Wheaton’s 22nd annual theology conference is in full swing here, and last night we heard from the retired Anglican Archbishop of Kenya, Rev. David Gitari, whose talk was entitled “John 17: In the World but not of the World.” Rev. Gitari shared some of his own journey, from a conservative pietistic tradition which did not support any form of political involvement on the church’s part, to his growing conviction that the church’s message was relevant to all areas of life. The church can choose various ways to relate to government: 1) identifying with and supporting the state, 2) withdrawing from any political involvement, 3) engaging in a critical, constructive dialogue with the state on the basis of the Gospel, or 4) resisting the state’s power. The first two options are dangerous, and the third and fourth are options which are more active responses on the church’s part.
Gitari shared his own joy at participating in the July 1974 Lausanne Conference on world evangelism, which concluded with a covenant that discusses Christian social responsibility. This pointed out that God is the creator and judge of all, so Christians should share his concern for justice and reconciliation in society. Because all people bear God’s image, every person has intrinsic dignity which should be respected. Evangelism and social concerns are not exclusive; both are a Christian duty. Christians therefore should not be afraid of denouncing injustice and evil wherever they exist. Rev. Gitari shared some of his own experiences fighting for basic human rights in Kenya, and the consequences of that stance. One particular denunciation on his part resulted in a group of hired thugs arriving at his house late at night, threatening to kill he and his family. This is a sobering reminder that Christian witness requires courage and willingness to suffer the consequences of speaking out. The Gospel is indeed a disturbing and convicting message to a sinful world. Rev. Gitari also emphasized the necessity for the church to move beyond merely humanitarian aid projects, and address the root causes of poverty, injustice, and other social ills. We are called to be in the world, to be involved in and care about society around us, rather than withdrawing from it—and at the same time we must cling faithfully to the Gospel so that we are not corrupted by other influences. For the church and educational institutions, the question remains: how are we preparing people to address these issues?
A summary of the bishop’s career can be found here. Those interested in reading some of his sermons can purchase “In Season and Out of Season: Sermons to a Nation” here at the conference (at the campus bookstore table) or online here.