Pastors Protest Rev. Walter Obare’s Dictatorial Leadership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, by Pr. Rossow

Several pastors, evangelists, deaconesses and laymen have released a video of their protest outside of the headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK) over the alleged dictatorial leadership of Rev. Walter Obare (video shown below).


Click here for a collection of documents that they have published to support their accusations:

For years the darling of LCMS mission work, Rev. Walter Obare of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK) has been in and out of court and accused by pastors of the ELCK of corruption. This is important news since the ELCK has received so much aid and attention from the LCMS in the past decade or two.

In the video the protesters allege three main things against Bishop Obare. They allege that 1) he has not held free elections as called for in their constitution, 2) he has mismanaged the finances of the ELCK (e.g. instead of giving retired workers the pension due them, money is diverted elsewhere), and 3) he has acted like a dictator instead of like a Lutheran bishop.

I have met Bishop Obare. He is winsome and talks a good confessional game but the allegations claim that this is not the way he leads. I wrote a glowing post about him after he preached the sermon at President Harrison’s installation because he took on the sacred cow of contemporary worship. That post led to me getting all kinds of reports over the years since, that claimed the exact opposite of Obare. I have been convinced for a while that he is not a true confessional leader and now that the Kenyans themselves have made this a public matter I think it is time that these things be made public for the average LCMS member to know. I was very surprised when I first found out that the same Bishop Obare who trashed contemporary worship in the pulpit of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis uses contemporary worship in his own church rather than using the confessional hymnal that was translated for the Africans.

Over the years I have heard several pastors whom I respect, from the LCMS, ELCK and even the Finnish Lutheran Church (they have been doing mission work in Kenya for years) bring back reports from Kenya that Walter Obare was doing damage to the Gospel in the ELCK. From the looks of the video the Kenyan Lutherans have finally had enough.

In the video linked above the Kenyans complain that Bishop Obare has stood in the way of the mandated elections. Years ago when Bishop Obare was first elected the ELCK constitution had a term limit for the office of bishop. When that was exceeded Obare’s supporters played some word games with his title and he was “appointed” to extend his service as Bishop, contrary to the constitution. When the opponents raised enough of a stink Bishop Obare did call an electoral convention but the call itself violated the constitution. Instead of the required weeks to call an election/convention he announced on Holy Monday that there would be an electoral convention on Holy Friday. If that were not bad enough, it was located in a remote enough place that his opponents, most of whom resided in outlaying dioceses, could not get there in time and even if they did, would have to be absent form their parishes for the Feast of the Resurrection.

There is some very alarming audio tape from an interview done at that skunk convention. A supporter of Bishop Obare is asked why he votes for him. The response: “Bishop Obare gives us money, what do you have to give us?” The interviewee went on to speak about the LCMS as a sort of protector and guarantor for Obare. There are many in Kenya who believe that money given by the LCMS to the ELCK has made its way to this greasing of palms. The LCMS intends all of the goodies it hands out to be used for good but once delivered they are susceptible to corruption.

This is not unrelated to my concerns posted a few weeks ago about the over emphasis on mercy in our synod. What Africa needs is teachers. That is what the truly confessional Lutherans in Africa are asking for. Mammon leads to corruption. The “evangelism” of handing out goodies does not promote the Gospel. It creates dependency and leads to corruption. I believe the accusations of corruption in the above linked documents because I have heard it in the voice of the Obare supporter and it has been reported to me for some time by reputable pastors who have been in Kenya and seen it with their own eyes.

The Kenyans on the video also complain about the mismanagement of funds. Even before the website was put up with documentation, I have seen copies of many of those same documents. The documents tell the analytical part of the story. The living part of the story comes from those who have worked with the administration of the ELCK and tell horror stories such as monies intended for the “cows” program being diverted to extravagant building programs which to make matters worse, as the documents make clear, were built by a construction company part owned by Bishop Obare.

The third accusation is the most interesting as far as I am concerned. The other two are run of the mill, manipulations of the system and deception for personal gain. The third accusation is very subtly and wonderfully Waltherian. Obare is accused of not being a genuine bishop. As former District President Roger Pittlelko was fond of saying “Every parish pastor is a Bishop.” The point is that according to the Bible an episkopos (Greek for “bishop”) has nothing to do with lording it over anyone and everything to do with overseeing the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. Many of the Kenyan Lutherans have received good training from the likes of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation and others through the years and they know what a true bishop is like. Luther reminds us from the Gospel of John that the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. These Kenyans are not hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd from Walter Obare.

I am hearing that the LCMS is being much more careful with how it doles out mission support dollars. That is a good thing. It seems prudent to suspend any financial aid for the ELCK until this thing gets sorted out at the local level.

