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Archive for the tag “neopentecostalism”

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.

Saving Africa’s Witch Children

The disturbing new trend of witch-hunting, apparently sponsored by Neopentecostal Churches, continues to get publicity, but unfortunately the media reports are not very informative.

Channel 4 – News – Dispatches – Saving Africa’s Witch Children:

In some of the poorest parts of Nigeria, where evangelical religious fervour is combined with a belief in sorcery and black magic, many thousands of children are being blamed for catastrophes, death and famine – and branded witches by powerful pastors. These children are then abandoned, tortured, starved and murdered – all in the name of Jesus Christ.

This Dispatches Special follows the work of one Englishman, 29-year-old Gary Foxcroft, who has devoted his life to helping these desperate and vulnerable children. Gary’s charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria, raises funds to help Sam Itauma, who five years ago, rescued four children accused of witchcraft. He now struggles to care for over 150 in a makeshift shelter and school in the Niger Delta region called CRARN (Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network).

Is anyone doing any research into this phenomenon, on the origins and spread of these beliefs, and who is holding and propagating them?

Parents left son accused of witchcraft to die

clipped from www.myjoyonline.com
The Takoradi Police have arrested a couple for negligently causing the death of their nine-year-old son.

The couple, Kwaku Badu, 35, a fisherman, and Elizabeth Coomson, also 35, were said to have kept their son indoors on the orders of a spiritualist who said the boy was possessed by witchcraft.
The spiritualist, Madam Theresa Arthur, popularly known as Maame Osofo of the 12 Apostles Church at Inchaban, was alleged to have declared that the boy was possessed by witchcraft and ordered that he should be kept in a room until he died.
She said they did not take the boy to the hospital because he had confessed to being a wizard and that he wanted to die because he did not have anyone to present to his cult members for a party.

Madam Coomson said they, therefore, kept him in the room until he died last Wednesday.
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No more child witches in Congo?

clipped from www.bbc.co.uk
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to vote shortly for new legislation that will make it a criminal offence to accuse a child of being a witch.
Many of the hundreds of children who are sleeping rough on the streets of the capital city Kinshasa have been accused of being witches. But is it possible to legislate against such deeply held beliefs and can such a law be enforced in a country that has been so fractured by war?

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Whether the law can be enforced in such a fractured country is indeed a moot point, but so is the idea of these “deeply-held” beliefs.

These beliefs, to all accounts, appeared quite suddenly in recent history. Perhaps they could disappear just as suddenly. What we need to find is what it takes to make them disappear, and perhaps it could help to find what caused them to appear in the first place.

The DRC, like other African countries, has long had many people who believe that misfortunes are caused by witchcraft and sorcery. What appears to be new is the belief that these witches are young children, and that it is occurring on such a scale. Perhaps it is the very fractured nature of the society that is causing these beliefs to spread and be deeply held.

Hat-tip to What is witchcraft.

Neopentecostals and witch hunts

Attitudes to witch hunting seem to be changing in African independent churches.

The old Zionists generally had a more humane attitude to people suspected of witchcraft and sorcery (see my article on Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery) but the Neopentecostals seem to be displaying similar behaviour to that seen during the Great Witch Hunt in early modern Europe.

Children are targets of Nigerian witch hunt | World news | The Observer

Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket. ‘We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery.’ Soft of voice and in his smart suit and tie, his church is being painted and he apologises for having to sit outside near his shiny new Audi to talk. There are nearly 60 branches of Liberty Gospel across the Niger Delta. It was started by a local woman, mother-of-two Helen Ukpabio, whose luxurious house and expensive white Humvee are much admired in the city of Calabar where she now lives. Many people in this area credit the popular evangelical DVDs she produces and stars in with helping to spread the child witch belief.

I’ve blogged about this before, but my initial impression is being confirmed by reports like these. Zionists are basically premodern. They worship wearing robes, and in their worship they beat cowhide drums. The Neopentecostals come with expensive sound systems, wearing suits and ties (the males, anyway). In Africa they seem to represent modernity, and so tend to reinforce (in my mind) the link between witch hunts and modernity.

A couple of days ago I was talking to Greg Cuthbertson, a South African historian, and Inus Daneel (a missiologist and AIC researcher) and they confirmed this impression from their own research and observations. I’ve been asked to take part in a couple of TV programmes recently, and in both of them concern was been expressed that people are leaving the traditional AICs and moving to the Neopentecostals. I’m not sure that that is correct, as I believe the Neopentecostals and Zionists (in South Africa) appeal to different constituencies, though as modernity takes root in Africa I believe the constituency of the Neopentecostals will grow, while that of the Zionists will shrink.

