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.