I would also suggest that we de-emphasize the handing out of goodies on the mission front and return to an emphasis on placing word and sacrament pastor/missionaries in the field. If you have been watching things coming out of the Harrison administration that is exactly what is being done. Now the Harrison administration needs to add to that a distancing from false bishops like Walter Obare. The emphasis needs to be on teaching and translating/distributing Lutheran catechetical materials. That is exactly what groups like Professor John Pless’s teams in Madagascar are doing as well as Lutherans in Africa, the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, the Luther Academy and others.


Pastors Protest Rev. Walter Obare’s Dictatorial Leadership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, by Pr. Rossow — 69 Comments

  1. Regarding the last three responses (48-50), Pastor Ombogo, I want to clarify the chronology. Abp. Obare corrected Kea during the Luther Academy Conference at Matongo in December of 2012, not while Kea was a pastor and 4 years before his consecration. But I think there is a good question here for all the Bishops of the ELCK — why did they consecrate him to begin with? Kea had been elected, but an episcopal responsibility remains and there are questions still unanswered around the election of Kea, and certainly, his theology and practice. Please understand what I have written before you dismiss it as “fables.” Do you seriously imagine that Kea is not an apostate? Secondly, you are repeating what others have said (and this is the real bone of contention), that the 2008 Constitution was never legally registered. That may have been true at one time, not today. Please check with Dr. Ochola, who chaired the Constitutional Committee. My information is from him. If I am wrong, then I have been misinformed by no less than that trusted leader. Or are you also bringing charges against Dr. Ochola? Secondly, and this to Pastor Ondicho, I am saddened to hear you surmise that I don’t expect Kenyans to read this blog. Indeed, I do. I have them as an audience most in mind. My students are distressed by the political turmoil in their church. I am not insensitive to their and your own feelings. But there is more to this than a question about Obare’s leadership. I did not assert that you are ignorant. To say so is simply libel. I am offended by the cavalier way you treat my reputation. Finally, and this to Pastor Rossow: what happened to the blog standards you say you enforce? If such incendiary language were made at your expense, I think you’d censor the post. I do not find such remarks “helpful.” I am disappointed by this.

  2. Professor Aadland,

    You are wrong about the constitution.

    The Deputy Registrar of Societies from the office of the Attorney General of Kenya sent a letter last week confirming that the the only recognized constitution of the ELCK is from 1966 and that the last legal election held in the ELCK was in 2002.

    I have an electronic copy of the letter and will be posting it in the next week or so.

    Bishop Obare is very corrupt and has undermined the Gospel in the ELCK for years. The evidence is over whelming.

  3. Pastor Tim,
    What is that letter from the office of the Attorney general is a fake one?

  4. Pastor Tim,
    Have you ever imagined that what your comrades from Kenya has been updating you with might be fake things? As a church minister in ELCK I would advice you not to publish the letter before you verify its authenticity.

  5. Pastor Tim,
    Have you verified what they told you about the constitution? Before you fault Professor Aadland on the constitution, how far have you verified these facts given to you by your comrades.

  6. I am Pastor Erick Omondi serving in ELCK. Dr Adland keeps on referring to “a trusted leader” while Dr Ochola assumed the office fraudulently. All of us in ELCK lake Diocese were invited for reconciliation meeting and hours later this meeting was turned into an election without any notice on a Friday and Bishop Obare consecrated him the following sunday without the knowledge of Christina members in the Diocese yet his unregistered constitution says the consecration should be within three months. Any person who was present saw bishop Amayo walk out of the election and said he could not participate in an earthly manner in electing a bishop. many of us saw this as coup.
    Dr Adland believes that the court barred ELCK from holding the elections. The question is where does Bishop Obare get the power to elect the new bishops and installing them in office if ELCK has been barred from holding elections as Dr Adland suggest from his trusted source? We are also questioning why Bishop Obare keeps dropping bishops and appointing new ones without a constitutional mandate?
    It is public knowledge through bishop Obare’s utterances that he hold the key for any pastor to study in LCMS Seminaries, latest being last week on Friday addressing pastors in Lake Diocese at Mawira when he said that he holds key to access studies in USA. Pastor Jared Magero was paraded by Bishop Obare as the next candidate and one does not need to seek further answers pertaining to pastor Magero’s comments to the genuine letter from the register which he think is fake. When will this kind of sycophancy give room to fairness, just, and equal opportunities to all deserving prospective candidates in ELCK? This fight does not belong to anybody but it is our prayer that one day God will listen to the weak in ELCK.
    Pastor Erick Omondi

  7. Pardon my phariseeism, but his is why we don’t have Bishops in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

  8. @Tim Schenks #9

    Pardon my phariseeism, but his is why we don’t have Bishops in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

    [Borrowed from the “unwritten rules” topic}
    I just think that point #2 in the original article needs to be expanded to include the fact that DPs can pretty much do whatever they want with little risk of being corrected when in error.

