Ethnic Reconciliation from the Margins

Public Theology from the Perspective of Youth Ministry

In: International Journal of Public Theology
Kevin Muriithi Ndereba Lecturer and Head of Department, Practical Theology, St. Paul’s University Kenya
Research Fellow, Department of Practical Theology and Missiology, Stellenbosch University South Africa

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The Kenyan post-election violence of 2007 deepened the ethnic differences that have been growing for the past decades after independence. While the August 2022 elections revealed political maturity, the October 2017 re-elections indicated that the hostility was not a settled issue. Kenyan churches in the post-democratic space have courted with political alliances along ethnic blocs. Additionally, some of the protestant churches in Kenya such as Presbyterian, Methodist and Friends, are largely monoethnic despite their long history. To what extent can these churches follow the biblical vision of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic church? This topic has generated theological interest yet few have assessed the role of the youth in ethnic reconciliation. This article will 1) survey the issue of ethnicity and the church; 2) offer a biblical-theological reflection on ethnicity, and 3) suggest how an inclusive-congregational youth ministry model can revitalize ethnic reconciliation in the church and by extension, society.


The Kenyan post-election violence of 2007 deepened the ethnic differences that have been growing for the past decades after independence. While the August 2022 elections revealed political maturity, the October 2017 re-elections indicated that the hostility was not a settled issue. Kenyan churches in the post-democratic space have courted with political alliances along ethnic blocs. Additionally, some of the protestant churches in Kenya such as Presbyterian, Methodist and Friends, are largely monoethnic despite their long history. To what extent can these churches follow the biblical vision of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic church? This topic has generated theological interest yet few have assessed the role of the youth in ethnic reconciliation. This article will 1) survey the issue of ethnicity and the church; 2) offer a biblical-theological reflection on ethnicity, and 3) suggest how an inclusive-congregational youth ministry model can revitalize ethnic reconciliation in the church and by extension, society.

1 Introduction to Ethnicity and the Church

The need for reconciliation is evident from the shape of socio-cultural, economic and religious contexts in the global sphere. In the past two years, we have experienced the Russia-Ukraine antagonism, American political transition from the pervasive Trump era as well as various political changes within a host of African countries. These divides, most protracted along ethnic, racial, religious and political lines, have longstanding effects for individuals and communities, with significant traumatic experiences for those in the margins. For example, the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began in 2014 but exploded in February 2022 through the Russian invasion, has resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displacement in addition to adverse psycho-social effects among young people within higher educational institutions.1

Public theology is a helpful tool in exploring the ramifications of the kingdom of God for the common good: it can do so in the light of the political realities of our day given the intersections of faith, politics and society, particularly for and with, the marginalized.2 As Sebastian Kim has observed while public theology has received recent revitalization, it is not a new concept and builds on the work of Augustine and re-surfaces through history.3 In such a mode, theology seeks to cross disciplinary boundaries, thereby moving from privatized faith to a public faith that negotiates economics, politics, ecological and cultural spheres of life.4 Such work is necessarily particular and bound to contexts. This article explores the significance of young people in championing ethnic reconciliation within African societies.

In the American context, several analyses have been offered in grappling with the subtle connections between Trumpist political convictions and racial supremacy, often sidelining the racial minorities in the country. Michael McCormack for example explores the negligence of racial reconciliation through a re-reading of W.E.B. Du Bois’ ‘The Souls of White Folk’ noting how this racial divide has culminated in the Trump-era politics, Black Lives Matter movement as well as critical commentaries on ‘whiteness’ as a religion that has subverted justice among African- and Latin-Americans among others.5 McCormack parallels evangelical Christianity in the United States of America with ‘whiteness’, whereby Christianity is understood in both its spiritual as well as its political engagement to be constricted to largely European and narrowly, white American social and cultural constructs.6 Raimundo Barreto has also traced the racialization of economic development, with impoverishment unequally affecting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).7 According to Barreto, reconciliation within such settings means disconnecting Christianity from a colonial logic and secondly, to prioritize the experiences of others so as to empathize with and deeply engage them for their well-being, both as core mandates of the Christian life.8

