About the Author(s)

Qeko Jere Email symbol
Faculty of Theology, North-West University, South Africa


Jere, Q., 2018, ‘Public role of the church in anti-corruption: An assessment of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod in Malawi from a kenōsis perspective’, Verbum et Ecclesia 39(1), a1776. https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v39i1.1776

Original Research

Public role of the church in anti-corruption: An assessment of the CCAP1 Livingstonia Synod in Malawi from a kenōsis perspective

Qeko Jere

Received: 14 June 2017; Accepted: 21 May 2018; Published: 26 July 2018

Copyright: © 2018. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Corruption, which is a persistent feature in human societies throughout time and space, affects not only the administration of the state but also every societal organ including the church. The ‘virus of corruption’ has penetrated into functioning systems of the various stakeholders both locally and globally. Various approaches have been used in trying to curb corruption at different levels from a secular perspective, but with little progress as the vice eminently still exists in the society. To the contrary and from a theological perspective, the long-lasting solutions in curbing corruption are realised through engaging the main root cause of the problem, which in this case is the heart of man. Theologically, kenōsis as a theoretical framework and solution goes beyond the gist of secular approaches as it addresses issues of the hearts of men which in turn produces reformed systems. In this article, I look into kenōsis of the Synod operational system in relation to imitating the incarnate work of Christ. The article assesses the Synod anti-corruption initiatives from a kenōsis perspective and then identifies and proposes the effective steps to improve and strengthen the Synod’s kenotic actions in Public Square. The CCAP Livingstonia Synod assessment process is geared to show how far kenotic the church must go in emulating and confronting systems as a way of fulfilling the demands of incarnation and works of Christ. This highlights the critical areas that add value in the Synod’s public engagement in anti-corruption.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This is an interdisciplinary article that focuses on systematic, church history, public theology and social development. The article assesses the public role of the church in anti-corruption and provides a paradigm shift in the fight against corruption from secular to theological based approaches.

Introduction and background

Corruption is one of the challenges that affect society. Murray and Spalding (2015:1) view corruption as a principal cause of human suffering and deprivation. The Transparency International (TI) defined corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain (Anderson & Haywood 2009:20) and it is found almost everywhere and flourishes in every society in different forms (Amundsen 1999:1). According to Myint (2000), corrupt behaviours include bribery, extortion, fraud, embezzlement, nepotism, cronyism, appropriation of public assets and property for private use, and influence peddling. Corruption prevails in politics, state, business and every aspect of social, economic and political development (Munzhedzi 2016:1–5). The ‘virus of corruption’ has penetrated into functioning systems (Majanga 2015) of the various stakeholders both locally and globally (Treisman 2000:399–457).1

According to Kaufmann and Vicente (2011:195), corruption has been at the centre of policy and research debate on the quality of state institutions. This scenario has particularly been the case in the context of developing countries where the pandemic takes crude and illegal form. Dong (2011:1) and Orji (2011:33–37) notes that corruption is a persistent feature in human societies throughout time and space. Mauro (1995), Lambsdorff (1999) and other scholars argue that corruption has been a primary impediment to socio-economic growth. However, the intensity, impact and level of corruption vary from one society to another.

Globally, the existence of corruption is evidenced in the establishment of key international agencies to address it. These agencies have been established through the institutionalisation of anti-corruption work within major international and local bodies such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union and the various international anti-corruption agencies (Alabi & Fashagba 2010:1–2; Webb 2005:191–224). Globally, corruption has been witnessed through the yearly evaluation reports from TI, which shows corruption indexes for nations on a year basis (Ugaz 2017). Transparency International corruption perception index according to Phiri (2013:9) ranks countries in line with the perception of corruption in the public sector and this is an aggregate of different sources of data on corruption to form perception indicator. He adds that the ‘score’ relates to the degree of perceptions on corruption by those surveyed, usually businesspersons and country analysts. The index rates countries on a scale from 0 to 10, where a score of 10 shows a corruption-free country and a score of 0 denotes a highly corrupt state.

Furthermore, the prevailing sate of corruption globally is also reflected through the sanction measures that the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other donor agencies impose on nations with high levels of corruption (Søreide, Gröning & Wandall 2016:523–537). High level of corruption has affected world systems which have hugely contributed to the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor. Recent global opinion survey shows that corruption is one of the most pressing challenges that the world is facing today. Shleifer and Vishny (1993:600) commented that corruption remains pervasive and significant around the world, where in some developing countries it amounts to a large portion of gross national product (GNP).

For Africa, Magezi (2017) observes that TI perception indicator shows that it is only Botswana that scores above 50%, while the rest of the countries fall below average. He adds that it is alarming to note that 92% of sub-Saharan African states score below 50%, which shows the high perception level of corruption in this region of the world. It is in this vein that the World Bank has singled corruption as the biggest challenge to socio-economic development in Africa as it takes a good share of the nation’s budget (Mbabazi & Jun Yu 2015:54–56).

