, his weapon is while the church's is

The truth, half-truths and out-right lies are all there for the consumption of all and sundry. However, the happenings at the Nairobi Christian Church have raised serious questions about religion, morality and the law in this country.

"It is not really who is saying the truth," says a Nairobi lawyer critical of inter-denominational groupings that exert heavy influence on their followers. "It is about the credibility of the mushrooming religious groups. We may be courting cults."

NCC has had a troubled year. Recent Press articles brought to the fore wrangles over alleged financial mismanagement, leadership squabbles and alleged unconventional teachings.

But what upset Mboya and his group was the issue of tithing (giving 10 per cent of earnings to the church), a tradition only pronounced in the Old Testament of the Bible. Tithing seems to be mandatory in NCC, as confirmed by adherents during a service at Nyayo National Stadium recently, which we attended.

The Church head, Pastor Richard Alawaye, says his group teaches biblical practice of giving, "Each member should give in accordance with their means. The vast majority of our members give cheerfully and with a willing heart."

Trouble is, those critical of NCC teachings claim the tradition was made mandatory by its founder whose personality, it is claimed, is pretty dominant in the church teachings and operations worldwide. They say the money raised hardly funds any tangible projects but ends up either in salaries and allowance for the church leaders or is ferried to the main branches outside the country.

Those opposed to tithing say the faithful should only contribute what they can afford, not necessarily a tenth of their hard-earned sweat.

Then there is the issue of the church's faithful relating to non-members. Sources say adherents are not supposed to marry outside the church nor associate with non-faithful.

A staffer was sacked for "sinning" over this unwritten law. Joseph Owade was dismissed for associating with a non-member. Says Owade: "I want you to know that I was asked to leave not because of personal incompetence or sin on my part, but because my wife is not in the full time ministry and may not be in the foreseeable future, and therefore my exceptional status would not be in line with the policies of leadership."

The dismissal letter, signed by Nigerian-born Pastor Alawaye, said in part: "The job of an evangelist requires that one's spouse be at a certain spiritual level for such a man to discharge these duties effectively and properly. Presently, I feel it is best for you to step out of the Ministry so that you and Ebby can work side-by-side together."

In a recent interview, Alawaye denied Owade was an evangelist, and argued that he (Owade) was asked to leave the ministry "for very different reasons".

Mboya also blames NCC for teaching about failures of other sects or inter-denominational groups to ensure that the "disciples" build in their own minds negative attitude towards other churches.

"While in NCC, I taught many that they are under obligation to examine and understand the scriptures first before making a commitment to adopt a particular practice or doctrine. I taught that neither my word not the church teachings were viable alternatives to what one understood with conviction to be the Biblical message.

"That was what I practised and it inevitably led to a showdown with the leadership of the NCC."

Alawaye says the church ex-communicates followers but only in "isolated" circumstances, which he does not mention. "It is a rare and isolated event when a member is asked to leave the church."

Mboya says 100 followers left the church in the past year, leaving a congregation of only 700 countrywide.

Last year, the church held a fundraising towards an Aids project. But critics claim the Kshs. 120,000 raised cannot be accounted for by way of a project on the ground. Disillusioned members refused to respond to another call a fortnight ago.

Alawaye dismisses talk about financial mismanagement. "The church spends its money in accordance with an annual budget prepared by the ministry and administrative leadership. The budget is approved by trustees."

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