What is clear is that these region-specific divisions usually have far-reaching consequences. The Russian-Ukraine conflict was connected to skyrocketing fuel prices. These increased oil prices within the past two years shifted the economic situation of many Kenyan households, with further marginalization of communities. In the Kenyan context, politicians vying for various national offices utilized the dialogue of hustler (the common Kenyan who is political and economically disadvantaged) versus dynasty (those with political and economic privileges), so as to create more advantageous political alignments. The common misconception in the Kenyan context, is that particular ethnicities are usually on the side of power, while other ethnicities lie at the bottom of the political pyramid. From a cursory look at the political landscape, it is true that those who aligned ethnically with the Presidents accrued various benefits.9 However, going beneath the surface reveals that a majority of Kenyans, on various ethnic divides, lead ordinary lives of integrity, hard work and economic activities that unite them rather than divide them along ethnic lines. However, ethnicity has remained a critical factor in post-independent Kenya, usually correlating with political machinations, religious affiliations and public sector governance and business leadership.

Although definitions of ethnicity abound, I will restrict the definition in this article to the idea of ‘tribes’. In other words, ethnicity is the idea of a community that shares common descent. Some anthropologists use two loci to demarcate the idea of ethnicity, namely culture and boundaries.10 Following these foci, we can say that ethnicities in Africa are largely identified by their African cultures and secondly by the physical boundaries that differentiate them. Traditionally for example, the Agĩkũyũ are largely located in Central Kenya and Maasai in Northern Kenya and both have been influenced by their distinctive African cultures and histories. Broadening this understanding, some anthropologists view ethnicity as a social construct, marked by various lifestyles, languages and codes of conduct, which have been propagated by traditions and in some cases, myths.11 Even theologians note that definitions of ethnicity lean more on subjective definitions rather than objective standards that define ethnic boundaries.12 We conclude in light of the above that tribal identifications arise from cultural, geographic, contextual situations that demarcate one ethnicity from another. Consequently, based on these differences, some ethnicities see themselves as superior to others, what some call ethnocentrism. The end effect of such an ideology can be seen through nepotism within organizations and at worst, ethnic conflict, violence and death.

Some scholars have correlated ethnic conflict with issues as diverse as education, religion and politics. In the multicultural wars of the 1990s in the United States, some proponents of multiculturalism made the claim that education was based on Eurocentric worldviews and thus discriminated upon other cultural minorities.13 Economic policies that seem to favour one ethnicity over another gives credence to the fact that some ethnic conflicts arise from the political arena. The Kenyan scholar Felicia Yieke makes the case that whereas the multi-party, democratic system was meant to be a solution to the attendant ethnic conflicts, which she notes is only a recent phenomenon given ethnic intermarriages and trading in the past, it has sadly been implemented within ethnic lines thereby stunting the country’s development.14 Lastly, religion is also seen as a contributing factor in ethnic conflict. One scholar notes that instead of being a unifying voice, religion has been the cause of bigotry, ethnocentrism and other forms of oppression.15 Boko Haram in Nigeria has been used as a case study. The second part of this article will offer a critique to this last view, by looking at the rich resources of the Judeo-Christian worldview towards this issue. However, looking critically at ethnic conflicts in our country and around the world reveals the sad reality that the church has in many ways been in solidarity with the oppression of different ethnicities, races and minorities. This position defeats the biblical precedent to embrace those who are different.

A few examples here elucidate the fact that the global church has either been a passive or an active agent of ethnic and racial oppression. In the United States many Christians and churches participated in the slavery of black people in 18th and 19th century-America. Christian slavery shows how protestant slave owners guarded Christian rituals from non-white outsiders who tried to evangelize and liberate black slaves.16 The Trump era revealed that some Christians and churches exclude others and even oppress them, thereby forming the basis of a reflection by an African American theologian that ‘race has a Christian architecture, and Christianity in the West has a racial architecture.’17 In Africa, the stories of Rwanda and South Africa draw parallels to the situation in Kenya. The home of the East African revival movement that swept across Eastern Africa, Rwanda happens to be one of the most Christianized African countries. Yet, it is a harrowing reality that it was not uncommon for death squads during the genocide to be comprised of lay church people, priests and other church employees.18 According to Christine Schliesser, what made the churches complicit in ethnic conflicts was that the churches’ policies on ethnicity were murky, church politics problematic and their theology malnourished.