In Malawi, which is the focus of this article, the prevalence of corruption was amplified during the one-party state era of the late president Kamuzu Banda (Meinhardit & Patel 2003:2–9) and continued to spread during the multiparty democratic era. The National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) for Malawi states that, ‘the nation is faced with the acute problem of corruption and that this is the major hindrance to economic development since independence’ (Wamthalika 2009:1). Studies over the past decades have consistently found that corruption is institutionally entrenched, systemic and getting worse where even donor-driven legislature and institutional reforms proved inadequate to eradicate or control it (Strasser 2016:309).

Transparency International corruption perception index for Malawi for 2000–2016 shows the average score of 32%, which reveals extreme and high levels of corruption in the country (Transparency International Report-Malawi 2000–2016). Examples of recorded high levels of corruption include Cash Gate2, Maize Gate3 and the Jet Gate4 corruption scandals (Strasser 2016:303–336), where $356 million and $34.5 million have been, embezzled. The Malawi Government Communication Strategy and the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer show that 90% of Malawians rate corruption as the most serious factor affecting the country (TI-Global Corruption Barometer 2013). For instance, corruption prompted foreign donors to withdraw 40% of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 annual budgetary support to Malawi (IMF-Malawi Country Report 2015:15, 345; Strasser 2016:306).

In response to the challenges of corruption, diverse approaches have been employed. At global level, there has been interventions that include the establishment of some anti-corruption instruments, which include the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) (Annan 2004:iii–iv), European Union Convention against corruption (De Zwan et al. 2016:268); Inter-American Convention against Corruption (IACAC) (Udombana 2003:453); League of Arab State against Corruption (LASAC) (Jamali, Lanteri & Walburn 2013:156–167), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Anti-Bribery Convention – OECD-ABC (Van Alstine 2012:1325–1346) and the TI in 1993. At the regional level, the dominant instruments have been the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (Olaniyan 2004:77–83), Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol against corruption (Carr 2009:158–165; Klitgaard 1998) and the anti-corruption commissions or bureaus that individual states established to curb the malpractice. However, Malawi is signatory to the UNCAC, African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, and SADC Protocol against corruption.

Within Malawi, the response to corruption includes establishment of the Anti-Corruption Bureau in 1995 (Anti-Corruption Bureau Annual Report 1999: vii; Khembo 2004:64), the Business Action against Corruption (BAAC) (Chikaonda 2007:35), Civil Society Action against Corruption (CSAAC) (Mwakasungula 2007:39), Civil Society Coalition against corruption (Mwakasungula 2007:40), National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP) (Chikaonda 2007:57) and the NACS (Wamthalika 2009). The initiatives have not been a success story in anti-corruption because of lack of political will to tackle institutional and political corruption involving those within the line of power.

In view of this challenge, the critical question that needs to be posed is: what has been the role of the church, particularly the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP) Livingstonia Synod, in the fight against corruption? Magezi (2016:2) argues that the church must be the link and a bridge in society. He further indicates that as a sub-system of society, the church should explore ways of working together in public spheres to address public issues such as corruption. Theron and Lotter (2012:109–110) insightfully added that as an institution of this world, the church and Christians have the mandate to confront world systems for the betterment of the Church and Society as a whole. The church is called to be a model of Christ in the transformation and renewal of people’s hearts as they become salt and light in the world (Theron & Lotter 2012:111). As individuals and citizens, Christians should participate in fostering accountability and eradicating corruption and should act as a resister to corruption (Theron & Lotter 2012:98). However, the pertinent questions are the following: what has the church been doing to address corruption in Malawi? What has been CCAP Livingstonia Synod’s contribution to the fight against corruption? What theological framework may be employed by churches to justify their role and participation in addressing corruption?

This article argues that it is imperative for churches to participate in the fight against corruption and, to this end, a kenōsis approach is proposed as a theological framework to assess the involvement of church in anti-corruption endeavours. Theologically, kenōsis as a theoretical framework and solution goes beyond the gist of secular approaches as it deals and addresses issues of the hearts of men (Niewold 2007:122–123). Kenōsis is about transformation of hearts of men which produces reformed systems (Jere 2013:51–59). A kenotic approach provides the lenses and a model for the church participation in the fight against corruption. In this article, I look into kenōsis of the Synod operational system in relation to imitating the incarnate work of Christ.

