Bible as a tool for spiritual alienation: Part Six……pentecostalism and national security


THERE cannot be a worse threat to national security than cultural annihilation.
Indeed, King Leopold’s reign was initially ‘legitimated’ with reference to the need to combat (Arab) slavery, even though his own exploitation of the indigenous population came very close to slavery, exacting a death toll of genocidal proportions among the indigenous population.
The Church is thus implicated in these ‘crimes against humanity’ (as they would be labelled in modern security parlance).
Christianity also played a central role in providing theological justifications for the introduction and maintenance of apartheid, often referred to as a special case of colonialism.
In South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church was thus all too happy to support the regime from the very beginning until the late 1980s, when it finally came around to admit the incompatibility of Christianity and apartheid.
However, the South African Council of Churches had, by the late 1980s, come under black leadership and it played an important role in the struggle against apartheid.
There were, however, several exceptions to the rule of missionary support for colonialism, e.g. in the form of (at least verbal) support for African resistance or more substantial support for the victims of the brutal counter-insurgency campaigns of the colonialists.
This was, for instance, the case during the Herero War in the German colony of South-West Africa (Namibia) (1904-5), where the missionaries both petitioned for mercy for the defeated rebels and protested against the genocidal form of counter-insurgency applied by the colonial army – thereby paving the way for an almost complete conversion of the Herero nation to Christianity in the aftermath of the war.
Even during the insurgency, some resistance seems to have been motivated by indigenised forms of Christianity and in the following period Christian converts occasionally used their new religion as a means of asserting their national identity, thus spurring a ‘passive’ (in the sense of non-violent) resistance.
This could, paradoxically, even involve the demonstrative use of such ridiculous emblems of European culture as the use of top hats by indigenous clergy, as persuasively argued by Philipp Prein:
Africans did not so much decide between adapting and rejecting Christianity; rather, they appropriated its idioms and struggled for access to them against the claims of the mission.
They defended their notions of Christianity against German claims to possess the only valid interpretation.
Indeed, in this sense Franz’s resistance represented a sincere threat to the colonial system.
It did so not because Franz planned it that way, but because ultimately the colonial system was unable to deal with African thought, culture and action.
Whereas the Christian missions and churches were initially manned by whites from Europe or the US, as well as controlled from the overseas, even before independence most African churches had become ‘Africanised’.
In some cases (as that of the rather bizarre Kenyan ‘cliterodectomy crisis’ described in the section on Kenya below) this was a result of a clash of cultures.
In others, it was the result of a learning process, in the course of which missionaries came to realise the inherent limitations of the initial paternalistic approach.
Still in others, it was a simple matter of a shortage of personnel, necessitating the training of indigenous preachers.
Some of these African clerics later became proponents of African rights, national consciousness and even independence, as was the case of, for instance, Rev Edward Blyden, one of the first African nationalists.
In any case, this Africanisation not only entailed the establishment of independent African religious institutions and a growth of the African share of the clergy. It also affected the substance, as the new forms of Christianity (in most cases, but not always) became more ‘flexible’ in their attitude to indigenous belief systems and, perhaps even more so, religious practices, hence partly syncretic – processes which have continued after the attainment of independence.
This was, to a limited extent, the case of the growth of the strong Kimbanguist movement in the Congo, founded in the colonial period and recognised as a church in 1959.
It is, to an even greater extent, the case of some of the more recent ‘charismatic’ (or even ‘ecstatic’) Christian sects which have become very prominent on the religious scene in Africa, including pentecostalism.
Pentecostalism is, by far, the most rapidly growing Christian movement (if so it is) in the world and especially in Africa.
Some estimates have it that Africa is home to 41 million Pentecostals, whereas other sources count as many as 126 million.
Even if the numbers are thus controversial, nobody is disputing the basic facts, i.e. that pentecostalism is growing very fast (not least in Nigeria and the rest of West Africa) and holds the promise of becoming the world’s leading form of Christianity and of making Africa the centre of Christendom.
Perhaps significantly, the most recent conference of the Pentecostal World Conference was thus held in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2004.
And these signs will accompany those who believe: “In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues. (Mark 16:17)
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. (Acts 10:44-48)
Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:2-6)
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)


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