The South African theologian Jerry Pillay reminds us that prior to the 1990s, immigrants to South Africa were discriminated due to ‘institutional racism’ that had wielded itself into society and church life.19 From its linguistic definition, xenophobia is the estrangement of the stranger. Different from racism, it has to do with feelings of hatred towards another group – so for instance there were xenophobia-motivated deaths of 41 people and in 2015, nationwide attacks on black Africans from other countries such as Zimbabwe and Nigeria by black South Africans.20 In the history of apartheid in the same country, Pillay observes that the South African church has oftentimes been compromised and is thus encouraging her to ‘embrace a pastoral-prophetic approach’ that can speak truth to power and show solidarity to all peoples.21 In the recent public theological landscape in South Africa, decoloniality has emerged as a theological conviction and pursuit in decentering the colonial mindset and ensuring a more diverse and unified South African societal, religious and political context.22

Several analyses merit the assessment that Kenya’s case is similar to the aforementioned countries. First, mission history led to predominantly single-ethnic denominations; second, the post-independent African church has not offered a robust theology of ethnicity thus leading to; third, a contemporary Kenyan church that is ill-equipped to foster ethnic reconciliation. The mission history of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa is illustrative of the first point. At the invitation of Sir William Mackinnon and others of the Imperial British East African Chartered Company, a group of missionaries led by Rev James Stewart, DD landed in British East Africa and began a Christian mission called the East African Scottish Missions (EASM) in 1891.23 Dr. Thomas Watson became the forbearer of the mission work that initially moved from Kibwezi and later to Kikuyu in 1898.24 Following his efforts in expanding the mission work to Thogoto, Watson would later die, shifting the administration of the work from EASM to the Church of Scotland Mission in 1901 through a conciliatory agreement. The mission work would continue in several areas in Central Kenya even in this post-independent nation under African leadership. Most of the adherents of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa are Kikuyu, with pockets of Meru and other minority ethnicities. Only in the late 1990s did the liturgy embrace Kiswahili and English in order to cater to the diversity of ethnicity in the urban and peri-urban areas.

Similarly, the mission history of the Quakers/Friends in Western Kenya, particularly in Nyanza and Mumias, would result in monoethnic demographics among the Quaker churches in Kenya today.25 From these two examples, such churches with a narrow ethnic definition have not reflected theologically on their role in ethnic reconciliation – or, if they have, it has not found practical application in the life of the churches. It is common knowledge that people within some churches vote along ethnic lines and not on issue-based political leadership. This ethnicism is one of the issues that John Mbiti identifies with contemporary African Christianity.26 To cope with this state of play, Pillay reminds us that the church must reflect theologically, carry out empirical analyses and speak prophetically on this apparent bias.27 If such churches would be emissaries of ethnic reconciliation, given their popularity in terms of numbers, imagine how much grassroots-level change can sprout. This change in outlook would then lead to a contemporary African church that can engage with the state as an apparatus for societal organization and order by being a prophetic voice that calls both the government and Christians in specific, to a social ethic that is in solidarity with all people without regard for political alignment, ethnic identification or religious affiliation.

2 Biblical-Theological Reflection on Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion

It may not be too much to claim that the future of our world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference.28

Ethnic conflict arises from a view that sees the self as superior to others. In the preface of his Exclusion and Embrace Miroslav Volf tells the story of a penetrating question that his lecturer had asked him at the end of his talk on embracing the enemy: “Can you embrace a cetnik?” Cetniks were Serbian soldiers who had committed human atrocities by raping women and burning churches. Volf replied that “No I cannot – but as a follower of Jesus Christ I should be able to”.29 Evidently, the issue of reconciliation is determined by how we identify ourselves and others – and to talk of self involves the situated self, thereby showing the necessity of cultural context.30 In order for the African church to find her place in her historical phase as a ‘pilgrim church’ in Mbiti’s words, theological retrieval is of the essence. I will take a reformed worldview perspective of creation-fall-redemption-glorification to suggest that biblical theology advances the idea of diversity and inclusion of the other.

