As the saga surrounding Pastor Alph Lukau’s resurrecting of a dead man unfolds in South Africa many of my friends on Facebook have boldly asked “Where are the real churches? The churches of our parents and why do our people no longer attend them?”
Thinking about what is currently taking place in the world; the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the African refugee crisis, Boko Haram, #RhodesMustFall and the #FeesMustFall movements, led me to conclude that there has never been any Christian Church that has been for the black people, particularly the African.
In my response to these questions, I reasoned that if we were to truly reflect on the black experience and be honest, we would agree that, according to this form of Christianity, indeed we are the step-children of God. Secondly, we would ponder and ask if God is a racist? If not, then God is very selective in loving his children. Lastly, as Black theologians of liberation we would agree or rather ask, “Are we worshipping and praying to the wrong God?”, for a lack of a better language.
Cognitive Dissonance that Black African Christians live with.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief” | Frantz Fanon
As a child coming from the lineage of Ntsikana who embraced Western Christianity with its seduction and forcefulness of allegiance one must ask; did our ancestors truly believe that the Father of Jesus loved us? With the love black folk have for Jesus I find myself asking the question, how is it that the black folk continued and continues to place its allegiance to a God who has not returned the favour? History has proven time, and time again that the Christian God is not for the Black.
Reflecting on Fanon’s cognitive dissonance to argue that God has not returned the favour is a difficult endeavour, as God will respond by arguing that “against all odds you are here because I AM”. And when you remember that Governor Harry Smith once regarded the extermination of the Xhosa people of the Eastern Cape as the only guiding principle, understandably, as a theologian, believing in God one falls into the trap of cognitive dissonance and asks again, what then is the problem in Africa?
Narrowing the problem down, we begin to interrogate the kind of theological education one has received and soon realise the filthiness in the theological education. From there, you go deeper to the Christian Church and its missions and ask, why are our people finding themselves at the door step of the so-called false pastors and prophets? Why are the so-called real churches not helping to aid with this influx of black poor people into Pastor Alph Lukau church, Pastor Mboro’s church and other churches? You come to realise that the missionary churches are directly involved in false prophecy as well since they continue to feed from the African child; black suffering, and pain.
The Missionary churches and their amnesia in Post-1994.
Like, the African National Congress (ANC) government, one realises that black people who have inherited missionary churches have continued from where the white missionaries left off; breeding toxic spirituality into the black soul and have continued to serve the life killing theologies that has rendered the black South Africans landless.
Africans writers articulate, eloquently the role played by Western Christianity in the destruction of African society. From the 15th century to the end of the 19th century the Missionary determined modalities and the pace of mastering, colonising, and transforming the “Dark Continent”. While carrying the European flags, missionaries (Western churches on African soil) did not only help their home countries to acquire new lands but also accomplished a “divine” mission ordered by the Holy Father, Dominator Dominus.
Y Mudimbe argues that “It was in God’s name that the Pope considered the planet his franchise and established the basic principles of terra nullius (nobody’s lands), which denies non- Christian natives the right to an autonomous political existence and the right to own or to transfer ownership. More vigorously, the missionary remains in theory as well as in practise the most surviving and successful of all the soldiers of colonialisation even today.”
Recently a friend of mine, Nkosi Gola, asked the question, “What is it that the Protestant Church is protesting against in Africa?” Of course, Nkosi Gola was trying to point out to the fact that the Protestant church was directly involved in establishing western sovereignty.
For instance, V.Y Mudimbe argues that on August 5, 1583, as part of the ceremony of taking possession of Newfoundland, Sir Humphrey Gilbert promulgated a code of three laws: the establishment of the church of England in the colony; the punishment as high treason of any act prejudicial to the Queens right of possessing the new land; and, for those uttering words to the Queens dishonour, the penalty to be having their ears removed and their ships and goods confiscated. Both the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church missionaries played an essential role in the general process of expropriation and, subsequently, exploitation of all the new-found lands upon the earth. In decolonial discourses it is argued that the “key historical events that would explain the European superiority can be traced back to the Italian Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the German Aufklarung, and culminate with the French revolution and, in the political sphere, the English Parliament.”
