Democracy is a system of government that can be traced back to 507 B.C in ancient greek. Cleisthenes, the then Athenian leader, created a government that the people ran. ‘Demokratia’, as it was called, is derived from the word ‘Demo’, from which we get words like ‘demography’ and ‘demonstration’. The prefix ‘Demo’ refers to a mass of people. The second portion of the term ‘demokratia’ is derived from the word ‘kratos’, which translates to ‘Power’ in English. Democracy, therefore, basically refers to power being in the hands of people, the rule of the people, by the people. Abraham Lincoln famously defined democracy as the government of the people, for the people, by the people.
Kenya as a Christian Nation
Kenya is a democratic state founded on Christian values, and its population is, by and large, Christian. According to the 2019 census, Kenya had a population of 85.5% professing Christians. This implies that, as a nation with that large number of Christians, we have a responsibility to answer first to God, then to our country, to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our calling and the gospel we proclaim (Philippians 1:27-30) even during this electioneering period. Democracy allows Christians to act in a way that would make non-believers want to be Christians. Christians, therefore, have a duty to speak justly, act kindly and be inclusive of others, be ready to listen to others’ opinions and engage others with an attitude of grace and truth.
The Kenyan constitution also acknowledges God in its governance, reinforcing Christian values. The preamble of the 2010 constitution of Kenya begins with these words “We, the people of Kenya-ACKNOWLEDGING the supremacy of the Almighty God of all creation:” The first stanza of our national anthem is a prayer to the God of all creation to bless our land and nation so that justice may be our shield and defender. It is a prayer to God that we may live in unity, peace and liberty and that plenty is found within our borders. By design, the founders of this nation thought it wise to have our Anthem be a prayer to God to promote the moral principles of justice, unity, peace and liberty.
It is debatable whether the 85.5% of Kenyans who profess Christianity are true Christians by scriptural standards. Be that as it may, there is a general assumption that many Kenyans are Christians; people led of the Word of God are to have high moral values since they follow Jesus Christ, the epitome of morality and righteousness (1 Peter 2:21-22). There is, therefore, an expectation of how we should carry ourselves as citizens, especially before, during and after elections. Our conduct should reflect our reliance on God as we trust him to give us good leaders (Romans 13:1) since he is supreme and sovereign even over elections (Proverbs 16:33). And as such, Christians must promote God’s standards of justice, unity, peace and liberty in this country as instructed in Micah 6:8.
A Guide for Christians During Elections
John Wesley, in October 1774, said, “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election and advised them; To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and; To take care that their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.” From this 18th-century wisdom, we can draw five practical ways to honour God and live in a manner worthy of the gospel, thereby giving hope to those around us. John Wesley’s advice is crucial to us today in the following ways
Firstly, there is a general appeal to vote. Voting is important because it helps us voice out and do our civic duty as God requires. In Ezra 7:26, God instructed the Israelites to obey and do the requirement of their civil authority at the time. Similarly, in Romans 13:1-7, God calls all of us to do our duties as required by those in authority. Imagine if all God-fearing people registered as voters turned out to the polling stations on August 9th and peacefully cast their vote? Won’t we be more hopeful of our next leaders?
Secondly, John Wesley advises that we vote without fee or reward. Direct or indirect voter bribery is a crime. Soliciting and accepting a bribe is unlawful under the Electoral Offences Act Section 9. Before God, such acts are loathsome to him because they defy the course of justice, blind the clear-sighted and subvert the agenda of those who do right (Exodus 23:8). Lately, I have been hearing the saying ‘Ukipewa kula, kura kwengine’ (When you are given a bribe, take it, but vote wisely). This is wrong! You cannot accept the coins of the one enticing you to change your will, whether or not you will change it. Receiving and/or giving a bribe is sinful regardless of the outcome (Deuteronomy 16:19).
Thirdly, John Wesley speaks to voting for someone we have judged and considered most worthy. An unworthy person is the one who has to bribe people for votes, one whose politics is tribal and filled with hatred, and one who does not have a good track record in their previous offices, if they held any. A worthy candidate, on the other hand, has integrity, cares for the things of God, genuinely loves people, and desires to serve more than to be served. One may ask, Who then is even worthy? Our role as faithful Christian voters is to compare the aspirants and consider the one with the best score or the most potential to bring positive changes.
Fourthly, John Wesley encourages us to speak no evil of the person we vote against. To talk evil about someone is to malign their character. It’s like trash-talking in sports or insulting someone else. For instance, we know how some people refer to the two popular candidates; one ‘a woman’ because he is uncircumcised, and the other ‘arap mashamba’ in reference to his allegedly questionable land acquisition procedures. As Christians, we are called to do better, to bridle the tongue (James 1:26) and let every word that comes from our mouths be seasoned with grace and salt (Colossians 4:6). Yes, we might not like some aspirants, but that does not give us a right to speak evil of them.
Speaking evil of others spreads hatred to other people who might not have any reason whatsoever to hate them. However, this does not mean we cannot constructively talk about the shortcomings of some aspirants and even leaders. John the Baptist, for example, respectfully called out Herod for taking his brother’s wife (Luke 3:19). In our criticism, we must seek to honour God and be respectful to the person we are criticising and the person(s) listening to our criticism.
Lastly, after voting, John Wesley reminds us to take care of our spirit so that it may not be sharpened against those who voted for the other side. This is a timely warning to the Christians in Kenya since we tend to hate one another, especially after elections. We forget the prayer in our national anthem and instead turn to injustice, division, violence and seeking to limit the freedom of others. Aren’t we the ones commanded to pray for our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27)? In the 2007 post-election violence, churches and individual believers accepted and fed people who were not of their tribes; people who voted for different candidates. This time, we should remember that we can ease the tension after the election by simply obeying our master, Christ’s second greatest commandment; love your neighbour as you love yourself.
As we approach August 9th, may we all make a solemn decision to live as Christians should. Then, by God’s grace, may we be found faithful in bringing about the much-needed changes to our beloved country, Kenya, either as aspirants or voters.