BBC Radio 4 talk on Archbishop David Gitari 1996

by Graham Kings

Date added: 26/07/2020

Archbishop David Gitari


Script by Canon Graham Kings for the BBC Radio 4 Series ‘Ten to Ten’

Broadcast  26 July 1996



There is a lot of talk of the prophetic nature of the gospel today. I’ve found that in Kenya the world of the Bible comes alive in this way.


In the library not only do we have historical books on mission but also contemporary documents about Christianity in Africa and Asia which show history in the making. I have in front of me here a duplicated copy of the enthronement sermon of Archbishop David Gitari. He preached this on 12th January this year in Nairobi cathedral, in the presence of the President. It was a five hour service celebrating his enthronement as the Third Archbishop of Kenya.


He has been an outspoken preacher against injustice for many years and mentioned the close proximity of the houses of the President and of the Archbishop in Nairobi:


The State House and the House of the then Bishop of Mombasa were built so close to one another during colonial days not by coincidence but so that the Governor and the Bishop could have quick access to one another for fellowship, consultation and prayers. I am now moving to that House called Bishopsbourne as the Archbishop of Kenya. Being so close to State House, I hope we shall have many opportunities of consultation over a cup of tea with our beloved President either at State House or at Bishopsbourne.


Before coming to Cambridge to lecture in mission studies, I worked as a missionary at Kabare in Kenya from 1985 to 1991 preparing men and women for ordination. David Gitari, then Bishop, had set up the college and was chairman of the board. I was amazed at his bravery and skill in interpreting the scriptures to apply to contemporary issues in Kenya. He holds a very high doctrine of the Bible’s authority as God’s Word combined with shrewd political acumen. For this preaching he barely escaped an assassination attempt on his life in April 1989.


On the 3rd March 1975 a few months before Gitari’s consecration, the prominent politician J. M. Kariuki was assassinated. In his recent book of sermons In Season and Out of Season: Sermons to a Nation, Gitari describes the result of a series of his talks broadcast on the national radio during the unrest immediately after Kariuki’s murder. He had been summoned to the Voice of Kenya and found seven top officials from the Ministry of Information:


The Chairman, Mr Kangwana, informed me that my radio talks were very disturbing as they seemed to imply that the government was involved in the murder of Mr J. M. Kariuki. But I informed the meeting that if my talks were disturbing then they had achieved their purpose, as the gospel is very disturbing to sinners. I further reiterated that every human being is made in the image of God and has an intrinsic dignity. Because of this he should be respected and served and not exploited or eliminated. Pointing at each of them I emphasized: ‘You are created in the image of God and no one has the right to destroy God’s image in you.’ The Chairman replied: ‘If that is what you are saying, then continue.’ [1]



Tough words. In this book there is also evidence of prophecy; not just condemning injustice, but reading the signs of the times and warning about forthcoming events: hinges of history.


In July 1982, he preached on the text from Esther chapter 4 “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” This was in front of a cabinet minister, the Provincial Commissioner and leading civil servants just two weeks prior to the attempted coup, to topple President Moi on 1 August.


Gitari expounded the passage, setting the story of Esther in its context:


Two watchmen who guarded the King’s gates made a secret plot to assassinate the King...went to Mordecai.


Then later he applied the text to his congregation:


You may be a member of the armed forces in the military, air force or navy. If you discover that some of your colleagues are planning to change the government through unconstitutional use of military action, you must not keep quiet. Many African countries have had their governments changed by force, but we have been fortunate in that Kenya is one of the very few countries that have never experienced change of the government in that way. Indeed, we don not need a coup d’etat in Kenya. That however can be avoided only if we are willing to work for justice and peace and if we care for welfare of the poor and the disadvantaged. All of us, whoever we are, should consider ourselves as instruments of peace, only we must not keep silent when the peace is threatened by circumstances. [2]


I have in front of me here a photo of Bishop Gitari in episcopal robes, which I took during the opening service of his new diocese of Kirinyaga in September 1990. I was pleased to find the text of his sermon that day in the book. In the wake of persistent criticisms of the government and of demands for an end to the one party state, the President had set up a KANU review committee. KANU was the name of the one party. Gitari chose as a text I Kings chapter 12 where advice is sought by Solomon’s son Rehoboam on succeeding his father. It may help to give some of the biblical background. Rehoboam had travelled from Jerusalem in the south to Shechem where the people of northern Israel had gathered to make him king. The people had with them Jeroboam, who had recently returned from exile in Egypt. (This also had contemporary echoes in Kenya).


They said they would be loyal if Rehoboam relieved them of the heavy burdens that his father had placed on them. The older advisers who had served Solomon suggested that a favourable answer would produce loyalty. The younger advisers urged even greater oppression with the proverbial phrase “thus you shall say to them ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. And now, whereas my father ladi upon you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.’” He followed the latter advice. The people rebelled, made Jeroboam king instead and the kingdom was divided.


Now, Gitari applied the narrative to the recent KANU review committee and described how he had gone in person to present the diocesan memorandum.


But I was surprised.


What was fascintating to me that day is that he allowed the threat of the text - of the kingdom being divided - to make it own obvious dynamic application and he did not labour the point of the one party KANU losing it monopoly if it did not reform.


As a result of heavy pressure from Western donors, Section 2a of the constitution was repealed in December 1991 and parties other than KANU were thereafter legal. In the elections a year later, through the fragmentation of the opposition parties, President Moi was re-elected. The next elections are this year.


[1] David Gitari, In Season and Out of Season: Sermons to a Nation (Oxford: Regnum, 1996), p. 20.

[2] David Gitari, In Season and Out of Season: Sermons to a Nation (Oxford: Regnum, 1996), p. 41.


Graham Kings

Graham Kings

A bronze

Wood panel


Wood panel