Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “African Christianity”

Book projects nearing completion

I’ve been trying to get a lot of stuff finished before Holy Week, and going on holiday in Bright (Easter) week.

One of the projects at last nearing completion is the book African initiatives in healing ministry, which I’ve been working on for more than 10 years, and my coauthors have been working on for considerably longer. I’ve just signed off the final page proofs, and the book should be available in the next couple of months.

The core of the book is a study of healing ministry in four churches in Zimbabwe, one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, and two African Independent Churches, each of which has developed a slightly different response to health and healing.

As if to emphasise the urgency of this, someone I knew died of Aids last week. But he would not face up to the fact of his illness, and insisted that someone had been trying to poison him. His mother persuaded him to visit a sangoma, and to stop taking antiretrovirals, and to take traditional medicine instead. A bad decision, but for which he might have been alive today. This is one of the important health and healing issues in Africa today, and to grapple with it we need to understand attitudes to health and healing in Africa, and also the different Christian responses, and the attitudes that lie behind those responses. Hence the need for the research that led to the publication of this book.

Another task was the final indexing and proof-reading of the doctoral thesis of my colleague in ministry, Fr Athanasius Akunda, with whom I’ll be serving at the Good Friday liturgies later today.

(This is a post I tried to post here yesterday, but kept getting “Illegal date/time format” messages, so posted it on my Khanyablog instead).

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The Burning Times

Burning things (and people) you don’t like seems to be a popular way of getting rid of them. It’s also a great way of getting publicity for a cause. And as people in show business know, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

One of the examples that always springs to my mind is the group of anti-war protesters in California who publicly burnt a dog.

It was during the Vietnam War, and they burnt the dog in protest against the war. The public outrage was enormous, and newspapers editorialised about how they were harming their cause, and their action was counter-productive because it made people who might be sympathetic to their cause more likely to be hostile towards it.

But in fact the negative reaction, the outrage itself, was the whole point. They demonstrated that American society was far more concerned and far more outraged about a dog being burnt in California than it was about hundreds of human children being burnt in Vietnam by American napalm bombs.

And the latest in a long line of such protests is that of Terry Jones, minister of a small church in the backwoods of Florida, USA, who threatened to burn copies of the Qur’an. It caused tweets of outrage to flow through Twitter, and huge protests throughout the world. It certainly put his church on the map.

Terry Jones won’t be the last Qur’an burning publicity hound | Richard Adams | World news | guardian.co.uk:

Jones’s threats will be subject to the law of diminishing returns. Next time he threatens to do burn a Qur’an – and I fear there will be a next time – he’ll be handled with much more caution by the US media, which has made itself look ridiculous in being outfoxed by the crackpot pastor of a miniscule [sic] church in the swamps of Florida.

US President Barack Obama, in a memorable soundbite, said that it would be a recruiting bonanza for Al-Qaeda.

President Obama was probably right, but he has done little to stop the even more powerful recruiting bonanzas for Al-Qaeda caused by burning children in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Those outraged by the burning of the Qu’ran may demonstrate in the streets, wave a few placards, burn an American flag or two, and go home feeling self-righteous, just like the Revd Terry Jones.

It is the ones whose cousins and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts who were killed when the US forces bombed wedding celebrations, or went on their killing sprees in places like Fallujah who are more likely to join Al-Qaeda.

In the 1960s there was also the phenomenon of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in protest against the Vietnam War. Instead of burning other people or things, they burnt themselves.

This had a spin-off in South Africa, when staff and students at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg were protesting against some government atrocity — I think it was the banning of student leader Ian Robertson.

I was overseas at the time, but a friend wrote to me in a letter about the protest, which took the form of a torchlight procession into the centre of the town. As they were crossing the bridge over the Umsinduzi River the procession was attacked by National Party-supporters. One of the protesters was an English lecturer and atheist, Cake Manson (who was thought by the English Department to be the greatest playwright since Shakespeare). He retaliated by sticking his lighted torch in the faces of the attackers, shouting the war-cry, “Burn you Buddhist bastard, burn!”