    A skunk cabbage by any other name…..

  9. Hellen, I am referring to actual Bishops, not elected ecclesiastical supervisors.

  10. @helen #10
    Funny you ask this…one actual reason is legality, and some of this really came out of the Seminex days.

    Our District Presidents are here to dispense mostly law (or Law), it depends; actual Bishops are Pastors to the Pastor. We have lost this. Bishops would dispense (if a good and faithful man) more love and care, that is their call.

    I bet this gets some discussion going.

  11. helen :
    A skunk cabbage by any other name…..

    It is ironic in at least two ways that we in the LCMS speak so adamantly about the “supreme” voters assembly and so lividly about the “evil” episcopal form of church government:

    1. I’m not aware of any examples of congregational polity in the Word, but there are examples of episcopal polity and such is spoken of fondly in our Confessions.

    2. We have a de facto episcopal polity embodied in DPs gone wild.

    N.B.: The specific form of church polity is not prescribed by the Word, but it is described…

  12. Pr. Crandall,

    You’re talking about the same Confessional Lutherans who had a state ruler as the head of the church, with consistories and visitors just like today, and no Bishops, just like today.

  13. Conflict resolution may help solve problems and restore what has been lost. Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms are far better than the straitjacket legalistic approaches that end with ‘winner takes it all’.
    Dispute resolution gives people the impetus for a fresh start and encourages openness especially in a deep seated conflict like one that has been witnessed in ELCK.It makes everybody a winner in the win-win situation.
    The intervention of the office of the registrar of societies (Attorney Generals office)in ELCK as an abiter in the protracted conflict is a good example.
    A meeting called by the Registrar of societies at the state law office Nairobi on Thursday 17th July brought two factions in ELCK face to face.
    Rev Otete,a retired president of the church and Rev Olak (retired general secretary) collected several signatures of church members to petition the registrar of societies for his intervention.They listed a raft of issues that have divided the church for a long time.
    The two petitioned the registrar because bishop Obare has always cleverly avoided face to face meeting with his perceived critics.
    The Registrar responded by issuing an ultimatum that ELCK must conduct its elections within 45 days so that the elected officials can deal with other matters of interest.
    Bishop Obare walked into the office of the registrar and dismissed Rev Otete’s complains as baseless in a near protest.He told the registrar that his office ,as usual, is in the process of doing elections before the year ends.He therefore founds no reason to discuss anything with a group he considers illegitimate.
    The registrar,after carefully analyzing the situation, became adamant and referred to Otete and his group as ‘stakeholders’ who cannot be wished away .In his opinion, registrar, Otete group have valid points. He went ahead to request Obare and Otete to call an inclusive meeting where the two groups can agree on the way forward.
    The meeting between the two groups failed to take effect and the registrar again took it upon himself to sermon the sides in his office for what appeared to be a compulsory meeting both groups must attend.He used his authority as state officer.At this point all escape routes were closed and Obare had to comply.
    Both sides nominated delegations to the planned meeting in the registrar’s office(I was appointed by Otete side)
    The meeting occurred and was attended by close to 35 people from both sides. It was chaired by the Deputy registrar of societies at the boardroom, state law office,Nairobi.
    The registrar studied all grievances raised and responses given and came up with ‘election’ as the most urgent issue in the church and that others may be dealt with later. Obare confessed that he is 68 years old yet he ought to have retired at 65
    Mutual agreements were procured and a committee of 5 each from both sides formed to do the following
    1. prepare a list of delegates from parishes who will elect new church leaders
    2. remove all obstacles on the way of church elections including court cases if any all progress to the registrar’s office step by step was also agreed that the latest edition of the constitution be used and its recognition be fast-trucked(though the registrar said only the 1966 edition was lawfully in his office)
    This is what Alternative Dispute resolution can do!
    We hope There will be good will(not carrot and stick) from both sides and the Gospel of Jesus will win.

  14. That makes a lot of sense—throw out the people who were elected. Who decides on the alternates?

    Sounds much like the same shenanigans as the ELCA’s quota system.

  15. @Rev. Prof. Thomas V. Aadland #51

    Please be informed those who are giving the wrong information. Up to now still the ELCK Constitution is not registered. What is registered is the 1966 Constitution which is the Lutheran Church of Kenya.

    It was only agreed that for the sake of elections and bringing the two camps. Bishop Obare’s camp and the stakeholders group through a meeting that was held at the Deputy Registrars office on the 17th of July last year 2014 that the 2008 Constitution be used with the understanding that it will be reviewed later.

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