Friday, March 31, 2017

Dependency, Harambees and the Struggle for Christian Stewardship in the Orthodox Churches of Kenya

In western Kenya with my friend Fr. John with children standing in front of the Church.

I have just published an article in the Pharos Journal of Theology.  It was one of the chapters in my forthcoming book, the provisional title for which is Using Money for the Glory of God: Rethinking Stewardship in Africa.  When my publisher (Oasis) wanted this to be distributed continent-wide, suddenly a couple of chapters which addressed the Kenyan context needed to be rewritten.  I thought that the issues were urgent enough to seek a publisher for these orphan chapters.  One is coming out eventually in the African Society of Evangelical Theology's journal and is entitled 'Dependency's Long Shadow:  Mission Churches in Kenya and Their Children.'  The second, 'Dependency, Harambees and the Struggle for Christian Stewardship in the Orthodox Churches of Kenya' was accepted and published this week in Pharos Journal of Theology at what passes for lightning speed in the academic world.  PharosJOT, or Ekklesiastikos Pharos as it used to be calledbegan as a journal of theological review established by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria at the beginning of the 20th century, making it one of the oldest academic journals on the continent.  After moving to Athens for some years, the journal returned to Africa in 1990 and is now published in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Here is the abstract:

The Orthodox Churches of Kenya, like many other mission churches, have long struggled with the issues of dependency, enabled by years of over-generous foreign financial and material support and exacerbated by a strong cultural inclination to appropriate the levers of various patronage systems as means to get ahead relationally, financially and politically.  Dependency and patronage have increasingly become the default posture when it comes to Orthodox individuals and their Churches with respect to how they perceive and handle their financial needs.  Churches have also increasingly made use of indigenous ways to raise financial support, known locally as harambee.   Harambees are widely seen as culturally appropriate ways to raise money when the need is beyond the means of the organization or even individual.  They are often the most successful means that Churches can adopt to push major projects forward such as buying property or constructing the church building.  However, while harambees may be culturally appropriate, in the case of Kenyan churches in general, and Orthodox Churches in particular, harambees enable the Churches and their leaders to sidestep the fundamental issue plaguing their parishes, which is a complete absence of New Testament and early Christian principles of stewardship and discipleship.  When the previous patron can no longer provide the financial support the Church needs, harambees become the new patron that enable the Church to move ahead.  The Church and its members thus never have to address their own lack of stewardship, responsibility and Christian discipleship.  The fundraising targets may all be met, but the Churches remain crippled by ongoing attitudes of dependency.  This article explores the dynamic of dependency and patronage afflicting Orthodox Churches in Kenya, critiques the preferred financial solution of harambee, and challenges Orthodox Christians to take their calling as stewards and disciples seriously as the only way to escape the slough of dependency that, unless addressed, will ultimately consume them.

And if you would like to read the whole thing, you can access it by following this link:

One always takes a big risk when one publishes anything.  I'm sure I have made mistakes at many levels, and I ask your forgiveness for the things I have not gotten right or done well.  My hope is that we might overlook the imperfect messenger and engage with the issues raised, and that any discussion would produce much light (rather than just heat) as to a way forward.

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