DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Community and Morality in Africa

Written by: on April 7, 2019

When we were growing up in our communities, we grew up under instructional guidance of the “do not” and “dos.” Sometimes they would give you explanations and sometimes they would not explain the reason. For example, girls were not allowed to climb trees. It was not morally right for them to climb trees especially when boys are with them. Many of the moral traits we exhibit were influenced by the cultures we lived in. This happened because we lived in a community whose life is not the same as today. What we are asking is what constitute Morality? moreover, this is what  Jonathan Haidt in his book, “The Righteous Mind”   start by exploring two aspects of morality. I connected what was going on in my community with the two answers Jonathan is answering on the question. Where does morality come from?  It is either by nature or nurture. I witnessed both in the community as we grew up. It is true that some of our moral values are native in our minds. Depending to where you grew up your way of looking at things and what constitutes morality is defined differently from environment one grew in. At the same time, our morality is equally defined by nurturing. What children learn and see happening as they grow up it taken as a moral value. Therefore, both nativist and empiricist applied to the community where we grew up.

It is interesting that this book is opening up new things that I was not looking from that angle at all. I am happy that Jonathan has created a new perspective on how the Quaker church in Kenya was created and the reason why it behaves the way they are doing things different from other Quakers in the world. It is also a new perspective as I look at my Research question for my dissertation from a psychological view as is described in this book. When looking at my research question “Supremacy of church leadership between the Laity and the Clergy in the Quaker church in Kenya” Piaget brings up a third answer to the question of morality, and this addresses my question at hand. “We grow into our rationality as caterpillars grow into butterflies.”[1]  It is true as Jonathan describes, “Rationality is our nature, and good moral reasoning is the endpoint of development.”[2] When the Quaker church was established in Kenya, it received different teachings as far as giving is concerned. Since the Africans did not have resources, they were advised to give as little as they could afford and that grew in them as the norm. They never took responsibility for taking care of the clergy, but the missionaries did. Therefore, as the missionaries left, the Africans had a rough time in how to take care of the pastors hence they relied on volunteers and most of the volunteer pastors were retired teachers who were on a pension and could serve the church without a salary. But as the young people have joined the seminaries and coming out to serve the churches, they have found themselves in a situation that volunteer cannot work. This has led to the debate who should be the head of the church, the clergy or the laity? In the Quaker church, the Laity is the head, and the clergy serves under the laity. Conflicts over a theological understanding of the church have emerged, and this is a big problem to date. This is due to the rationalism experienced in the church since early 1900.

When the church was established in Kenya, some rules guided the membership, and they placed people in communities according to how they have accepted to follow the faithful ministry of Christ. They separated them from the rest of the community and placed them in what they called the “line.” Jonathan concluded that the moral domain varies by culture. It is unusually narrow in Western, educated, and individualistic cultures. Sociocentric cultures broaden the moral domain to encompass and regulate more aspects of life.[3] It is right here that Cultural learning or guidance play a key role in proper shaping of a community. Jonathan encouraged by saying that we are all born to be righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about.[4] The church now in Kenya is full of young people whose reasoning theologically is different from the old approach to issues. Jonathan summed up that, People reason and people have moral intuitions (including emotions), but what is the relationship among these process?  Plato believes that reason could be the master; Jefferson believes that the two processes were equal partners (head and heart) ruling a divided empire; Hume believed that reason was the servant of the passion.[5] The church in Kenya is genuinely facing a similar situation.


[1] (Haidt 2012)

[2] (Haidt 2012)

[3] (Haidt 2012)

[4] (Haidt 2012)

[5] (Haidt 2012)

About the Author


John Muhanji

I am the Director Africa Ministries Office of Friends United Meeting. I coordinate all Quaker activities and programs in the Quaker churches and school mostly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The focus of my work is more on leadership development and church planting in the region especially in Tanzania.. Am married with three children all grown up now. I love playing golf as my exercise hobby. I also love reading.

3 responses to “Community and Morality in Africa”

  1. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    I always enjoy your posts, John, because your background and culture often differs from what I am familiar with. And I appreciate that your perspectives often differ because of your experiences. So I am so glad that both you and Wallace are a part of our cohort, because it opens my world to new ideas – and I appreciate our similarities and differences. With that being said, I really enjoyed your post – as always. I find the “do’s & dont’s” fascinating, as the history of them must be so interesting. It’s great that new perspectives help open the doors to new ideas. Thanks for your insight into the Quaker faith and the changing times, John.

    • mm John Muhanji says:

      Thank you Nancy for your response. It is always good to learn from different cultures as the world is global. But what is interesting is how some people from other parts of the continents are blinded from the realities of life from other end. Cross-cultural learning is a morality issue.

  2. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the unique dilemma facing the Quaker church in Kenya. Your insight is so helpful to cause me to consider and wonder how Haidt would look and function in Kenya culture. From Haidt as a resource, what do you think is the next best step to take to help young believers in Kenya within the Quaker church?

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