Kenyan church, state at odds over new constitution's definition of 'life'


Nairobi -- As the national constitutional review process continues, Kenyan Christians are pondering the crucial question of when life begins and ends. Religious leaders have severely criticized the new draft of the constitution, assembled by a Committee of Experts, even though it contains no specific reference to abortion.

The revision to the clause dealing with the right to life and redefinition of when life begins and ends is completely unacceptable and misleading to society, religious leaders charged.

The Kenya Episcopal Conference (KEC) on January 21 warned that the move to define life as starting at birth was legalizing abortion, and that the country's Catholic bishops would oppose any law that supports a culture of death.

"To insert in the constitution a clause that shifts the moment of life from conception to the time of birth defeats reason and without doubt is to open the way to legalized abortion," the statement declared.

"Conscious of our divine mandate to promote the culture of life and to stand for the inviolable right of every person to life from the moment of conception to natural death, we strongly feel we cannot be party to any legislation that supports a culture of death," the bishops said.

“Life begins at conception and ends with natural death and any attempt to deny this truth is wrong and misleading," the bishops continued. "A constitution that does not protect life in all its phases is irremediably faulty and ceases to demand any recognition."

Rt. Rev. Philip Sulumeti, the Bishop of Kakamega and KEC vice-chairman both signed the statement, with the mandate of John Cardinal Njue, the Archbishop of Nairobi and the KEC chairman.

Since the majority of Kenyans are Christians, the government will not be able to ignore this very thorny issue. The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) has threatened to mobilize a campaign against the proposed change to the constitution in the coming referendum.

"Should the harmonized draft remain as it is without defining when life begins, we shall explore legitimate options as stipulated under the Kenya Constitution Review Act, 2008 to seek amends. What is clear is that this issue needs to be taken seriously as it will definitely take centre-stage with regards to the referendum," the statement said.

"It must be understood that pregnancy is God's design, results from sexual contact between a man and a woman. God, therefore, holds the man and woman responsible to control themselves and engage in sex as a husband and wife. In any case that a pregnancy results, it is not the problem of the unborn child. Why kill the innocent, helpless human life when it has resulted from the behavior of adults?"

So who will take the day, the church or the government? Kenyans are watching.

[Photo of Kenya Parliament from Spring Haven Shops.]