Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Africa became Christian by submission, not by conversion."

The following are excerpts taken from a 1998 article by Rev. Dr. Timothy M. Njoya titled The Church as a Global Society. Njoya is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

I have intentionally edited out, as much as possible without destroying the sense, all positive (or even exculpatory) references to Christianity. Obviously, Njoya is a Christian, and he wishes to contrast his critique of the Christianity of the European Colonialists with what he would claim is the "true spirit of the Gospel", or something like that.

But the fact is that what the European colonizers and missionaries and slave-traders did in Africa was perfectly in line with the whole history of Christianity up to that time. And, further, it is perfectly consistent with the "true spirit" of all forms of monotheistic religion, which by their very nature manifest themselves through violence and coercion.

[This is a follow-up to this previous post, also dealing with the history of Christianity and Colonialism in Africa.]
The first thing Christianity did in Africa was to make people surrender their sovereignty to church hierarchies and governments. African dictators did not learn any lessons in democracy from the way churches were established, like fiefdoms.

Christianity brought to Africa nothing of the modernization, democracy and industrial revolution that the missionaries enjoyed in their own countries. The church made the divine right of political and church leaders part of its curriculum of evangelism. Africa became a junkyard for governments discarded by the Enlightenment and the American and French Revolutions.

The slave trade and colonialism ended, not because there was any conversion or improvement in western Christianity or democracy, but because slavery and colonialism ceased to be profitable enterprises due to improved technology. Evil carries its own seeds of self-destruction. But self-destruction is not the same as repentance . . . .

By not accepting liability for the ravages of capitalism and imperialism, the church becomes a liability. Christianity should stop playing the role of maintenance and repair in the capitalist system. The church cannot cure western guilt with charity, poverty alleviation projects, contextualization, indigenization or Africanization programmes . . . .

The Christianity we have now is a soul-saving machine with no awareness of the demands of the gospel. The main preoccupation of the church is to assure those who have no value in capitalism of the great value for their souls in heaven.

Soul-salvation is a tragedy. Missionaries treated Africans as cartons containing souls, just as poachers reduce elephants and rhinos to carcasses: carrying tusks and horns . . . .

Africa became Christian by submission, not by conversion. African governments were similarly established, by conquest and not by consent . . . .

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