Noting the difficulties in ethnic distinctions and definitions, an Old Testament scholar notes that the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament paints an ethnic portrait that is diverse, a mosaic of different ethnicities and groupings. In his own words:

The group appearing most frequently, of course, is the Northwest Semitic group, composed of Israel and many of her neighbors (Canaanites, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, etc.). Also playing a role in the Old Testament are the Cushites (Black Africans), the Egyptians (probably a mix of Asiatic and Black African), and the Indo-Europeans (Philistines and Hittites).31

J. Daniel Hays makes this observation in order to seek to convince especially white evangelicals of race and ethnicity issues. Although some work has been done in that context, Hays acknowledges that it has oftentimes been ‘anecdotal’ leaving much more room for biblical exegesis on this complex matter. Within the Kenyan context, such an analysis is necessary for those who think that the ‘chosen people’ are only from a particular tribe or another. Though many Christians view the issue of ethnicity from a narrow and singular lens, the biblical account is more inclusive of all ethnicities.

This inclusivity goes beyond ethnic affiliation to other broader social categories. Some of these groups are called sojourners. As such, the Kenyan scholar Zebedi Muga categorizes them as: the poor (Lev 19:3; Jer 7:6, 22:3), orphans and widows (Deut 14:29, 16:11, 14, 26:13, 27:19) and notes that the Israelites were to love them and accommodate them.32 Not limited to the Israelite community, inclusion of the neighbor was also a salient feature among the Ancient Near Eastern communities:

In the Gilgamesh Epic, Enkindu appears at the well and creates fear at the watering place. Gilgamesh’s help is sought. The value of friendship and companionship is used as a strategy for adoption. Gilgamesh welcomes Enkindu and urges him to stop roaming the steppe to live with them in their home in ‘Uruk.’ (cf. Tablet II Col. Li (1963, 27)).33

Perhaps the epitome of ethnic diversity is ‘the league of nations’ in Genesis 11. Although some have used this text as a critique against diversity, reading it within the theological arc of the Pentateuch displays something different. The reason this type of diversity was banished was because the societal groupings sort to build themselves a kingdom (11:4). The principle may as well apply to ethnocentrism: if certain tribes in Kenya seek to build their own kingdoms without showing hospitality to others or heeding the voice of God, then they will be scattered. The result is ethnicity that is diversified in language (11:9). It is only until Pentecost that the unity of the different tribes, ethnicities and nations are enacted through the agency of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Although the Israelites are banished into exile and commanded severally to wipe out certain ethnicities, the reason is not so much ethnocentrism but an ethical submission to Yahweh as these ethnicities engaged in dehumanizing cultural rituals and religions (Deut 6:4–5, 7:1–5; see also the banishment of the Israelites due to similar practices 2 Kings 17:14–18; 2 Chron 33: 2–6, 36:15–16).

In the practical area of marriages in African cultures, some parents have dissuaded their children from marrying into other cultures due to such biblical imperatives: ‘you shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons’ (Deut 7:3) but again, this hermeneutic has been based on eisegesis of Scripture as opposed to a biblical-theological faithfulness to the entire sweep of Scripture. The reason for such exclusivism was to set a precedent for the Lord’s chosen people as those set apart – Their setting apart from other people does not arise from their uniqueness, but from God’s redemptive plan for humankind (Deut 7:6–8). The Lord in his wisdom called the entire human race through the calling of one individual, Abraham, and one ethnicity, Israel, that would in turn include a representation from diverse ethnicities in the world in their calling to Jesus Christ (Gen 12:1–9, 15:1–21; 2 Sam 7, Jer 1:10, Zech 14:1–21). In the Hebrew Bible, the norm is ethnic diversity and inclusivity as opposed to ethnic exclusion.

