By Hezron Karanja.
I have read the article by Lemuel Mwangi,”Kenyan Churches in USA Diaspora are profiteering rackets operating along tribal lines” and I am compelled to respond to the many assertions and assumptions the writer made.
I will assume this writer is a man of good faith without afore-malice in his story. Having said that, the Kenyan church in the US has always been an easy target to some people. Most of this venom directed at it emerges from the false belief that pastors’ income isn’t taxed. It is. Churches are exempt, but pastors aren’t. Pastors do file their taxes like everyone else. They however, can claim allowances that a regular citizen cannot i.e. Parsonage Allowance.
Not all of their income is tax free. And just like you and I navigate the complicated and very intricate tax code to take advantage of all allowances available to us, so do they. If they are wicked, then call us all a Wicked Nation, because to be honest, no one loves to pay taxes.
Calling what they do “criminal manipulation of the tax code” is a very unfair criticism borne through other motives, purposes and intentions. Those that cross that line into the criminal world – I would like to believe – bear the consequences, but these are very few and far between, and are not a preserve of the Kenyan church alone. Corrupt entities permeate every society, environment and communities. Unscrupulous pastors are not the norm, but the exception.
I happen to belong to a Kenyan church whose money was “misappropriated” by an American church. With the steady influx of Kenyan church coverage, I would have expected a lot more support from the Kenyan community from above and beyond, and especially the ones that always decry a lack of transparency and accountability in Kenyan religious circles. Such support came from very few.
I admire the growth and positive trajectory of Kenyan media in America. I applaud and commend them for providing a platform into which criticism can be offered, but like all things, criticism has to be constructive and not beholden to and under the perpetual control of cynicism. Cynicism almost always bears collateral consequences that in the long run isn’t favorable to us as a community.
I don’t think it is any pastors fault that his church is referred to as “pastor XYZ’s church”. Just as much as my grandfather isn’t at fault for local matatus calling his driveway “kwa Mugo stage”. When you have two PCEA’s in one city, I am not sure how else you are supposed to distinguish & discern them. Joel Osteen and TD Jakes’ churches are better known by their pastor’s names than their legally plated ones. I don’t see anything wrong with someone saying “the Obama Administration” as opposed to “the US Government”. It’s a distinction without a difference, which serves the purpose of differentiation.
I have seen Kenyan pastors in America doing tremendous things without the usual fanfare and circus sideshows. These guys don’t seek any recognition or publicity for what they do. They do things on their own dime and time and keep it to themselves. I would surely love to see more highlights on that.
It sounds too trivial to worry about what their churches are referred to. Something which the pastors themselves have no control over. Painting a broad brush and using blanket statements to cover all pastors negatively does a disservice to all Kenyans in the US. These kinds of un-researched criticism have a way of reflecting negatively not only on the church but also to us as individuals by virtue of our associations with it. Then a whole new negative narrative begins to build, which turns into exceedingly high pessimism which ultimately destroys the fabric of our communities.
However, be that as it may, I support the writer in the sense that vernacular churches should be a thing of the past…