The premise of this article is to argue against the danger of falling into the trap of the post-1994 ‘amnesia’ of Christian discourses in South Africa.
We must remember that South Africa was colonised by Protestant Churches. The mainline churches remain the gate keepers guarding against Expropriation of Land without compensation in South Africa.
Similarly, Desmond Tutu who argued for reconciliation and forgiveness before justice in 1994 was taught and groomed in missionary schools, the same schools whose leading churches sole idea was not only that of conquest of the black African lands, but of black African spirituality.
The Black Church as the “Poisoned well” from which we are forced to drink.
Steve Biko, alluded to the conquest of African spirituality when he argued that amongst the forces visible in the time of the struggle against apartheid, was that of self-rejection of the black culture, values, and spirituality.
Directly challenging and critiquing the kind of theology that was taught in academic institutions in South Africa, and more importantly, the Western Christian Church’s involvement in sustaining the oppression of the black people, Steve Biko, our ancestor pointed out the abuse and the gullibility of theologians in South Africa.
Biko, pointed to the false prophecy, and the gullibility of theologians within the mainline churches such as the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church of Southern Africa as they were the key role players in the Church struggle against apartheid at the time. He argued that the black church has totally failed to break the chains of colonisation, dehumanising white Christianity. “The black church continued to believe in practising a theology that kept the bible captive to enslaving hermeneutic, and subservient to a Christianised, colonialised mind set.”
Biko who remains the black ancestor described the black church as the “poisoned well” from which black people are forced to drink. He argued that the black church, had failed to see that Christianity had gone through rigorous cultural adaptation from ancient Judea through Rome, through to London, Brussels and Lisbon.
Why was Steve Biko’s critique of the Black church necessary?
Reflecting on Biko’s critique of the black church we realise that Steve Biko was arguing that we cannot accept Western Christian theologies as the answer to the African problems. He was pointing out the eagerness of the black churches to accept John Calvin, Martin Luther and John Wesley as the only people possessing the true knowledge of God or how to come to God.
Steve Biko did not trust that western theologians born in the time of newfound lands can truly liberate the suffering blacks in Africa. Biko understood the role of religion in people’s lives. However, he couldn’t reconcile how churches like the Methodist Church that gave birth to the ANC and trusted by the people in their struggle for liberation can genuinely help the black suffering when their sole aspiration is to become white, is assimilation to whiteness.
Agreeing with the father of Black Theology in South Africa, I must attest that Biko was right to not trust churches like the Methodist churches as today we all affirm and evidently know that to be a true Methodist one must be fully in love with the English ancestor called John Wesley.
Evidently, despite the biological discrepancies so obvious in the basis of the western Christian religion, the African religions are still treated as merely superstition by those who belong to the “I Love Being a Methodist” brigade. Even today to be a true Methodist, and a true Christian one must stand against being African, as its expected of you to negate all African values, beliefs systems and ways of life and most importantly African spirituality. To be a true believer, you must take the western Christian religion’s logic because it is the only scientific religion.
In his article “Africa’s opium is the religion of others” published in 2015, Tinyiko Maluleke was right to argue that when Karl Marx made the statement ‘religion is the opium of the people’, he did not have Africa in mind. Reflecting on the coexistence of landlessness and religiosity in South Africa, I must agree with Maluleke and say ‘South Africa’s opium is the religion of others.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ms. Lerato Kobe is a Lecturer at UNISA, lecturing in the Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology. Most of her research work is focused on the Black Theology of liberation, reconciliation, forgievenss, justcie, and Desmond Tutu’s legacy in scholarly discourses. She is also a Desmond Tutu Ph.D Fellow at VU Amsterdam. Her passion for the liberation of the Black Child takes shape through her activism in social movements such as These Dam Blacks, Freedom Mantle, and others aimed to provide a platform for the political, economic and social liberation of black people.
We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Reverend Kobe for this engrossing and compelling article on the impact of colonial theology and the need for African scholars within the African Chrisrian movement to find adopt a theology that will unshackle the African child from the bondage of colonialism. Indeed the missionary churches are breeding toxic spirituality into the black soul and continue to serve the life killing Theologies that has rendered the black South Africans landless. May the Lord bless and keep you Mfundisi and may he cause his face to shine upon you.