The New Testament envisages a distinct inclusion of all ethnicities in Jesus Christ, the Last Adam. Jesus’ mission statement in Luke’s gospel shows that he was concerned with the spiritually, socially and psychologically “other” (4:18–19). This envisages the golden rule of the Christian community as love of God and love for others, referencing a central text in the Jewish canon (Matt 22:37–39; Mark 12:30–31; Luke 10:27 cf. Deut 6:4–5). The gospel account of Jesus and the woman at the well goes to show that though the Samaritans and Jews had differences in ethnic, social and religious worldviews, God’s kingdom would include Jews, Samaritans and others who would worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:1–45). The gospels include all sorts of ethnicities and peoples into the chosen people of God as long as they are united to Jesus Christ by faith (John 3:16). Contrary to Jewish ethnic identity that was based on rejection of other nation’s cult, separation of meals, male circumcision and Sabbath observance, a study of ethnicity in the gospel of Matthew concludes that ‘the Matthean community was a multicultural group of different ethnic origins; not on the basis of blood ties but religious bonds.34 Although many Matthean scholars (J. Andrew Overman, Anthony J. Saldarini and David C. Sim) view the gospel account as mainly a Jewish community with Christian overlays, Donald A. Hagner critiques them to summarize that the full Jewishness of Matthew’s gospel does not deny ‘the fully Christian identity of its community’: it reflects ‘a new community with a new focus of a revolutionary kind that puts it in strong contrast with all other contemporary Jewish communities.’35 The concept of salvation in the gospel of Matthew expands the usual individualistic and spiritual experience, to the redemption of the Jewish Christians from Roman imperial rule.36

In the early church, it is difficult to pick out the nuances of ethnicities due to the Mediterranean set-up of the time. One New Testament scholar notes that the cultural setting was such that individuals derived their identity from the groups that they identified with such that ‘ancient societies often mounted their historical memories on a past borrowed from others.’37 Despite this, the drama of salvation in the book of Acts moves from the central Jewish locale to the global frontier (Acts 1:8; Peter’s vision in Acts 10). In the Pauline epistles, ethno-cultural issues would arise and Paul would seek ethnic reconciliation anchored on the Christian community’s communion in Christ (Acts 15; Col 2). Jewish and gentile worldviews are contrasted in this interpretation of Galatians 3:28 that ‘Jews saw the world in binary us/them terms, whereas Paul relativizes all these profound distinctions, breaking down barriers, in Christ.’38 David Horrell’s claim is that the interpretation of most commentators of this Scripture evolve from a white/western context thereby raising his concern that other contexts, including Latin American, Asian and African contexts, should well be considered. It is to such a contested ethnic context that a Kenyan reading of the same text may have well said ‘there is neither Kikuyu nor Luo … for you are all one in Christ’.

The epistle to the Hebrews also contains ethnic nuances to which the author speaks to while centering diverse ethnic identities in the once-for-all sacrifice of the Son of God who is incarnated and yet superior to any ethnicity.39 By and large, while the New Testament canon shows marked differences in ethnic identity, and given the contextual background of the early church, it also pushes for ethnic inclusion that is centered on Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9).40 The apocalyptic literature of John’s Revelation in its symbolic language points to this same conclusion: ‘all tribes’ (Rev 1:7), ‘from every tribe and language’ (Rev 5:9), ‘every nation and tribe and language’ (Rev 14:6) and ‘all nations’ (Rev 7:9, 10:11, 11:9, 15:4, 21:24). Christians are to resist temptations of ethnic division and to embrace ethnic reconciliation, as a horizontal outworking of their vertical reconciliation with God – much like God’s people during John’s time were expected to be ‘a counterculture and witness to the reality of the world of God and his people.’41

3 Inclusive-Congregational Youth Model as an Agent of Ethnic Reconciliation

It is clear then that up to this point the scriptural canon embraces ethnic inclusion as opposed to ethnic exclusion. Though the Kenyan church has not stood in solidarity with the model of a multi-ethnic church, the youth can be timely agents for ethnic reconciliation in the church and state in Africa. Several reasons merit this claim: First, youth are a majority demographic with statistics bound to increase; Second, youth are historically distant from the entrenched tribal differences in the country yet conversant enough with the underlying issues to offer a critique; and third, youth are located within a postmodern and multi-cultural context that is not very stuck up on difference but offers inclusion. In this article, I use the Presbyterian church polity as a case study on ethnic reconciliation due to its largely mono-ethnic contextual makeup and history, but also because it practices an inclusive-congregational youth ministry model in which the youth can offer their unique voice to the community of faith and thus edify the entire body, as opposed to standalone youth ministry models.

