Kenyan churches oppose call to make Christianity state religion

April 29, 2003

A proposal to declare Christianity as Kenya's state religion is generating heated debate among the country's churches.

The proposal comes from a group called the Kenya Church, which includes Methodists in the country and a number of Pentecostal churches. It comes as Muslims are calling for the entrenchment of Islamic courts in the country's constitution. But the Roman Catholic Church and most mainstream Protestant denominations are urging that religion and the state be kept separate.

The proposal to make Christianity a state religion came in advance of a national constitutional conference, opening in Nairobi. 'To safeguard the interests of the Christian faith, Christianity must of necessity be declared the official religion in Kenya, provided that all other religions are accorded liberty to practice their beliefs,' leaders of the Kenya Church group said in a statement.

The draft constitution to be discussed by about 600 delegates attending the meeting states that 'there shall be no state religion' in Kenya. But according to leaders of the Kenya Church group, Christianity should be the official faith, since almost four out of five Kenyans are Christians.

About 78 per cent of Kenya's 30 million population is Christian and some 10 per cent Muslim, with others having mostly traditional animist beliefs. Muslims, however, claim that 20 per cent of Kenyans now practice their faith.

The Rev. Mutava Musyimi, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Kenya, rejecting the call for Christianity to be made a state religion, said all religions should treated equally. 'Our country faces serious issues of poverty, tribalism and tribal-based politics. We must do everything to rise above tribal, religious and localized considerations and together forge ahead in building a unified nation,' Mutava told journalists in Nairobi.

Kenya's Anglican archbishop, Benjamin Nzimbi, also rejected the call. 'Since the draft constitution respects the freedom of worship, there is no need to turn around and choose a single denomination for protection,' the Daily Nation newspaper reported him saying.

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