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Churches Split Over Constitution

Muslim power, social unrest are key issues in the debate.
2005This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Kenya's constitutional referendum, scheduled for November 21, has split the country, with rival groups violently attacking each other. The draft law also threatens to divide Christians over a clause that would allow each religion to try its own family issues—divorce, marriage, and custody—in separate courts. These courts would not cover criminal or civil affairs.

The constitutional conference inserted the clause after Christians opposed a 2004 draft that would have created Islamic (kadhi) courts, giving them wide powers equivalent to the normal judicial courts. Christian groups argued this was discriminatory and aimed at making Kenya a Muslim state.

"The courts have been introduced in the new draft in good faith," said Amos Wako, Kenya's attorney general and chief drafter of the new constitution. "We do not want to be seen to be favoring any religion. We want to be fair to everyone."

The Kenya Church, an umbrella body for 40 evangelical churches, opposes the clause and says it is a ploy to ensure that kadhi courts remain in the constitution. Thus, they oppose the draft constitution and have urged their followers to vote no.

"Christians did not ask for religious courts," said Bishop Margaret Wanjiru of Jesus Is Alive Ministries, a key Kenya Church member. "They wanted the government to remove kadhi courts from the constitution. This has not happened, so our opposition to the constitution draft remains."

But not all Christians, who compose about two-thirds of the country's nearly 34 million people, oppose the draft.

"The Kenya Church should reconsider its decision, because the mission of the church should be to promote harmony in society," said Pastor Ndura Waruingi of the Redeemed Gospel Church.

The National Council of ...

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