Four approaches to youth ministry have been proposed by Mark H. Senter III, Wesley Black, Chap Clark and Malan Nel in their influential book Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church.42 The missional approach sees youth and youth pastors as missionaries to the culture; the preparatory approach sees adolescents and young adults as disciples-in-training to lead the church of the future; the strategic approach sees the youth ministry as a potential church plant or new church, and thus the youth ministry and its leaders built and commissioned to lead a daughter church of the mother church. This article will not allow space to interrogate these approaches in depth43 but will mainly engage with the inclusive congregational approach as a viable method of dealing with ethnic reconciliation in the congregational church context and hopefully outwards towards the society.

The inclusive generational approach is a model proposed by the South African practical theologian Malan Nel. The theological premise for this model is captured in the following statement, which has a basis in reformed thinking:

In sum the inclusive congregational approach to youth ministry is grounded in the covenant according to which God initiates and sustains the relationship with his creation. In this ongoing relationship between God and the human race he includes us all, young and old, in a special way to be agents of this relationship where we could encounter God. The congregation and family are singled out as primary agents of relationships where the youth should be nurtured. This approach does not view the youth as passive objects of ministry, but rather as active participants that could and also should minister.44

This youth ministry approach sees the youth as human persons with a calling to Christlike discipleship where they are. Although the hierarchical structure of African societies push youth to the margin, they should be allowed to grow in their discipleship while offering their unique witness to the entire church body. The inclusive-congregational approach makes this possible by having the youth incorporated into the entire body of the faith community, as opposed to the other models that only see them as an appendage. Part of the critique that has been offered towards this model is that it may not take into consideration the cultural gap between the adults and youth and secondly, the how to question of interaction between the adults and youth.45 Anita Cloete reminds us that such ‘creative tensions’ arise from the fact that ministry in the congregational context is interrelated and complex. As youth ministry envisioned this way allows space for spiritual formation through the developmental journeys of the young people, it will also call the whole community of faith towards a distinct discipleship. How does this relate with ethnic reconciliation?

What we have argued so far is that many Christians and churches have been on the side of ethnic exclusion of minorities within their communities. We have also argued that the biblical account theologically supports ethnic inclusion and diversity. How the inclusive-congregational model may offer a solution is that since the youth have a healthier understanding of ethnic inclusion (given their growing discipleship, their postmodern sensibilities and their historical distance with ethnic conflict), then they may be able to offer a biblical portrait of a multi-ethnic faith community. Instead of writing off churches or congregations that are monolithic in their ethnicity, multi-ethnic youth ministries may be able to model Christian unity and ethnic reconciliation for these congregations. The shape of youth ministry in Kenya is more multicultural, both within the churches considered in this article as well as the non-denominational, evangelical and African Indigenous varieties. Various literature reveals how young people have been at the center of reconciliation efforts and harnessing the potential of young people proposes an impact for ethnic reconciliation within the church.46

4 Implications for the Kenyan Church and Society

My argument so far has the following implications for the Kenyan church. First, there is need to be observant towards ethnic (and correlated power) dynamics that are at play within Christian communities of faith. This task assumes an awareness of pastoral theology as a tool to engage in reconciliatory efforts by first and foremost, naming and subverting subtle ethnic (and power) dynamics that end up being exclusionary towards those outside particular ethnic conclaves. To reconcile people across different ethnic divides begins with understanding those divides in the first place.

Secondly, this article reveals how this concern for ethnic reconciliation begins with expanding our biblical theology of ethnicity. While anthropologists largely argue for a socially constructed definition of ethnicity, the biblical text expands ethnicity from a narrow-minded focus to an inclusion of other ethnicities, all summiting in the worship of God. Practically, this ethnic inclusion means diversifying ethnic voices within the church’s public worship. Another way ethnic inclusion can be practiced is through preaching that unpacks ethnic dynamics, expanding liturgical language to facilitate multicultural inclusion as well as missiological approaches that cross ethnic boundaries with wisdom and courage.47

Third, the uniqueness of this article is to unpack the potential of young people for ethnic reconciliation. Youth passivity remains a factor in many of the African hierarchical structures that further distance young people based on generational differences and their postmodern sensibilities. This article has argued that rather than being seen as a ‘curse’, young people’s pursuit of inclusion can be utilized as a resource for bridging ethnic divides. In this sense, young people are resources for local congregations in the pursuit of ethnic reconciliation. In African urban contexts especially, while young people may have ethnic identities in their mother-tongue languages and specific cultural artefacts, they are more unified cross-culturally in their urban slang-language, fashion styles, music tastes and other cultural symbols. This shared identity can be utilized as a bridge to the gospel that includes all people from all ethnicities.