The article focuses on Malawi’s CCAP Livingstonia Synod’s kenotic involvement in anti-corruption. Therefore, it first assesses the role of the Livingstonia Synod in the fight against corruption in Malawi from a kenōsis perspective and then identifies and proposes the effective steps to improve and strengthen the Synod’s kenotic actions in Public Square. This highlights the critical areas that add value in the Synod’s public engagement in anti-corruption. Thus, the CCAP Livingstonia Synod assessment process is geared to show how far kenotic the church must go in emulating and confronting systems as a way of fulfilling incarnation and works of Christ.

A kenotic theoretical framework of church within the public sphere

The doctrine of kenōsis is one of the most important Christian doctrines within the larger Christological theological framework (Castro & Pudhicherry 2016:28). The strength of Christology and the entire Christian faith is centred on divine kenōsis that is both intellectual and symbolic (Lucien 1997:7–8). Davidson (2007:32) notes that kenōsis lies at the heart of any incarnational Christology. Kenōsis is what makes incarnation and salvation true and without which the entire Christian faith is dead. The ancient Greek word kenōsis means ‘self-emptying’ or the action of self-emptying from kenōs meaning ‘empty or purge’ or from the Greek verb kenóō meaning ‘to self-empty’ (Hayden 2009:1). Jesus Christ did not consider equality with God anything more important (Phil 2,7), but considered the desperate need of salvation for humanity by leaving his eternal glory and honour in order to have a complete identification with people for their salvation from sins and all consequences (Moule 1972:97). The doctrine of kenōsis has been greatly used as a framework of other theologies and has never been eliminated from Christian theology and cannot be ignored (Colyer 2013:5). Historically, this theory of kenōsis came as a solution to the question of the humanity and divinity of Christ after Nicaea (325) AD and Chalcedon (415) AD (McClain 1967:2–3).

Originally, it was Theodotion in the first century who first said kenōsis as a theological term in his translation of Isaiah 34:11, while in the fourth and fifth centuries Gregory Nazianzus and Cyril of Alexandria expanded the use of kenōsis in the technical theological sense to express the action in Philippians 2:7 which focused on a question of what did Christ empty himself. Thomasius5 taught that the Son abandoned the metaphysical attributes of deity (McGrath 1999:355). In more recent times, kenōsis was developed further in the schools of theology at Tübingen and was finally refined through Hegel’s kenotic theology within Germany’s 19th century theological development (Sarot 2012:104). However, 20th- and 21st-century kenōsis scholars (i.e. Moltman, Rahner and Barth) redefined the doctrine and established it on a proper theological platform for public theological engagement.

This kenotic theory arises from the interpretation of Philippian 2:5–8, where Paul uses Christ’s incarnation as a model in addressing self-centredness, division and selfishness that the Philippians Christians were encountering (Phil 2:3–4; Williams 2007:viii). The Philippians epistle indicates that Christians in Philippi neglected their obligation of love and service to one another as true followers of Christ (Verhoef 2005:568–571). In view of this challenge, Paul uses incarnational, Christological framework of kenōsis in which he calls Christians to imitate Christ humility in their service and relationship to one another through self-emptying and limitation (Phil 2, 5).

However, this text has been considered from various perspectives including the redemptive and demonstrative way which is the preferred approach. By interpreting Philippians chapter 2 from a redemptive perspective, we imply that incarnational theology is salvific in nature (Torrance 1992:90–91), while by demonstrative we mean Christ has to be considered as a model in our service and relationship to one another. The kenōsis theoretical principles include the following: servanthood in self-emptying; humility, obedience and sacrifice in public space; and self-limitation and volunteering, which are explained below.

Servanthood in self-emptying

How does Christ become a servant through self-emptying? Or in what way does self-emptying as a kenotic process make Christ a servant and what does the servanthood of Christ entail? A considerable number of scholars (Crisp 2007; Sarot 1992; Torrance 2008; Ward 2002; Williams 2009) have interpreted kenōsis as the servanthood of Christ. Self-emptying of Christ means Christ willingness to pour out, drain himself of, make himself of no effect or use, of no reputation, or being of nothing (Thomas 1998). Self-emptying depicts a process where Christ consciously and deliberately denies himself privileges within the Godhead and opts for a lower life befitting that of a servant so that he properly executes the eschatological goal and demands to set humanity free. In self-emptying, Christ assumes the form of a servant and the nature of a servant (McClain 1967:9). This kenotic process (self-emptying) required that Christ reduce himself and consciously let go of his privileges and condense to a lower level of a slave. Now, if all former privileges were denied him deliberately, but could still maintain his divinity while at the same time not been able to exercise his assignments as before, then we could argue that it is his lower level of a servant that made him carry out redemptive plan and make it come true. As a servant, Christ demonstrated not only true divinity but also true humanity as he did not take advantage of his status for his own gains (Gorman 2009:31).