Greg Cuthbertson referred to a report from the Centre for Development and Enterprise, Under the radar: Pentecostalism in South Africa and its potential social and economic role, which referred to the role of the Pentecostal churches in promoting modernity.

This project has revealed a world of activity, energy, and entrepreneurship previously unknown to this otherwise well-informed South African think-tank. Flying under the radar screens of politicians, intellectuals, academics, and journalists are a large number of institutions and individuals that are actively concerned about and working on questions of values and personal behaviour. These concerns include family life, personal responsibility, unemployment, skills creation, and a range of other national concerns.

The last sentence could apply to many non-Pentecostal Christian groups as well. Greg Cuthbertson was somewhat sceptical about the report, saying that they tended to lump all kinds of things together under the general label of “Pentecostalism”, and did not understand hoe Christian denominations worked. But I believe the general link between Neopentecostalism and modernity is there.

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If you are interested, you can see my other blog posts on this and related topics here and here.

Psychedelic Christian Worship

Psychedelic Christian Worship — thecages: “But it blows my mind that this state, an explosion of the mind, is what these albums emphasise of the worship experience. What’s important here is not the presence of God, but the worshiper’s own glowing mind.”

This post interested me for two reasons.

One was the title, “psychedelic Christian worship”. That interested me because nearly 40 years ago I was fired by the then Anglican Bishop of Natal, Vernon Inman, for my part in organising what was described as a “psychedelic service” in St Columba’s Anglican Church in Greenwood Park, Durban.

The second reason was that it highlighted the widely divergent meanings of the word “worship” among Christians of different backgrounds and traditions.

I suppose I first became aware of the divergence when I visited one of those new hypermarket consumer churches that have now become so common, Christian City at Elandsfontein near Germiston. After a period of rather loud singing the cheerleader said, “Now THAT’S worship!” And I wondered , “What’s worship”? It didn’t strike me as particularly worshipful. It was just loud singing with an even louder accompaniment.

And the post quoted above in thecages puts a finger on this changed meaning: What’s important here is not the presence of God, but the worshiper’s own glowing mind.

And this meaning has to be taken into account when adherents of hypermarket churches use terms like “worship leader” or “worship service” or “time of worship”. The last one gives the clue, because it exposes the underlying assumption that if there is a “time of worship” there is also a time of non-worship.

The “psychedelic service” at Greenwood Park was a somewhat different thing. It was planned by an ecumenical youth group linked to the Christian Institute, some of whom were members of the parish of Greenwood Park. After firing me the Anglican Bishop of Natal preached in the church the following Sunday, and told the congregation that their church had been “profaned” by what we had done.

What had we done?

As I wrote in my journal for 1 June 1969:

The service started a bit late, because we did not want to start before everyone was in. Martin Goulding and Geoff Moorgas then played “Lead kindly light” as a violin and cello duet, sitting in the vestry, while the church was in darkness. Then I shouted “let there be light” and played “Doctor Do-good” by the Electric Prunes at full volume while Sue Abbott at the back of the church flashed the lights on and off in time to the beat. Then we had lessons and hymns alternating – Genesis 1, the creation and separation of light and darkness, and then sang “Thou whose almighty word”. Then another reading “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” and we sang “Oh freedom”. Then another lesson, from John’s gospel “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”, and we sang “We shall overcome”. And then from 1 Peter, “… a holy nation, a royal priesthood, led out of darkness into his marvellous light” and then Revelation 21 and 22 – the new Jerusalem, where there is no need for sun or moon, because Christ himself is the light of his people, and sang “Lights above, celestial Salem”. Then we had the offering, and passed round a collection plate filled with half cents and asked people to take some, saying that it was to remind us that we could give nothing to God, because everything we gave to him we first received from him.

Dick Usher read a litany while Martin Goulding projected slides showing light sources. Then Colin Butler, dressed as a night watchman in army greatcoat and Basotho hat, sitting in front of a brazier, about to begin his soliloquy about being all alone in the darkness when the band cut in and all sang “This little light of mine”, while members of the congregation came up and lit tapers or sparklers. Then we began singing “Lord of the dance”, but after three verses Geoff stopped it and said “Come on everybody, don’t just sit there, stand up and sing it with everything you’ve got.” Now they all stood up and sang it, better this time, with Roy Holden and Mervin Josie clapping from the back of the church. We sang it through a couple more times and then stopped. Nobody moved.