Lastly, the church can play a public and prophetic role in reconciling those who have been harmed from ethnic conflicts. Jacob notes that such a view is anchored on a biblical vision of both justice and righteousness as equal faces of the same coin of God’s vision for the world.48 In his view, the Church has a key role in reconciliation not only for localized state agents, but within the international context of geopolitics. Consequently, the universal Church has a mandate to lock arms and mobilize resources, human, financial and textual, in dealing with ethnic conflicts that are sometimes connected to the complicated ties of politics, economics and geography. Ethnic reconciliation, though in the margins of Scripture, is not marginal in God’s vision for the world, and especially for the church and society in Kenya. Surprisingly, young people can offer the universal church this vocabulary to call holy what has been called unholy.


Anton Kurapov, Valentyna Pavlenko, Alexander Drozdov, Valentyna Bezliudna, Alexander Reznik and Richard Isralowitz, ‘Toward an Understanding of the Russian Ukrainian War Impact on University Students and Personnel’, Journal of Loss and Trauma (2022): 1–8. DOI: 10.1080/15325024.2022.2084838.


Sebastian Kim and Katie Day, eds, A Companion to Public Theology, (Leiden: Brill, 2017), p. 40.


Sebastian Kim, ‘Public Theology in the History of Christianity,’ in Sebastian Kim and Katie Day, eds., A Companion to Public Theology, (Leiden: Brill, 2017), pp. 40–66.


Sunday Agang, Dion A. Forster and H. Jurgens Hendricks, eds, African Public Theology, (Bukuru: Hippo Books, 2020), p. 17.


Michael Brandon McCormack, ‘The Utter Failure of White Religion’: WEB Dubois’ ‘The Souls of White Folk’ and the Challenge of Dismantling Whiteness in the (Post-) Trump Era, Practical Theology, 15: 1–2 (2022), 38–49.


Ibid., 43.


Raimundo C. Barreto Jr, ‘The Challenge for Christian Unity and Reconciliation Today from a Decolonial Perspective,” International Review of Mission, 111: 1 (2022): 70–87.


Ibid., 86.


Jasper Edward Nyaura, ‘Devolved Ethnicity in the Kenya: Social, Economic and Political Perspective’, European Review of Applied Sociology 11: 16 (2018):,17–26.


Jack David Eller, Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives, (New York and London: Routledge, 2009), p. 135.


Brian Rainey, Religion, Ethnicity and Xenophobia in the Bible: A Theoretical, Exegetical and Theological Survey (Routledge, 2018), p. 10.


Daniel J. Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 28.


Eller, Cultural Anthropology, p. 146.


Felicia A. Yieke, ‘Ethnicity and Development in Kenya: Lessons from the 2007 General Elections’, Kenya Studies Review 3.3 (December 2011), 8–19.


Dave Dean Capucao, Religion and Ethnicity: An Empirical-Theological Study, (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2010), p. 2.


Katharine Reid Gerbner, ‘Christian Slavery: Protestant Missions and Slave Conversion in the Atlantic World, 1660–1760’, Unpublished Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, 2013. It is to such racial issues that a host of activists and scholars arose. Examples of black liberation in United States of America include James Cone, Dwight N. Hopkins and in South Africa, Allan Boesak and Desmond Tutu.


Willie James Jennings, ‘Overcoming Racial Faith: How Christianity Became Entangled with Racism’, Divinity, 14:2 (2015), 4–19.


Christine Schliesser, ‘From “a Theology of Genocide” to a “Theology of Reconciliation”? On the Role of Christian Churches in the Nexus of Religion and Genocide in Rwanda’, Religions, 9:34, (2018), 1–14


Jerry Pillay, ‘Racism and Xenophobia: The Role of the Church in South Africa’, in ‘Economy – Life in its Fullness’, Verbum et Ecclesia, 38.3 (2017), 3–17


Ibid., 7.


Ibid., 15.


Thinandavha D. Mashau, ‘Unshackling the Chains of Coloniality: Reimagining Decolo‑ niality, Africanisation and Reformation for a Non-Racial South Africa’, HTS: Theological Studies, 74: 3 (2018), 1–8.


