Kenyan churches in USA diaspora are profiteering rackets operating along tribal lines

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By Lemuel Mwangi.

If you are a Pastor in this group, please take no offense! First off, let me say that I do recognize and appreciate all the people that God has called upon to spread his word. I know that by posting this statement I could be opening a can of worms, but then again, someone got to do it.

I have been doing a bit of research on the existing rifts within the Kenyan Community in the United States. Although my analysis may seem absurd to some and may even fall short of refined statistical scrutiny, I think I can make a plausible case that churches (yes churches) are key in fragmenting Kenyans in the United States.

In 3 cities in the US with arguably the greatest concentrations of Kenyans (Houston, Boston, Seattle), the dispersion of Kenyan churches follow a common pattern; almost everyone that acclaims the name “pastor” (or other denominational equivalents) technically “owns” a church.

In the thriving metropolis of Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, the economic capital of the Pacific Northwest with approximately 10,000 Kenyans, there are 50-100 (maybe 200) Kenyan churches. While I do not take issue with the existence of many Kenyan churches, something often bothers me; a simple question about church attendance prompts names of people and not churches. Simply ask a Kenyan, “Which church do you go to?”. The response comes back as: “church ya pastor Mwangi, ile Kanisa ya Rotich, Okemo, Njoroge . . . etc”. In short, unlike the familiar PCEA, KAG, Full Gospel, Catholic that adherents in Kenya will proudly identify with, the Kenyan churches in the USA have taken up individuals’ identifiers as church trademarks. But this still is a non-issue; there is more to it.

In recent weeks, I have sought to determine two things:
1. Why every Kenyan pastor in the US wants to “own” or be in charge of a church
2. Why some people whom may be considered moral outcasts in their native villages in Kenya take to the clergy.

In my opinion, things all narrow down to business and specifically, IRS tax code 501(c)(3), a non-profit tax exemption status that, if manipulated, allows pastors to earn tax-free income from church contributions. If looked at simplistically, churches have no fixed income since it all depends on contributions from attendees and the dollar amount varies significantly.

In a way, this makes accountability near impossible and with most contributions being done in cash, it is easy for pastors to pocket the money without there being any evidence the money even existed. And even when there is accountability, the tax code offer attractive tax exemptions that in any case make preaching a lucrative career (not a calling). For those inclined to achieve the capitalist driven American dream, being a pastor seems to be paying well. While there definitely exists many legitimate pastors, it has become usual for other Kenyans to camouflage their profiteering greed but maiming the intent of the bible. You may now understand why the small-time criminal from your village abruptly reformed and opened a church around.

So, how does the existence of these many churches play into dividing Kenyans? Well, most of the churches have reverted to using mother tongue dialects in their services which technically alienates the need for diversity and integration within the Kenyan community. This becomes an especially dirty game when some pastors go the extra step of painting mud on competing churches by politicizing church services. As we may know, people often unite when facing a common opponent, which has made it essential for Kenyan churches in the US to politicize their service as a measure to keep their ethnically aligned flock intact. What we have in some cases are churches pastors that criminally manipulate the tax code, extorts money from Kenyans and do so in a way that antagonizes the need for a united Kenya people!

The bottom line is, having numerous small Kenyan churches is itself evidence of a fragmented Kenyan community. Yet, when the same churches are profiteering rackets operating along tribal lines in the USA diaspora, we simply are precipitating a disunity of which we all know the cost (think 2007/2008).

Worshipping is a responsibility we hold to God and I hope we can at least esteem to do it correctly!

My questions for the Kenyan Community in the United States:
1) Why are we attending churches that teach us to hate?
2) Why are we inclined to attend “tribal” churches that alienate all other Kenyans?
3) Is there any fault in worshiping together; why can’t we unite our church like we have done in Kenya?
4) Do you “attend church” or are you simply being ripped off your tithe by a greedy “pastor”

Share your comments and experience in a “Kenyan” church.