“Science and Faith can work together” An interview with Rt Revd Dr Emily Onyango about how the Anglican church in Kenya is thinking about science and faith

Around the world, many Anglican churches are on the front line in helping communities as they respond to issues like environmental change, health crises and other humanitarian needs. They often become ‘science communicators’, by sharing information and growing awareness of how science can help address problems impacting people and the planet.

The Rt Revd Dr Emily Onyango became the first female bishop in the Anglican Church of Kenya, in 2021. She has also taught theology at St. Paul’s University in Limaru. She is part of the Anglican Communion Science Commission. The Lambeth Conference team spoke with her about why the church needs to think about faith and science.

In what ways have you seen churches and individuals in your diocese and more widely being ‘Science Communicators’ in community life?

These days, most people appreciate that science plays a massive part in things that happen around them and that it can also help to tackle problems.

In Kenya, people are far more conscious of the importance of vaccines (especially in children’s lives), and the use of hospitals in dealing with health concerns.

The issue of climate change is causing floods and drought and at all levels in the community, you will find people communicating on how to mitigate climate change.

When it comes to food security everybody is becoming conscious of the debate. For example, GMOs and how they affect them.

In what ways has Science made a positive impact on the communities you serve?

In my context, people are turning to science more, in tackling the issues they face. For example, extreme drought and floods, are impacting good crops and food production. But just this week I was chatting with some farmers, who have found phone apps which advise them on how to do more sustainable agriculture. With the use of mobile phones everywhere, technology has really helped at the individual level.

Why is the Anglican Communion Science Commission so important?

The Anglican Communion Science Commission is affirming Christians who are Scientists. For a long time in our part of the country, people didn’t realise that this is an important vocation and that they needed to be affirmed as doing God’s work. Similarly, when scientists meet with faith leaders it affirms them and their research.

The Science Commission is working with the Anglican Church first, but extending the conversation too. In community work, you must always take others on board. When you are dealing with issues of food security you are not just dealing with Anglicans. So, this is an Anglican Communion initiative which has also been quite helpful in working with other church leaders.

How did you get involved in the Anglican Communion Science Commission?

My background is Theology. My major concern is poverty in Africa and especially from a women’s perspective. Women are most affected by food security. They are the ones who participate in agriculture and women are the ones most affected when problems arise Through involvement with the Commission, I can promote discussions amongst women and raise awareness for how science can help with issues that affect them daily.

In what ways can Science enhance our faith

God is the Creator. God is the one who gives all gifts and science is given by God to solve some of the issues that are at stake.  Science is a way that God can reveal himself to us through nature.  Scientists, especially Christians who are scientists, have been given that gift to serve God and to serve humanity. For a long time, we have just been concentrating on academic debates, but I think practically, we should make use of God’s gift of science in responding to the issues in our world.

What does Thinking courageously about science and faith mean to you personally

Trying to understand or bring into practice the gift God has already given us. We seem to be praying and God is answering our prayers, but we are not opening our eyes to see the answers. Let’s take the African continent. We have several issues which would help us. The other day we were discussing with some ladies. One of the issues is childlessness which affects families in Africa. Yet there are so many possibilities that we don’t even want to start thinking about, which can save families. It is good to be bold and bring science even into family life. For example, IVF. These are debates that we don’t think about. If that could solve couples’ need for children. As Christians, we never think in this direction. Many people don’t want to open such discussions. But I think if you opened it, people would see possibilities because they fear having such discussions in church. So even in our couples’ counselling, how does science come in?

What do you hope the Science and Faith series will achieve?

First, I think this will enhance our ministries. For me as a church leader, we will be affirming each other, both the scientists and the theologians. We come to the agreement that all of us are called by God; we have different giftings and when we encourage our scientists and affirm them, they will bring a lot to the church. That will also help us to think about ethical issues so that we are not just talking in the background but as we are engaging with each other we rightfully talk about ethical issues and where things are going.

I am hoping that our next generation of church leaders will be well trained on issues of science so that they are not negative. Most of all, for me, my prayer is that issues of poverty in Africa can be solved, especially by using science to mitigate some of the issues so that our next mission is how we engage science in a practical way to bring change to the continent.

 

Announcing: 'Science and Faith'.
Next in Phase 3 of the Lambeth Conference

On July 3 and 4, the Anglican Communion Office team are running webinars on the Lambeth Call on Science and Faith.

open to all:
the Phase 3 webinars