Presbyterian Church in East Africa, Practice and Procedure Manual (Nairobi: Jitegemea Press, 1998), 1.


Watson A. O. Omulokoli, ‘The Roots of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa’, Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology 16: 1 (1997), 59–66.


Linus P. Iposhe Simwa, ‘The Establishment and Impact of Friends Church among the Tiriki of Western Kenya’, Unpublished Master’s Thesis, University of Nairobi, 2015.


John Mbiti, ‘Main Features of Twenty-First Century Christianity in Africa’, Missio Africanus Journal of African Missiology 1: 2 (January 2016), 72–88.


Pillay, ‘Racism and Xenophobia’, 10.


Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 20.




Corneliu Constantineanu, ‘Exclusion and Embrace: Reconciliation in the Works of Miroslav Volf’, KAIROS – Evangelical Journal of Theology 7.1 (2013), 35–54.


J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 45.


Zebedi Muga, ‘Biblical Models for Ethno-Social Relations: Lessons for Kenya’, in D. C. Chemorion, Esther Mombo and C. B. Peter, eds, Contested Space: Ethnicity and Religion in Kenya, (Limuru, Kenya: Zapf Chancery, 2013), pp. 29–36.


Ibid., 32


Gin Khan Khual, ‘Ethnicity in the Gospel of Matthew with its Application to Ethnic Issues in Burma’, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 2003, 162.


Donald A. Hagner, ‘Matthew: Christian Judaism or Jewish Christianity?’ in Scott McKnight and Grant R. Osborne, eds, The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), pp. 263–282.


Marius J. Nel, Dion A. Forster, and Christo H. Thesnaar, eds, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Violence in Africa: Biblical, Pastoral and Ethical Perspectives, (Cape Town: SunPress, 2020), p. 6.


Jeremy Punt, ‘The Interpretation of the New Testament as the Study of Texts and Contexts: Hermeneutics, Identities and Communities’, Acta Theologica 2013 33(2). 113–132 DOI:


David G. Horrell, ‘Paul, Inclusion, and Whiteness: Particularizing Interpretation,’ A plenary paper presented at the British New Testament Conference, Maynooth, Ireland, in September 2017.


Seth Kissi and E. Van Eck, ‘Ethnic Reasoning in Social Identity of Hebrews: A Social-Scientific Study’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 73.3 (2017),


See the full exegetical study of 1 Peter 2:9 in David G. Horrell, ‘Race’, ‘Nation’, ‘People’: Ethnic Identity Construction in 1 Peter 2.9’, New Testament Studies 58.1 (2012), 123–43.


Grant R. Osborne, ‘Recent Trends in the Study of the Apocalypse’, n Scott McKnight and Grant R. Osborne, eds., The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), pp. 473–504.


Mark H. Senter III, Wesley Black, Chap Clark and Malan Nel, Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church: Inclusive Congregational, Preparatory, Missional and Strategic (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001).


I have offered my own view of what a holistic youth ministry model entails, as a summary of my doctoral dissertation. See Kevin Muriithi Ndereba, ‘A Holistic Approach to Youth Ministry Models in Africa: A Practical Theology for Faith Formation’. Journal of Youth and Theology 1, no. aop (2022): 1–12.


Anita Cloete, ‘Creative Tensions in Youth Ministry in a Congregational Context’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 71.2 ,(2015);


Ibid., 2.


Damaris S. Parsitau, ‘Engaging Youth for a Sustainable Culture of Peace and Security in Kenya: The Role of Faith-Based/Inspired Organizations and other Non-State Actors’, in Joram Tarusarira and Ezra Chitando (eds.), Religion and Human Security in Africa, Abingdon: Routledge, 2020, pp. 199–22.


Hartness M. Samushonga, and Nomatter Sande, ‘Doing Diaspora Practical Theology: Insights into How Culture, Ethnicity and National Identity Shape Theological Practices and Expressions of UK-African Diaspora Churches’, Practical Theology 13: 1–2, (2020): 109–22.


Cecilia Jacob, ‘A Christian Response to Global Conflict: Realism and Reconciliation’, International Journal of Public Theology, 14:4 (2020), 438–55.

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