According to Panagakos, Goulet and Murphy (2015:83), servanthood is the ethical, imperative underlined theme in kenōsis and Christology as this is the heart of Christ’s public engagement. He adds that the heart of kenōsis is in the role of the servant which Christ willingly chose. This is the point of emphasis Paul is making to the Philippians church to have the mind of the servant of God, filled with humility (Williams 2004:632). As a servant, Jesus chose to set his own desires aside, and that in kenōsis he emptied himself of self (Wilson 1976:281).

However, critical to kenotic servanthood of Christ in self-emptying is to understand the aspect of that which he self-emptied himself (Colyer 2013:6) in his relation to his nature and status within incarnational and Christological discourse. Some scholars like König (1982:86) have argued that in self-emptying it involved a change in the deity, while others argued that in this process his divinity was unchanged and remained immutable (Hallman 1981:373–380). Ladd (1974:420) argues that the text does not say anything regarding what Christ emptied himself of but that in self-emptying he took the form of a servant the process of which made incarnation possible. Thus, Wilson (1976:281) says that Christ never self-emptied himself of his deity, but that he took upon himself the form of a servant or a slave. St Augustine once said that Jesus emptied himself not by changing his own divinity but by assuming our changeableness becoming human (quoted in Macleod 1998:216).

Humility, obedience and sacrifice in public space

The word ‘humility’ or ‘humble’ has the connotation of self-inflicted meekness, consciously lowering oneself or willingly bringing oneself low for the benefit of others (Ravenhill 1961:148). The kenotic framework of humility, obedience and sacrifice deals with the meekness and sacrifice that Christ demonstrated through incarnation for the fulfilment of holistic redemption. Christ action in public space was both demonstratively and redemptively seen through his meekness, total submission and sacrifice, and even death on the cross. As a theoretical framework, humility, obedience and sacrifice become the main entities through which incarnation becomes a reality and makes redemption true. Only through the total obedience, humility and sacrifice of Christ that all manners of redemption for the lost humanity become possible. Kenōsis as the very nature of God (Cobb & Ives 1990:17) has humility, total obedience and sacrifice at the heart of God’s redemptive plan. It must be noted that the entire redemptive action hinges on the humility and sacrifice of Christ in incarnation.

In connection to the above, the following questions are critical: how can the framework of Christ model of humility, obedience and sacrifice be applied and actualised in public milieu? What does the model of Christ require for effective action of the church in public engagement? Through imitating the model of Christ within kenotic theoretical framework of humility, total obedience and sacrifice, the church as an institution becomes a perfect example in enforcing kenoticism as an example to the state. Like Christ who turned his obedience, humility and sacrifice into action for public redemption, the church as an institution and as a critical stakeholder within society (Magezi 2016) needs to emulate the incarnational steps of Christ demonstrated through his kenotic actions. However, the church attainment and realisation of kenotic action for others is hinged on the kenōsis of individual Christians on the same if the people are humble, obedient and able to sacrifice for others. Thus, unless individual Christians emulate the model of Christ in kenōsis towards an effective kenotic action for others, the church would continue to be a poor example and a poor module within public sphere.

He stayed in total obedience, full of meekness and turned himself into the very sacrifice, the very model of our life (Spurgon 1877:7) which must depict the very action that both the church and individual Christians must emulate for the betterment of others. It was a huge sacrifice to the part of God for Christ to undergo incarnation where Cobb and Ives (1990:14) state that even God the Father demonstrated his humility and sacrifice through incarnation and kenōsis.

Self-limitation and volunteering in a public engagement

Self-limitation is about self-restriction or constraint oneself from something precious (Strong 2001:2066) even though surrounded by advantages. As a theological model of Christ in self-limitation, Christ willingly restrained, curbed, controlled and restricted himself (Sarot 1992:185). Christ limited the expression and use of his divine attributes in order to relate to the fallen humanity (William 2004:633–634; 2007:83), which was a kenotic action in fulfilling his public role for the total redemption of people. In becoming human, Jesus limited himself to the human condition so as to make salvation possible (Murphy 2013:100; Richard 1982:40).

It was through voluntary action that Christ positively accepted to die for all people (O’Brien 1991:216; Richard 1997:38). For Macleod (1998:218), Jesus temporarily cancelled for a while the use of his divine attributes; for Kierkegaard (in Law 2013:21), Christ abstained and chose not to employ them while for the school of Tübingen (in Law 2013:22) and Erickson (1991:81), Christ secretly restricted, minimised and reduced the use of his attributes.

Now whether Christ abstained, restricted, minimised, reduced or cancelled the use of some of the divine attributes, the question however is the following: how does the model of Christ in self-limitation and volunteering get to be applied into public life? This is to bear in mind that only when the model of Christ is applied into action in public life that the concept makes sense and adds value to society. Christ action in limitation and volunteering must be the very step of sacrifice for individual Christians and the church in fulfilling its public role and enhancing kenotic actions for others. The limitation of Christ becomes paramount for both the church and individual Christians because it is this process that anchors the entire incarnation and salvation plan for all people.

From the above discussion of the three major kenotic and incarnation principles in public action, the following lesson is deduced: true servanthood, which is a prerequisite for effective societal transformation, is born through a meaningful process of self-denial for others (Spurgon 1877:3–6). The quality of that which is let go in the process of self-denial or self-emptying determines the level of servanthood, action and sacrifice, which on its own becomes the gateway for a proper kenotic engagement. At the same time, the kenotic action of self-emptying defines the level of obedience, humility and sacrifice for effective public engagement for others (Castro & Pudhicherry 2016:31–34). How successful the question of public engagement goes depends on the level of kenoticism in public space for both the church and individual Christians with a focus on executing and emulating the humility of Christ reflected in one another’s relationship. Additionally, for effective public engagement, the kenotic action of limitation, restrained in the midst of all advantages, reflects the nature of volunteerism referenced in Christ which must be emulated (Castro & Pudhicherry 2016:37–50).

Church of Central African Presbyterian Synod public engagement in anti-corruption

The CCAP Synod of Livingstonia is one of the founding members of the CCAP family of CCAP Synods located in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe (Brown 2005; Chilenje 2007; Gunde 2013; Mnyenyembe 2015) but is dominantly ministering in the northern region of Malawi (Phiri 2004:120). The Synod was the first to be established on 21 May 1875 out of Dr James Stewart’s proposal to have such a mission opened in honour of Dr David Livingstone (Law 1934:6–7). The prominent leaders of the mission include Dr E.D. Young and Dr Robert Laws Henry Henderson (Selfridge 1976:21) who were later accompanied by the Xhosa Lovedale graduates – William Koyi, Shadreck Ngunana, Ntintili and Isaac William Wauchope (Munyenyembe 2015:74; Pachai 1973:122). The mission which was established in Cape Maclear in 1876 moved north to Bandawe in 1881 because of unforeseeable circumstances and challenges (Phiri 2004:115–124; Selfridge 1976:28) under the leadership of Stewart and Laws (Ross 1996:20; Weller & Linden 1984:43). From Bandawe, more missionary sites were opened (Ipenburg 1983:2–5; McCracken 2000; Pauw 1980:23–24). However, in 1894, after 13 years of stay at Bandawe, Robert Laws moved the mission further north on top of Mumbwe Plateau in Rumphi District (Thomson 2007:95).

From its inception to the present day, the Synod has been involved in both spiritually and practically in public life within Malawi and beyond in the following ways: spiritually the Synod has firstly been involved in not only preaching the gospel and mission of the church for societal transformation, but also in anti-corruption awareness at presbytery level through presbytery civic education in anti-corruption (Nyirenda 2017). Secondly, it has been through efforts of individual clergy to include corruption and anti-corruption in their messages to the congregants. This is however to bear in mind that not all clergy have been able to take this approach in anti-corruption because of limitation in knowledge of corruption and anti-corruption from a Biblical perspective. Just as the case in the entire Malawi, not all clergy are schooled enough to comprehend the technicalities of corruption and anti-corruption in relation to the Bible, and hence the existence and persistence of the challenge in Malawi.

Practically, the CCAP Synod has been involved in the fight against corruption through the work of the Church and Society, which from its inception in 1999 has remained the major advocacy and social arm of the Synod in all matters of governance and socio-economic development (Church & Society 2000). The Synod has practically been involved in anti-corruption though with a couple of challenges. Firstly, the Synod has issued anti-corruption communiqués condemning and rebuking the state for rampant corruption (Nyondo 2016) which included the cash and maize gate corruption scandals in Malawi’s political economy. The Synod has also been at the forefront in condemning and criticising the selective approach (Chitsulo 2017; Kaonga 2017) to delivery of prosecution and justice on matters of corruption by the nation’s anti-corruption body (Gwede 2017), the Anti-Corruption Bureau, where allegedly because of corruption a few elite continue to enjoy privileges at the expense of the majority suffering (Nyasulu 2014).

Secondly, the CCAP Synod has carried out inclusive advocacy and anti-corruption sensitisation campaigns with the goal of promoting awareness on the evils of corruption on how the church and congregants could refrain from the malpractice (Church & Society 2005, 2006). This anti-corruption awareness played a role in the creation of enabling environment for people to enjoy their rights through proper use and accountability of public resources by those in authority.

Thirdly, the Synod through the Church and Society has participated in a various national anti-corruption forums, workshops and conferences, and structured short courses in promoting good governance (Church & Society 2016). For instance, thesynod participated in the Civil Society Coalition against corruption where collectively they voiced out the silence of the previous Joyce Banda government over the question of Cash Gate (Chimgwede 2013). In addition, the Synod participated in the 2017 Anti-Corruption National Conference organised and hosted by the Government of Malawi at the Bingu International Conference, which was opened by the nation’s President Prof Arthur Peter Muthalika (Matonga 2017).

Finally, the Synod has collaborated and partnered with both local and international agencies in anti-corruption activism, which include Dan-Church Aid, Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN), Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN), Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), Civil Society Coalition on the Review of Constitution, Civil Society Coalition against corruption, SADC Civil Rights Network Malawi Right (Church & Society 2016). Critical challenge to the Synod’s anti-corruption activism has been the reactionary and defence mechanism from government each time the Synod releases a communiqué rebuking or critiquing the rampant corruption in the country (CCAP Livingstonia Synod, 2010). While as a critical prophetic voice the Synod openly condemned the malpractice, the government has come out defending its position. Such a position has created challenge for the Synod in anti-corruption fight because instead of the Synod being viewed by the state as a watchdog institution promoting good governance, it has been viewed as an institution that fights against government agenda. In addition, there has been challenge of lack of enough funds to carry out effective anti-corruption campaigns locally. This financial limitation has negatively contributed to the slow pace in the fight against corruption as all anti-corruption activities are donor funded. Such campaigns depend on donor support because the Synod as a non-profit entity does not generate profit but only exist to serve the society.

Evaluating the Synod’s participation in anti-corruption from a kenotic perspective

Kenoticism in Synod advocacy

As a way of evaluating the Synod’s anti-corruption activities from a kenotic perspective, the crucial part is to see if there has been any kenōsis in the Synod advocacy in addressing and curbing the challenge. In this case, it is important to probe if there has been kenōsis within the Synod actions, for example, its rebuking, criticising and condemnation of corrupt practices in the state and private sector. An important concern should be the following: has the Synod actions been kenotic in nature and what does to be kenotic entail and demand of the Synod? What is the main agenda in rebuking, criticising those involved in corruption? Does the rebuking and condemnation address the main cause of corruption? The agenda and goal of kenōsis is that it addresses the main cause of the problem through sacrifice, self-denying and humility just like Christ did (Castro & Pudhicherry 2016:28–29). In relation to this, in analysing the Synod advocacy against corruption through the kenotic lenses, it is noted that unless the kenotic pillars are applied in advocacy, the approach used will fall short in addressing and solving the ‘heart’ and cause of corruption. This is because advocacy, rebuke, condemnation and issuing of communiqué against corruption only address the symptoms of the matter unless if within the communiqué is the kenotic message to emulate the action of Christ in kenōsis through total humbleness, humility and sacrifice. Within advocacy, there has to be the flow of kenoticism. The absence of such a kenoticism in advocacy has made the Synod vulnerable to state retaliation and criticism on such matters of advocacy. Thus, unless the Synod kenoticism reaches all spheres of synod governance, the Synod vulnerability levels will never change. It is only when the church and the Synod become a model of Christ kenoticism that the state will have a reference point in anti-corruption endeavours.

Kenoticism in the local and international anti-corruption engagement

When using kenotic lenses, is there any kenōsis in the Synod’s local and international engagement in anti-corruption issues? What model of kenoticism would be applied in dealing with the Synod local and international engagement in public space? Is the Synod’s action falling short of the desired kenotic touch to make this whole episode a kenotic entity? It is undisputable that the Synod has played a leading role in fighting corruption in Malawi. It is also irrefutable that the Synod has taken part in both local and international conferences, workshops and meetings on matters of anti-corruption. However, the critical part is to ascertain the kenoticism of the Synod actions in anti-corruption and public engagements within the domain of local and international participation. Observably, in local and international engagements, the focus is to learn and share experiences with other stakeholders which represent kenoticism in communion. This is achieved through the model of communion in kenōsis representing equality in communion within the Godhead.

The synod model of engagement in both learning and sharing of experiences with other stakeholders’ purpose is to find out how through humbleness, self-denial and sacrifice others go about addressing issues of corruption. The model of communion in kenoticism represents equal communion within the Godhead. There is sacrifice in sharing experiences because as a kenotic feature this process on itself opens up areas of weakness to others and thereby one may not really mind the consequences just like Christ in kenōsis did not mind the consequences of sharing his being with humanity.

Kenoticism in Trinitarian collaboration and partnership

As a way of evaluating the Synod’s collaboration and partnership with other agencies in anti-corruption, the critical issue is to see if there is any kenōsis within the Synod’s collaboration and patterning and to identify principles that would fit into this kenoticism. Therefore, questions such as the following become necessary: how does collaboration and partnership become kenotic? What kenotic principles would fit into collaboration and partnership? An evaluation process demands the use of Trinitarian kenotic collaboration and partnership model, which is an act of love that promotes otherness and kenotic love between persons (Yoder 2013:70). Collaborative and partnership model tells of the Trinitarian community of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit within the Godhead engaging themselves in the affairs of humanity despite the critical Trinitarian distinctions within them. Within this mode of collaboration, the focus is not their distinctive features but their oneness and unity of purpose in realising the set agenda. Trinitarian collaboration and partnership framework and its effectiveness only happen through the kenoticism of Trinitarian persons of the Father, Son and the Spirit where from within their distinctions they mutually work together in all matters and agenda for humanity. It was the kenoticism of the Trinitarian persons that played a crucial role in both creation and salvation, where each played a part in the entire process. It is the kenotic life within the Trinitarian community that makes collaboration and partnership within the Trinity possible.

The Synod collaboration in anti-corruption is viable only if the focus and an end result are to completely curb the main cause of corruption which calls for the treatment of the heart of men once and for. Just like collaboration, partnership and relationship within the Trinity were a kenotic venture with a divine goal of responding to the question of sin and its effects in public life (Makhoul 2011:92–93), the Synod’s collaboration with other agencies would be a viable step towards a positive direction in anti-corruption only if within the process the action taken would be from within kenotic perspective. Thus, although the Synod and other stakeholders may carry out anti-corruption activities through collaboration, the critical thing is to assess if such synodical actions are from within the required benchmark of kenoticism.

Towards effective steps for the Synod’s meaningful public role in Malawi

Having evaluated the Synod’s anti-corruption initiatives from a kenōsis perspective, the crucial thing is to finally state what could be done to improve and strengthen the kenotic steps and action used by the Synod. This is about how to make the Synod approaches more kenotic. In this case, the question is how to make the Synod advocacy a more kenotic venture for effective public role. What must be added to the Synod advocacy so as to make it more kenotic and more effective? To realise this goal, the following needs to be done to improve the kenotic approaches.

Pulpit for advocacy against corruption

Critical to effective kenōsis of the Synod in the fight against corruption is the shift in anti-corruption advocacy, from the normal traditional approach to the utilisation of the pulpit not only for gospel preaching but also for the dissemination of anti-corruption messages. This means that the gospel would include anti-corruption messages where corruption would be considered and categorised as sin and not just a socio-economic evil. This would be the kenotic action and the very kenōsis of the Synod in sacrificing the use of the pulpit even in addressing corruption which is the issue of the heart. This would form part of the Christian approach to anti-corruption, which would be a kenotic step towards dealing with the heart of man. Only kenotic actions touch the things of the heart as this comes from the inner being of man.

For years, the Synod has not utilised the pulpit in anti-corruption advocacy, which explains why corruption has remained a challenge within the nation’s economic framework. In all these, the Synod issued communiqué against corruption but with no meaningful change. A shift in the use of pulpit as an addition means in anti-corruption would be the better kenotic action to deal with the challenge from the inside out just like Christ dealt with the question of sin from the inside out through his kenōsis. So, within the 26 presbyteries and 205 congregations (CCAP Livingstonia Synod 2016), utilisation and use of the pulpit in anti-corruption would add value in that this would address the challenge from within the heart of men through transformation of their heart, which in turn would lead to a community of transformed and hence reformed synodical system which is likely to be reflected in the country.

Pastoral empowerment for the uncompromised prophetic advocacy

The other dimension is addressing the kenotic need within the pastoral leadership for effective and uncompromised prophetic word. This is economically empowering to the pastoral activities as a way of protecting the uncompromised prophetic word. While in the above discussion the focus has been a shift to pulpit for anti-corruption advocacy, pastoral economic empowerment goes further by engaging and probing into how lack of a proper welfare of the pastor would retard progress in pulpit anti-corruption management. The success of the pulpit ministration depends on a number of factors, one being satisfying the economic need of the pastor. However, in as much as the shift in the utilisation of the pulpit may take place, it may not achieve its desired goal if the pastoral unit which is the very engine of this process is not economically empowered.

Therefore, pastoral economic empowerment becomes a key feature in protecting and sustaining the prophetic voice. Corruption remains an everyday song because by and large there has been underutilisation of the pulpit whereby it has not delivered anti-corruption word as expected. This has been because of pastoral fears that such preaching would negatively affect the financial flow within the framework of the ecclesia in that the word of rebuke may discourage members from giving more. The focus here is on the pastor’s economic status and how this would affect the delivery of the uncompromised word from the pulpit. Research has shown that in many parts of Africa because of corruption, the pulpit ministration has been compromised (Woodbridge & Willem 2013:79–87), particularly as a result of high levels of poverty (Younger 2013:295–300).

In-house drilling on kenotic approaches for local and international engagement

One key aspect in improving and strengthening the kenoticism of the Synod in its local and international engagement in anti-corruption is to have the in-house drilling, teaching, sensitising and schooling of Synod officials on Christian kenotic approach in addressing governance issues including corruption. Thus, before leaders and officials are engaged in any local or international public role, they would be drilled and made aware of this shift in the approach.

This would represent the kenōsis of the Spirit which before manifesting outwardly firstly deals with the internal matters of the heart of men. The Synod would have a systematic approach in sensitising officials regarding the criticality of the Christian kenotic approach in discharging matters of Synod public mission. The goal is to have crop of officials who understand the significance and uniqueness of kenoticism in addressing public issues including corruption.

Thus, kenoticed Synod officials would present anti-corruption experiences with stakeholders from a Christian kenotic perspective against the traditional secular mode. It is only when officials involved are knowledgeable enough on matters of Christian kenotic approaches in Public Square that they can share better on the new paradigm in a conceptualised and systematised form.

Since the majority of local and international conferences and meetings in anti-corruption are from a secular perspective in their approach, the Synod would utilise such opportunity to share a different perspective with emphasis on Christian kenotic approach. Everything learnt in such local and international conferences would be contextualised within the kenotic framework using kenotic lenses in the Synod’s public engagement. The entire process of learning new ideas and new concepts would be understood in line with the key principles of kenōsis basically looking into how such an approach would fit kenotically.

Promoting collaboration for effective governance

As a way of strengthening collaboration within the framework of kenōsis, there must be the involvement of all critical stakeholders within the Synod in all governance issues based on mutual relationship in the administration of anti-corruption (Makhoul 2011:94). Areas that raise controversial issues include the conduct of elections and how new leadership when they get into power redeploy those did not support them. Thus, the promotion of collaboration for effective governance is recommendable. Collaboration which has the connotation of partnership is critical in that it is where two, three or more people join together to work out a certain project. Based on the model of Trinitarian kenotic collaboration, the Synod is involved in collaboration with both local and international stakeholders in addressing the question of corruption. Now, critical to the Synod in collaboration is the question of governance which would include consulting all sectors involved in specific issues. For instance, this would mean consulting all stakeholders within the Synod in matters of elections so as to make the entire Synod electoral process take a consultative and consensus Christian approach, demonstrated through the love of Christ as opposed to the secular competing pattern which historically has proved to divide the Synod.

Integrating gender for effective collaboration in anti-corruption

An extension to the process of strengthening and making collaboration more kenotic is through the integration of gender in anti-corruption. Collaboration has the connotation of two or more people working together to achieve a specified agenda for the common good of all (Dillenbourg 1999:1). Collaboration, which symbolises the mutuality of the Trinitarian persons in existence and operation, becomes critical in dealing with the question of gender in anti-corruption. Integration of gender in the Synod’s kenoticism means incorporating the aspects of gender equality in the delivery of all anti-corruption messages with other stakeholders, whether external or internal. The purpose of integrating the gender is to balance the application so that it produces balanced outcomes for the good of all. Thus, responding to the question of gender would add value in anti-corruption within the Synod because women are less corrupt when given position of leadership compared to men (Transparency International 2000). Empowered women are likely not to take bribes or put personal gain at the expense of public good (Dollar, Fisman & Gatti 1999:1).


Competing interests

The author declares that he has no financial or personal relationships which may have inappropriately influenced him in writing this article.

Funding information

This article is part of the authors’ postdoctoral project at North-West University.


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1. CCAP stands for the Church of Central African Presbyterian and this has five main Synods located in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the CCAP Livingstonia Synod is one of the founding Synods.

2. This was the systematic looting of public funds in Malawi in which about $356 million and $34.5 million of hard-earned tax payer’s money has been looted through many ways from public coffers, which led the development partners to suspend budget support to the country.

3. This was the alleged dubious buying of Maize by the Malawi’s Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) reportedly at $34.5 million from a Zambian vendor company instead of buying directly from the Zambian government at $21.5 million, which led to the arrest and dismissal of Malawi’s agriculture minister, Hon Dr George Chaponda.

4. Jet Gate: this was the controversial sale of Malawi’s only presidential jet by the Joyce Banda administration to Bonox company on 29 July 2013; the sale was barter trade because instead of government receiving the payment from Bonox for the Jet, the payment was made to another company, the Paramount Group of the United Kingdom to partly settle a military equipment when actually the Malawi Defense Force had their own budget to acquire the military equipment in question (Congoma Report 15 May 2014).

5. Thomasius is accredited for introducing the concept of Kenotic Christology into German theology where the critical question was the following: what did Christ empty himself of?


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