Wednesday, April 22, 2009

African Church History: Colonialism

Both Protestant and Catholic mission efforts took on new life after the publication of David Livingstone’s book Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom, p. 37).

During this period Christian missions were intricately tied to political and imperial expansion: kind of ugly. In Southern Uganda Catholics were usually referred to as “baFaransa” (the French) and Protestants as “baIngerezza” (the English) (Jenkins, p. 34).

“For all the hypocrisy and the flagrantly self-serving rhetoric of the imperial age, the dedication of the missionaries was beyond question. Knowing as they did the extreme dangers from violence and tropical disease, it is inconceivable that so many would have been prepared to lay down their lives for European commerce alone, and many certainly viewed missionary work as a ticket to martyrdom.” (p. 36).

The stereotypes about the wrong-headedness of missions and missionaries abound, and have for some time. In modern times a Kenyan leader named Jomo Kenyatta complained,

“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” (p. 40).

Yet even when that’s how it was, the Africans got the better deal, didn't they?

By the late nineteenth century Africa had 10 million Christians of all denominations (p. 38). There must have been something Africans recognized as “African” about the whole thing. The number of Christians in Africa increased from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million by 2000 (p. 4). Staggering.

So, not the white man's religion.

And not necessarily a religion many white men would recognize, either. The fastest growth has been among non-traditional denominations that adapt Christian belief to local tradition… “Their exact numbers are none too clear, since they are too busy baptizing newcomers to be counting them very precisely.” (p. 7).


Dean Smith said...

"the Africans got the better deal, didn't they?"

That's debatable.

Marti said...

And indeed it is debated.

Much of Africa is indeed a mess, and to no small measure because of things the West has done and continues to do.

I was referring solely to the benefits to soul and society that come from Christianity - not Colonialism.

Marti said...

I don't expect we'll agree on this, Dad. Though perhaps we could find common ground saying: spiritual benefits are better and last longer than material ones.