And that takes us back to California.

Burn, Baby! Burn!:

When rioters in Watts, California, began shouting ‘Burn, Baby! BURN!’ in the turmoil of 1965, they were echoing the most popular cry on rhythm-and-blues radio: The trademark of Magnificent Montague, the most exciting R&B disc jockey ever to stroll through Soulsville.

In Los Angeles on KGFJ, and earlier in New York on WWRL, Montague yelled ‘Burn!’ whenever he was playing a record that moved him. His listeners followed suit, calling Montague and shouting ‘Burn!’ on the air. The emotion in that exchange reverberated with as much excitement as the music of Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

There’s something about the Burning Times…

The Inklings: Williams and transformation

For some Christians, “witness” is an active verb, and so “witnessing” is an activity that they engage in, and expect others to engage in, and it often ends up0 as a kind of “in your face” proselytising. In the following story, however, I think we come closer to the true meaning of “witness”. The Inklings: Williams and transformation:

W. H. Auden worked with Charles Williams on a collection of Poetry he edited for Oxford University Press. Many years after first meeting Williams, he would recall that interview in surprising terms and mark it as one of the events that led him to embrace the Christian faith:

‘For the first time in my life, [I] felt myself in the presence of personal sanctity… I had met many good people before who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings but in the presence of this man… I did not feel ashamed. I felt transformed into a person who was incapable of doing or thinking anything base or unloving (I later discovered that he had had a similar effect on many other people.)’

From Auden’s testimony “witnessing” can be more effective if it is a mode of being than a mode of soing or talking.

Kimbanguist Church

Our parish priest, Father Athanasius Akunda, has just returned from a meeting of the All-Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), and reported that there has been a heated debate about whether the Kimbanguist Church can remain a member of the AACC.

The Kimbanguist Church is the largest religious body in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and has been a member of the AACC for several years. It has, however recently changed its theology, and is reported to be no longer trinitarian.

Father Athanasius told the meeting that the Orthodox Church participated in ecumenical bodies like the AACC on the understanding that, whatever the differences in theology or practive there might be among the member groups, they at least held a common faith in the Holy Trinity. If the Kimbanguist Church no longer believed in the Trinity, then it was no longer Christian, and ought not to remain a member of a Christian body like the AACC. Rather it should acknowledge that it was a different religion, and engage in dialogue with Christians through acknowledged interfaith dialogue.

I’m curious to know what changes have taken place in the Kimbanguist Church’s theology, and why. I’ve asked about this in the African Independent Churches discussion forum, but so far there has been no response, so I thought I would appeal through a blog post to see if there is anyone who knows of recent developments in the theology of the Kimbanguist Church.

Megachurches and the recession

Bishop Alan has been attending a conference at an American megachurch on the topic of how to weather the recesssion. Bishop Alan’s Blog: Church and MegaChurch Stress Test:

There’s some comfort in knowing the seas look rough from a supertanker as well as from our little English dinghies. Of course my Anglo tendency is to be sarcastic about the differences, but it’s a fact that a place like that, as well as yea many more dollars resourced (the thing people always notice first) is also yea many more dollars committed and exposed.

Amahoro Gathering


Last week I went to the Amahoro Gathering at Hekpoort, about 40 miles west of Pretoria. About 250 people gathered from various countries in Africa and there were a few from other countries as well.

“Amahoro” is a word in Rwandan languages meaning “peace”, and I think it was chosen to represent the rebuilding needed in that country following the horrific genocidal strife that took place there 15 years ago. The gathering was billed as “empowering emerging leaders”, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been there at all, not really being a leader, and at my age I’m submerging rather than emerging.

Much of it was about what it means to be Christian in a postmodern and postcolonial world. I won’t say much about it here — I’ve blogged about that in my other blog, with pictures. But it was useful, because words like “postcolonial” have often been bandied about and I wasn’t too sure what they meant, and I think I now have a better idea.

