The civic and public roles of neo-pentecostal churches in Kenya (1970- 2010)
Parsitau, Damaris Seleina
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Over the last few decades, the Pentecostal movement, in all its varieties has gained an increasing presence in Africa’s religious landscapes. Scholars are beginning to interrogate, how and what role(s) Christian churches play in the public sphere. This study analyses the roles of NPCs in Kenya’s public life since they shot into prominence from the 1970s and 1980s onwards. It was, however, in the last 15 years that some NPC’s clergy and churches became more visible in the public sphere. Through a critical analysis of the activities of three NPCs: Jesus is Alive Ministries (JIAM), Maximum Miracles Centre (MMC), and Faith Evangelistic Ministries (FEM) all in Nairobi, this thesis explores their contributions to Kenya’s civic and public life. These churches were not just chosen because of their prominence in the public sphere but also because they manifest themselves publicly through the mass media, engage with social and political issues and have robust gender empowerment programmes. Two of the three leaders, bishop Margaret Wanjiru and Pius Muiru both contested elective politics during the 2007 General Elections. Bishop Wanjiru also served in the Kenyan Parliament from 2008 to early 2013 and as an Assistant Minister for Housing. She also equally contested though unsuccessfully the 2013 General Elections. Evangelist Teresia Wairimu on the other hand is influential not just as a prominent female visionary, renowned for her faith healing and deliverance ministry, but also for leading one of the largest women-centered ministries in the country. Evangelist Wairimu also appears to wield soft power as her church often attracts the politically powerful to mingle with her ordinary followers. Their combined social visibility, public prominence and influence in Kenya’s public life necessitate fresh thinking in respect of these churches’ roles in Kenya’s civic and public spheres. The study approach is multidisciplinary drawing from Sociology, Gender and Theology, and utilizing social capital theories as a theoretical framework. The study employed a case study methodology, with study samples comprising leaders and members of JIAM, MMC and FEM selected based on gender, age, educational background and position in the churches as well as the duration of membership. Data was collected through in depth interviews (150 respondents equally spread within the three churches), participant observation (PO), Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) and content analysis of sermons, texts and televised messages. Findings from the study show that each church constitutes a significant presence in its respective community and engages civic and public life. The thesis contributes to the growing body of literature on religion and public life as well as broadening understanding of how and why Neo-Pentecostal Churches engage in issues in civic and public life.