It is not uncommon to hear a black man reject Christianity because of its aid in colonisation. We can’t deny that most missionaries that came to Africa and found half naked women and clothed them as part of their missionary journey. In the western culture breasts are sexualised to the extremes as compared to the African culture past. The missionary saw the exposing of the breast as sexual and not fitting for a Christian.
What started as cosmetic changes on how people looked, expanded to what people are called. The missionary didn’t just demand that clothes be worn, but also for the new convert to have a new name, a ‘Christian name’. This intrusion of the missionary’s culture in the converts’ culture continues even today. Today, many pastors can’t wrap their heads around lobolo as a legitimate mechanism for marriage; thus, demand a western ceremony. This results in many African converts delaying marriage because they feel the need to fulfil both the western and African marital requirement.
In today’s global climate, the conversation of race and identity is very heated and necessary. People are trying to understand who they are and how to be who they are in this world with its past. I can’t cannot address this matter in general manner, as I believe that true identity can only be found in God. Therefore, I want to talk to the black Christian (or would be Christian but turned off by the westernisation of it) that is finding Christianity and its past to be a bitter pill to shallow as an African.
Firstly, we are in the same boat. I never used to understand the struggle, until I wanted to get married. It really didn’t make sense to me, that my wedding had to reflect a western culture in order for it to have legitimacy before the church. It seemed that God was indeed a white God. But, in those times of deep reflection, I realised that there is no biblical position that for a wedding to be legitimate before God it has to be western looking. In fact, there is barely any biblical basis for the so called “Christians weddings” we see today. In fact the only white robe I can think of from the bible, is worn in heaven by men. So how did we end up with this over archiving western narrative of Christ- given that Christ Himself was not western.
There is a long story, rooted in history that could answer that question. But the simple truth, is that God has trusted fallible men with an infallible message. Although, the message was delivered correctly and many were converted; the challenge is that fallible man also had his own ideas of how holiness looks, and imposed that on the converts. In the same manner as the missionaries, my pastor told me as a child that chewing gum was unholy. That never actually made sense to me, but for him holiness means concentrating in church and chewing gum is not concentrating. The challenge for these missionaries is that they wanted to be able to observe and report evidences of salvations. And some unintentionally, thought that the way church looked in their homelands is the way it should be everywhere. Africa was largely evangelised by European missionaries; hence, our practices. The missionaries came from churches that were western and they thought real church in Africa is also western looking.
I will be the first to tell you that they were wrong in trying to make us look like westerners. If they were right then heaven would surely look western. But according to Revelations 5, heaven is ethnically, racially and linguistically diverse. God is not looking to create a mono culture to send to heaven, but he is creating an expression of Himself in every culture. Therefore, the African culture has something to express about God and “westernising” it is to limit that expression. Every culture has an element that it must express about God.
However, in all cultures including western cultures are things that are contrary to worshiping God and those things in every culture should be abandoned for God. For example, in African cultures ancestral worship is a big thing. But through Jesus, we have direct access to God without a need for any other mediator. It doesn’t make sense to still have ancestors intercede for us because we have direct access to the Father. Therefore, to continue to use ancestral mediation is to misunderstand or undermine what was achieved on the cross.
If like me you have had to wrestle with being black and Christian, I want to assure you that Christ is not white and God loves diversity (racial, ethnic and linguistic). Just put every effort to rid yourself of those things in our cultures that take the place of God, everything else keep doing. Marry through lobolo, beat drums in your worship expressions and dance like no body’s business. Because God wants to express something unique about Christ, through your African-ness.
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