For some of the younger people there it was a lifechanging experience, and if you’re interested in reading about it, here are links to some of the blog posts on it, including mine.

If you have posted a blog post about the Amahoro Gathering and would like to add it to this list, please click here to see how to do it. You are welcome to copy this list to the end of your post.

Also, Technorati seems to be working again, so you can find more blog posts on the topic here.

Roman Pope speaks on African witchcraft and witch hunts

The Roman Pope, Benedict XVI, recently visited Angola, and expressed concern about the witch hunts that are taking place in some African countries.

Pope Calls for Conversion From Witchcraft in Africa – washingtonpost.com:

The pope began his day addressing Catholic clergymen and nuns, telling them to be missionaries to those Angolans ‘living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers.’

In Africa, some churchgoing Catholics also follow traditional animist religions and consult medicine men and diviners who are denounced by the church.

People accused of sorcery or of being possessed by evil powers sometimes are killed by fearful mobs.

The article is somewhad skimpy, and doesn’t report on what means, if any, Pope Benedict suggested should be used to deal with the problem, but it is good to know that there is concern about it at the highest levels in the Roman Catholic Church, which is probably the biggest single Christian body in Africa.

That’s not to say that others have not been concerned about it in the past, but many past responses have been ineffectual. The modernist response has been quite common among Christian churches — to assert, in the face of witchcraft beliefs and fear of evil spirits, that such things don’t exist at all, and that modern and enlightened people don’t believe in such primitive nonsense. Faced with that kind of response from the church leaders, people who fear witches and evil spirits conclude that the church is not equipped to cope with such problems, and so they resort to those who do claim to be competent to deal with them — diviners and medicine men, the so-called “witchdoctors”.

If Pope Benedict is urging church leaders to take the fears of such people seriously, and to help them to overcome them rather than despising them as primitive superstitions from the vantage point of a superior Enlightenment worldview, then that is to be welcomed.

But there is also the problem of some neopentecostal groups who, according to some reports, are actually fanning those fears into a flame, and thereby encouraging witch hunts and pointing the finger of suspicion even at children. That should be a matter of concern to all Christians in the continent.

Update

I’ve just found a link to the full text of Pope Benedict’s address here.

I believe this is a very important document for the Christian Church in Africa.

More on child witches in Africa

The UK Channel 4 programme on child “witches” in Africa broadcast last week has reignited debate on the topic. I keep a database of African independent churches and church leaders, to try to build up a coherent picture of African Christianity, but the media reports on this phenomenon, which has been reported mainly from Nigeria, the DRC and Angola, usually raise more questions than they answer.

According to Tracy McVeigh of “The Guardian” (9-Dec-2007) “it is American and Scottish Pentecostal and evangelical missionaries of the past 50 years who have shaped these fanatical beliefs”.

What I would like to know is which American and Scottish missionaries these were. What are their names, their background? Who sent them to Nigeria, and when? Which denominaations and mission agencies sponsored them? What was the source of their teaching, and how did they influence those who are propagating these beliefs in Nigeria today?

These seem to me to be very important questions for missiologists and church historians to be asking. We have international academic discussion forums for researchers on African Independent Churches and New Religious Movements, but if anyone is doing research into those topics they aren’t saying. Possibly some sociologists have been doing research into it, but if they have, I haven’t heard of it. An interdisciplinary study would be useful.

In the absence of such studies, all one can do is try to read between the lines of the newspaper reports and try to guess what is going on.

According to some reports this phenomenon — accusing children of being witches — did not exist in Congo (DRC) in 1994, but it was common in 1999.

One of the denominations reported to be most active in witch hunting is the Liberty Gospel Church, founded in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria in 1992 by Helen Ukpabio, a former nurse.

