A Seventh-day Adventist judge who refuses to work on Sabbath has been sworn in as the chief justice of Kenya’s Supreme Court, marking the first time that a church member has presided over a country’s top court.
Chief Justice David Maraga invited Blasious Ruguri, president of the Adventist Church’s East-Central Africa Division, whose territory includes Kenya, into his chambers for a prayer of dedication before tackling his new responsibilities.
“As a staunch Christian, I had purposed that before I begin to discharge my new duties as the CJ, I will pray and thank God for bringing me this far,” Maraga said as he ushered Ruguri, other Adventist leaders, and senior judges into his chambers. “CJ” is an acronym for “chief justice.”
“I have come along with the leadership of the SDA Church, and I call upon Dr. Ruguri to lead the prayer session,” Maraga said, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported.
Ruguri said Thursday that the judge is a man of prayer and an example of faithfulness to all Adventists.
“He puts prayer first,” Ruguri told the Adventist Review. “He was in no hurry to take up his new office until after he had invited God to accompany him on this path.”
Maraga, 64, was sworn in Wednesday during a ceremony at the State House, the official residence of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, in the African country’s capital, Nairobi.
Kenyatta had endorsed Maraga, a court of appeals judge, to the seven-member Supreme Court upon the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, which is comprised of Supreme Court judges and other legal experts. The previous chief justice had retired earlier this year.
Maraga made national headlines in late August when he told the Judicial Service Commission during the vetting process that he would always place his faith above his work.
“It would be very difficult for me to sit on a Saturday to hear a case,” Maraga said at the time, responding to a commission member’s query about a hypothetical situation. “I would rather talk with my colleagues in the court to accommodate me and exempt me from sitting if the hearing extends to a Saturday.”
Maraga said his practice was to worship God in church on Saturdays, the biblical seventh-day Sabbath.
Kenya’s national parliament gave final approval to Maraga’s appointment on Tuesday. He is expected to serve until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Ruguri, who also prayed at the opening of the swearing-in ceremony, said Kenya’s Adventists are thrilled about the appointment of a fellow Adventist to the top court.
“There is a strong feeling that out of his faithfulness to God, he will be faithful to the people, faithful to the nation, and truly execute fairness and justice,” he said. “The church in Kenya is both very happy and at the same time very humbled.”
The Adventist Church has 867,000 Adventists worshipping in about 9,000 congregations across the country, which has a population of 44.3 million. Christians comprise about 82 percent of the population, with the second-largest group being Muslims, with 11 percent, or 4.3 million people.
Ruguri called for prayers for Maraga, whom he said many Kenyans hope will help the government as it grapples with corruption.
“The whole nation is expecting so much of him,” he said. “More of us need to lift him up and to really ask God to stay with him so he can stand true to the expectations.”
Seventh-day Adventists have served as judges in the past, but none has led a country’s Supreme Court. An Adventist, Mary Angawa, previously served as a judge in Kenya’s Supreme Court, and Daniel David Ntanda Nsereko of Uganda is currently a judge with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands. In Papua New Guinea, Gibuna Gibbs Salika serves as deputy chief justice of the South Pacific nation’s Supreme Court.
Maraga’s elevation to chief justice should remind all Adventists to remain faithful to God, Ruguri said.
“As we continue practicing our faith in this world, we need to know that we are under close scrutiny and observation by the public,” he said.
“You never know when you might be called upon to fill in a sensitive and critical position like this,” he said. “We must just practice our Christian life with diligence and carefulness so we can serve well when we are called.”
David Maraga, a Seventh-day Adventist judge, is sworn in as the chief justice of Kenya’s Supreme Court on Oct. 19, 2016. (Hope Channel Kenya)