A Nigerian pastor, Christianity Today, and the stereotyping of African Christianity

Yesterday, Christianity Today (CT) posted an article about Nigerian pastor who was arrested for using a human head in a religious ceremony – Dual Allegience.  A few quick comments:

  • First, let’s state the obvious. This pastor was arrested and put in jail; this is not normal; it is “news” because it is so extreme.  (Has CT become a tabloid?) The original article is over six weeks old – Lagos Vangaurd – 31 May 2008.
  • Why does Christianity Today rely almost exclusively on American commentators when doing an article about Africa? Even when they interview people in Africa, as they did during the Kenyan post-election crisis, they tend to interview exclusively Western missionaries. (There are exceptions, but this seems to the standard practice of CT.) Are they trying to imply that there are no African voices capable of speaking to these issues?
  • Note the gross stereotyping: e.g. ” . . . nearly all Christians engage in some form of occult practice . . .”
  • Prosperity gospel is a problem everywhere there are poor (name almost any popular TV preacher in America.) It tends not to be as big a problem in certain middle class settings because . . . well . . . they are, relatively speaking, already prosperous. Let’s not make it sound like it is a uniquely African problem.
  • Don’t let this extremely negative example of African spirituality blind us to the fact that the more spiritual worldviews of redeemed, African Christians have a lot to teach dualistic, Western Christianity. There is a long essay to be written here, but for the moment I dare say that some of the African “dual allegiance” comes from the dualistic worldviews that were brought by Western missionaries. Don’t hear this as disrespecting the great work of missionaries, but many didn’t have a theology prepared to address key African realities. A more contextual approach might have redeemed to some of these concerns from the very beginning.
  • Re: the last paragraph. Christians, both “real” and “nominal,” became the victims even as others participated. I know a few Liberian Christian soldiers, who felt like they didn’t have much choice of serving in the militia. Some told me that they were more strongly tempted to sin in ways they would never normally consider – including drugs and dabbling with the traditional “medicine” – during the war. Some overcame; some fell and had to repent later. We are all human, and each story is complex. One might say that the conflicts brought out both the best and the worst of everyone.

Some of the comments by others under the CT article get at these issues. I could take a few lessons from their more gracious tone ;-).

This is not to say these (and many other) problems aren’t a challenging reality here (and elsewhere); many pastors I know have been working hard to address similar concerns about dual allegiances. Still, to paint African Christianity in broad brush strokes that feed old stereotypes is unfortunately old-fashioned racism. It disrespects the great African saints who sacrificing daily for the gospel.

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