“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matthew 10:34-36]
It is exactly 2 weeks to the Kenyan General Elections. Next month, Kenyans will March 4th to a new government and leaders. One of the greatest immediate fears, as the day approaches, is whether the elections (the post-election days) will be peaceful or not. The memory of 2007/08 post-election violence is still fresh on our minds. For many, these memories are only disturbing news items that they witnessed on television from the safety of their peaceful neighborhoods. For some of us, the memories are much more real. Personally, I can no longer call Eldoret home, even though that is where I was raised and schooled. But for all Kenyans, the sincere plea on our lips is a plea for peace. We may be divided on who we want to be the next president, but we are united in echoing this prayer from our National Anthem:
“May we dwell in Unity, Peace and Liberty”
It may sound rather strange that I would quote Matthew 10:34-36 for a discussion on peace in Kenya, but the truth is that I find many parallels between that passage and the coming general elections. This passage provides a very realistic picture of true peace, and stands in sharp contrast to the many sentimentalized notions of peace being peddled around the country. It is my hope that these 3 parallels will shed some light on what Christians may do for the sake of peace as the decisive day approaches:
1. THE REALITY OF DIVERSE CANDIDATES
The first reality that Kenyans have to confront in the coming elections is the fact that there are many candidates competing for the same seat. I am not just talking about the presidential seats, but also the senatorial, gubernatorial and other parliamentary positions. This means that we have choices to make, and we must acknowledge them all as valid choices. The reality of diverse candidates means that we have a responsibility to listen to each candidate and weigh his/her propositions. It doesn’t make it easier that the diversity of candidates is also along tribal lines. On a horizontal level, Jesus was setting himself up against the prevailing authorities in the family: fathers, mothers, and mothers-in-law (in our present text). Allegiance to Jesus meant viewing all these other diverse authorities as subject and subservient to the supremacy of Jesus.
2. THE REALITY OF TRIBAL ALLEGIANCES
Not only was Jesus setting himself up against the prevailing authorities and allegiances in the family, it is important to note that these were family allegiances. Jesus was (and is) intruding upon blood relatives, the strongest bond there is. The second reality about the coming elections is that the voters and the candidates belong to different tribes. While many have chosen to take the unrealistic path of refusing to acknowledge the reality of “tribal forces”, any reasonable thinker will acknowledge that tribal forces are still strong and active in Kenya. Other, more reasonable, political analysts have even attempted to isolate the problem as “negative ethnicity”. We tend to gravitate towards those with whom we identify, and our tribes are no exception. Tribalism is a sociocultural force that cannot simply be theorized and reasoned away. It is beyond reason, though not without reason. Allegiance to Jesus meant upsetting and even severing the strongest bond on earth, the bond of family.
3. THE REALITY OF DIVERSE CONVICTIONS
Thirdly, there is the reality of diverse convictions. Despite the fact that we are all members of a particular tribe, family and other sociocultural constructs, we each have diverse convictions. Part of our greatest role in ensuring peaceful co-existence is making sure that we do not impose our convictions on others. We may influence and persuade others to come on-board our political trains, but we cannot claim that the other person’s position is entirely wrong, malicious or negatively biased. We have to be willing to “consider others better than ourselves”, even when we are in disagreement with them. In our passage, the reality that has to be faced is that the man has a different conviction from that of his father, the daughter from that of her mother, the daughter-in-law from that of her mother-in-law – the conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord.
A VISION FOR UNITY IN DIVERSITY
So, how do we find unity in such diversity? How do we find peace in the reality of such chaos? The only way that this is possible is if we find something apart from our people, our land or our preferences, on which to attach our worth and significance. This cannot be found simply in affirming our humanity, or even our citizenship (of course, it is possible to find temporary and preliminary peace by affirming these, but it won’t be true and lasting peace). True peace has to be found in something apart from all of us. Something greater than all of us. Something absolute and unmoving. Many candidates have been proposed for this position, and can be found in slogans such as “Kenya ni jina, nchi ni wewe” (Kenya is just a name, the country is you), or “I am not my tribe, I am my country”. Yet, all these are simply exercises in taking the tribalism mentality a step higher. We cannot kill negative ethnicity by expanding the tribal scope or circle. Neither can we solve differences in convictions by imposing one of the many convictions.
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:37-38]
The reality is that human beings are tribal creatures. The fact that Jesus affirms the difficulty in breaking ties with our family to follow him is proof of this. So, we cannot simply will or wish away tribal allegiances. What we can do is find the integrity in every candidate, the strength in every tribe, and the truth in every conviction. Where these three meet, is where true peace can be found.
Ultimately, we must realize that true peace can only be found in the ultimate representation of unity in diversity, that is, the Godhead: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Yet, this is only possible for those who are in Christ. What about peace for those outside of Christ? Well, the first thing we can do is acknowledge that any principles we apply will have to reflect the principles of unity in diversity, taught in the Bible concerning the church: the Body of Christ. The peace procured from biblical principles without affirming the person of Christ will be temporary and insufficient, but such a peace is possible, by the grace of God, prayer and the affirmation of the three realities mentioned above. We cannot deny that we have different preferences in the candidates, different allegiances in our tribes and different emphases in our convictions. Neither can we deny that true peace is only possible through the severing and uniting sword of God’s Word.
So, let’s pray for practical peace in Kenya. Let us pray for a new vision of peace among “Kenyans”. And let us pray for everlasting peace in “Kenyans”, a peace that can only be effectively procured and eternally sustained through the explicit preaching of the greatest message of peace on earth: the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified.