Nairobi — Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi yesterday waded into the dispute over so-called Satanic symbols in Protestant churches with an appeal for caution in judging Freemasons.
The primate sent an indirect appeal to reformists in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa - who have smashed church windows and gates bearing masonic symbols - saying that while Freemasonry was incompatible with Christianity, worshippers should not be emotional about it.
"The issue of symbols should be studied carefully without any emotions. It is good to have a clear understanding before we pull down any symbols or artefacts," he said.
And the archbishop added: "You may look at a tree and see a demon where there is none."
He was reacting to a schism in the PCEA which has seen one group pull down stained glass windows, metal grilles and concrete fittings with masonic engravings at St Andrews Church in Nairobi.
The movement verges on a hate campaign against Freemasons, who are a legitimate society in Kenya and count among their members prominent businessmen and politicians.
The row became public when a newspaper advertisement appeared last week signed by four of the church's biggest names - including the secretary-general, the Rev Dr David Githii - which argued that one could not be both a Christian and a Freemason.
In the face of protests by some PCEA elders, the church's leaders plan to accompany a demolition squad to their oldest church - the Church of Torch in Kikuyu - on December 19 to destroy what they consider to be "demonic and Satanic" symbols.
The symbols are however part of the heritage and traditions of Scottish missionaries who established the PCEA, originally known as the Church of Scotland Mission. Church leaders say Freemasons worship an alien God and hold unchristian principles.
But defenders of the symbols say they have been in PCEA churches for more than a century and represented simple Scottish decor with links to Freemasonry but were not necessarily Satanic.
Yesterday Archbishop Nzimbi, reacting to claims that there were masonic symbols and designs at All Saints Cathedral, said his church would study the claims and would be sober and unemotional about the issue.
"Some practices of Freemasons are incompatible with Christianity," he said. "The Freemasons have to make a choice; whether to remain Anglican Christians or Freemasons."
The Anglican church would review its symbols and artefacts and weigh them against what the Bible states before making a decision.
He stressed that the subject of the symbols was emotive and needed to be looked into within the Kenyan context and understanding.
Already, he said, some African symbols, values and practices which were compatible with Christian teachings had been incorporated into the church.
Similarly, he argued, certain Anglo-Saxon traditions, values and practices which were not harmful to Christian teachings should be retained by the Church.
For instance it is known Anglicans once forbade the playing of guitars in church, but this was now allowed to accompany church choirs.
Anglican rules had also been relaxed to allow polygamous Christians aged over 65 to receive Holy Communion.
Among other churches where PCEA leaders plan to destroy masonic symbols and fittings are PCEA Tumutumu Church and PCEA Chogoria in Meru South.
The anti-Freemason faction has also declared that architects hired to build PCEA churches and its institutions will be vetted to ensure that they do not include "unchristian symbols" in the buildings.
Those pushing for the destruction of the symbols are the moderator of St Andrews, the Rev Dr George Wanjau, PCEA secretary general Samuel Muriguh and Dr Eustace Kabue, who chaired a task force on the Use of Symbols in Worship and Faith Practices.
On the opposite side are personalities such as the Rev Dr Timothy Njoya, Mr Fred Mbiru, a retired banker and elder at St Andrew's Church, and scores of other parishioners.
Among the symbols already removed from St Andrew's are a compass and square on the grilles at the entrance to the church, masonic coffins on the church's 30 windows and celestial globes on stairs leading to the main sanctuary.
Also destroyed were plaques on pews dedicated to members of the congregation, including those of the family of former nominated MP Eliud Mahihu.
Mr Mbiru, writing to Dr Wanjau, has taken issue with the destruction, stating it was not in accordance with the Practice and Procedures Manual of the PCEA .
He described their removal as, "a big perversion to great work done all these years," adding an "inability to appreciate such Christian religious art should not be inflicted on the congregation."