Luxury, controversy rule the lives of celebrity preachers
Their names are synonymous with controversy, they live in obvious luxury and are notorious for self-importance.
In spite of this, they are venerated personas in the society. Their outrageous declarations do not stop thousands of Kenyans from flocking to their churches every Sunday.
When they take to the pulpit to deliver sermons every Sunday, their churches are usually packed to the brim.
Fraud, corruption, adultery and other forms of sexual impropriety involving men of the cloth are not a new phenomenon in Kenya.
Cases of rape and defilement of children involving Catholic priests, for instance, feature in the news quite frequently.
Often, such cases never see the light of the day, owing to either shoddy investigations or conspiracy between the church and authorities to protect the offenders. This occurs while the victims suffer in silence.
By the time Bishop Robert Wafula decided to resign from Pastor James Ng’ang’a’s Neno Evangelism Centre in May this year after serving for more than 20 years, he had endured enough humiliation from his boss. He could not take it anymore.
In a widely circulated video clip, Pastor Ng’ang’a was seen rebuking bishops of the church for allegedly undermining his wife.
Mr Ng’ang’a called the shell-shocked bishops fools, telling them that he was to thank for their ‘dignity’ while reminding them that he was the de facto head of the church.
Bishop Wafula told the congregation at the church’s Mombasa branch that he was going on ‘sabbatical’ even though insiders in the church understood he was leaving for good.
Pastor Ng’ang’a has always somehow got away with controversy, but it was his threats to Citizen TV journalist Linus Kaikai in March this year, after the latter had condemned rogue church leaders — that put him in the spotlight.
He was summoned by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and taken to court over the remarks. A month later, he was back in court to answer to fraud charges involving Sh3.6 million.
From the obscure source of her wealth and flamboyance, to bullying other motorists on the road, Reverend Lucy Natasha’s imposing presence on the Kenyan gospel scene, though questionable, is undeniable.
DISPLAY OF WEALTH
Rev Natasha, who heads the Prophetic Latter Glory Ministries International church, rides in a large entourage of vehicles complete with bodyguards and outriders, in a bizarre display of wealth and influence. But it is her association with controversial politicians that dents her character.
The life of Maina Njenga may have changed course dramatically in the past couple of years, but his past as leader of Mungiki still inspires dread among Kenyans.
After he left the feared sect, Mr Njenga founded Hope International Ministries Church in Kitengela, where he is the leader.
In 2014, Mr Njenga’s landlord threatened to kick the church out of his property, citing constant wrangles and violence involving members of the church.
That same year, the then Kajiado County Commissioner, Mr Kobia wa Kamau, said the church was under state investigations and would be closed for crime-related concerns.
A vicious attempt on his life in Nyandarua County five years ago when a vehicle he was travelling in was attacked by gunmen, leaving five people dead, is a stark reminder of his dark days.
Controversy fits like a glove in Bishop Margaret Wanjiru’s life. Ahead of the Jubilee Party primaries in 2017, the politician-cum-evangelist was allegedly caught on camera bribing youths in Nairobi. And who can forget the kind of language she used to describe Mr James Kamangu, the man who, in 2007, claimed to be her husband?
Bishop Allan Kiuna and his wife Cathy Kiuna are known to live large. The founding couple of Jesus Christian Centre, which boasts more than 10 branches, is loved and criticised in equal measure.
In 2017, Bishop Kiuna stunned Kenyans when he announced that his congregation had gifted him a private jet, arguing that, it was ‘‘too tedious to fly commercial from one continent to another’’ and likening himself to Jesus, who was not poor.
Last year, his wife drew the wrath of Kenyans when she seemed to demean poor people in a post on social media.
“You cannot be a tither, a sincere tither and remain poor,” tweeted Ms Kiuna, saying ‘‘tithing is an obedience issue”.
Eunice Moraa, a believer, says that the huge influence of the modern church creates a veil of immunity around the clergy.
“The problem is that today’s priests and bishops have acquired so much power and wealth. This makes it harder for people to criticise them,” Ms Moraa says.