She has apparently said that if children cry a lot and are fretful it is a sign that they are witches. Now I’m not a fundi on Nigerian witchcraft beliefs, but I do know that in most parts of Africa if a child is ill and feverish and cries a lot people may suspect that the child has been bewitched. Witchcraft has often been seen as a cause of illness. But it seems that Ukpabio has reversed this, and instead of seeing these as symptoms that a child is a victim, she teaches that it a sign that the child is a perpetator of witchcraft.

Maybe there is some precedent for this kind of thing in Nigerian culture — if there is, I hope someone will enlighten me. But it seems to me like a new twist on the “blame the victim” game.

And if Helen Ukpabio and others like her really got their theology from American and Scottish pentecostal and evangelical missionaries, it might be quite important to know which ones. I think it may, however, be a bit more complex than this.

In Central and West Africa there seems to be a growing interest in exorcism; though such beliefs may have been around for a long time they seem to be growing stronger. Many clergy seem to have specialised in it. I met a student at the Orthodox seminary in Nairobi who had been a Roman Catholic and gathered a congregation of about 500 people in Douala, Cameroun, who had mainly been attracted by his ministry of exorcism. He became Orthodox when the Roman Catholic bishop sought to inhibit his ministry of exorcism, which he continued with the blessing of the local Orthodox bishop.

Another student at the seminary, who was from the English-speaking northern part of Cameroun, had become a Rosicrucian at the age of 16, and had tried an amazing number of religions, including Wicca and Ekankar, before settling on Hinduism, which he studied for some time under a guru in India. On returning to Cameroun he was told by his spirit guides to worship the Triune God, and walked into town and the first Christian Church he came across was the Orthodox Cathedral, so he decided to join the Orthodox Church. But at the seminary he believed that the teaching staff were withholding important information from the students, such as which variety of incense was best for driving out which kinds of demons.

But there is also the possibility that the excesses of people like Helen Ukpabio could actually kill off African witchcraft beliefs altogether.

Something similar happened in the great European witch craze in the 16th and 17th centuries. In early modern Europe there was, in some places, a great increase in witchhunting and witchcraft accusations. As time passed, however, the accusations and the beliefs about witchcraft became more and more bizarre and over-the-top, until people could simply no longer believe them, and eventually the entire belief system crumbled under its own weight. Perhaps Ukpabio’s teachings are a sign that this is beginning to happen in Africa.

Forced conversion to Islam in the UK?

It seems as though the Westminster City Council in the UK is forcing Christian children to be brought up with Muslim families.

St. Mark’s London:

We, the Coptic Community in the UK, petition the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls, MP to consider the placement of 3 Coptic Christian children , by Westminster City Council, with a Muslim foster family. Section 22 of the Children’s Act 1989, sub-section(5) states that the local authority, in making any decision, has a general duty to give due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and linguistic background. The placement of those 3 children has failed to support their racial, cultural, linguistic and religious identity. There is evidence that it is seriously undermining their religious beliefs and we are gravely concerned about the confusion of identity of those looked after children.

It sounds a bit strange to me. Is this really happening? Or is it actually all part of an Anglo-American plot to eradicate Christianity in the Near/Middle East, and in people of Near/Middle Eastern descent (the Christian population of Iraq has halved since the US-led invasion in 2003).

Forced conversion to Islam in the UK?

It seems as though the Westminster City Council in the UK is forcing Christian children to be brought up with Muslim families.

St. Mark’s London:

We, the Coptic Community in the UK, petition the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls, MP to consider the placement of 3 Coptic Christian children , by Westminster City Council, with a Muslim foster family. Section 22 of the Children’s Act 1989, sub-section(5) states that the local authority, in making any decision, has a general duty to give due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and linguistic background. The placement of those 3 children has failed to support their racial, cultural, linguistic and religious identity. There is evidence that it is seriously undermining their religious beliefs and we are gravely concerned about the confusion of identity of those looked after children.

It sounds a bit strange to me. Is this really happening? Or is it actually all part of an Anglo-American plot to eradicate Christianity in the Near/Middle East, and in people of Near/Middle Eastern descent (the Christian population of Iraq has halved since the US-led invasion in 2003).

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