I asked “Do you want to sing it again?” “Yes” they all shouted. So we sang it several more times, and this time people moved out of their pews and moved round the church, dancing and singing, until everyone moved out, except for Mitch Lewis, one of the churchwardens, and some aunties at the back. Eventually they all danced out into the street, and it ended there, with people still holding lighted tapers, and all happy and smiling and excited. I have never seen such happy and smiling people coming out of church before.

Howard Trumbull shouted “Alleluia! Praise the Lord! It was great”, and several other people came and said similar things to us. I went back into to the church to try and get things straightened out, and then Mitch Lewis and Tom Abrahams, the churchwardens, asked me to go to the Vestry and said they didn’t want to do another service next week because many people had been offended by this one. I doubted very much that many people had been offended, because most of them looked so happy, but said if that was the case, probably the best thing to do would be to arrange a meeting later in the week and try to sort it out, and we could explain what we had been trying to do. Dick Usher was supposed to have come to the morning service to explain to the congregation what was going to happen in the evening, but he had overslept, and I apologized to them for that. Afterwards we went to have tea in the crypt and discussed it with some of the parishioners who were anti. One of them said he thought church services should be quiet, and this one was too loud – after all, Jesus never raised his voice. Martin Goulding muttered that he just overturned a few tables when he wanted to emphasize a point. Later we went to Geoff’s house, but Dick Usher and Sue Abbott didn’t come. Sue was in tears, having been attacked by a subdeacon called Dennis Pennington, who, I gather, is the big wheel of the parish. We thought that the service was great. Geoff said he had had doubts about it before, but the proof of the pudding was in the eating, and it made very good eating indeed.

It wasn’t really “psychedelic”, though in those days anything with bright colours, loud music and flashing lights was often called “psychedelic”. It was also ironic that within a few years the hymn Lord of the dance, which the Bishop of Natal had described as “blasphemy and profanity” became one of the most popular hymns sung at school assemblies in the UK.

Why did we do it?

I can’t speak for the others who took part in the planning and leading of the service, but were several things that had influenced me:

  • An experimental drama festival at Durham University in June 1968
  • Reading the works of Marshall McLuhan
  • A seminar on Orthodox worship for non-Orthodox theological students held at Bossey, Switzerland in April 1968, followed by Holy Week and Easter services at St Sergius in Paris
  • Talking to Walter Hollenweger about liturgy and worship at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva

For me it was an attempt to make worship more “holistic”. Western Protestant worship at that time seemed to me to be too didactic and primarily verbal. Anglican services compiled at the time of the Reformation (and largely still in use) had been designed with the primary purpose of edification.

The drama festival at Durham (where I was then studying) attracted people from all over Britain, and several of them had been influenced by Marshall McLuhan, with his idea of “the medium is the message”. While attending the seminar on Orthodox theology and worship at Bossey, a friend and I had taken the train to Geneva to talk to Walter Hollenweger, then on the staff of the World Council of Churches. He said that if we wanted to learn about liturgy, we should look at journalists.

And Orthodox worship seemed more holistic, and not entirely verbal. The Holy Week and Easter services made a deep impression on my, especially the way that words and actions were integrated, for example in the Easter kiss followed by the reading of the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom.

So in this so-called “psychedelic service” we were striving for something that would be more symbolic, and less verbally didactic, something more holistic, involving all the senses.

Looking back on it now, I see that we were still quite a long way off the mark. Whatever it was, it still was not really worship. It was more like theatre, and still didactic. The aim of it ultimately boiled down to giving the congregation a learning experience, even if it was a multimedia experience rather than a purely verbal harangue. In that sense, it was still directed at altering the minds of the congregation rather than worshipping God. We were didactic, in that we were trying to teach the congregation about worship, rather than actually worshipping.

The week after the “psychedelic” service most of the Anglicans in our group, annoyed at the reaction of the Bishop of Natal, went to the Divine Liturgy at the local Orthodox Church. The priest welcomed us publicly. He had read all about the controversy in the newspapers, and was sympathetic.

But it still took me a few more years to realise that real worship was liturgy, the work (or service) of the people. It was not primarily theatre, and nor was it primarily didactic. Worship was not to be directed at the minds of the congregation, but at God.

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