Monday, March 16, 2009

Facing Racism and Heresy in the African American Community -part 2

This is the second part of "Radical Afrocentric Christianity, Black Liberation Theology & Black Nationalism: Facing Racism and Heresy in the African American Community." Please note that I have continued on with the same numbered end noting.

Afrocentric Christianity

Afrocentric Christianity has partly emerged because of the racists attitudes of Western scholars since the Enlightenment. Many scholars, including anthropologists, during the Enlightenment until the middle of the twentieth century believed the religions of Africa were simplistic and primitive. Along side of this they insisted that Africa was an inconsequential continent.

Various scholars have refuted such ideas. Edwin M. Yamauchi, Professor of History emeritus at Miami University, Ohio, in his book Africa and the Bible, pinpoints those guilty of maligning the peoples of Africa. He names several, including David Hume, George Hegel, and C. G. Seligman “who applied social Darwinism to African ethnography, formulated the `Hamitic hypothesis,' which held that Caucasian Hamities, including the Egyptians, created everything of value in Africa.”6 This was an attempt by Seligman to insist that only light skinned peoples contributed to civilization in Africa.

Another scholar, Thomas C. Oden, recently retired Professor of Theology at The Theological School of Drew University, in his book How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, writes of the greatness of early African Christianity. He concludes that early Christianity in Africa has been, at least partly, discounted by religious scholars because they simply, in their modernity, rejected ancient Christianity.

He writes of the “young Africa,” stating that “It is at once a very youthful survivor of wearisome modernity, and a most ancient, early, and, in that sense, young expression of both early Christianity and ancient Africa.” 7 Thus the Church of the centuries was shaped in its beginning by the early Church Fathers and Mothers of Africa.

African scholars, both American and others, have written extensively on the culture and religions of Africa in a successful project that disproves many of the caricatures of African religion.8

One important book is by a Pastor and Professor at the University of Bern, John S Mbiti. His book is African Religions and Philosophy. Another is The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a common Moral Discourse, by Peter J. Paris, Professor of Social Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary. All of this scholarship feeds into the attempt by some African American Christians to return to their religious and cultural roots.

Radical Afrocentric Christianity: The divide among various Afrocentric Churches comes in the context of religion which for some passes over into racism and heresy. That is, some look back to indigenousness African religions, mixing them with their Christianity. They then lift up their culture beside a weakened and distorted Christianity. Those who have began syncretizing other religions with Christianity or including culture as a means of God's revelation I am referring to in this paper as radical Afrocentric Christians.

An example of this is one Presbyterian Afrocentric Pastor who has suggested naming the biblical God using African names such as “'Amen' `RA' and `Olodumare.'” He states that such naming would be acceptable since the African views of a high God are like the biblical view of God.9 But the gods he has named, while they may indeed have some common traits with the biblical God, such as omnipresence and omniscience, are neither Triune nor redemptive. In fact writing of the religions of Africa, John S Mbiti points out that none of them offer redemption in their belief system. He writes:

"This remains the most serious cul-de-sac in the otherwise rich thought and sensitive religious feeling of our peoples. It is perhaps here then, that we find the greatest weakness and poverty of our traditional religions compared to world religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. These traditional religions cannot but remain tribal and nationalistic, since they do not offer for mankind at large, a way of `escape', a message of`redemption' (however that might be conceived).10"

One must quickly add, it is only Jesus Christ dying on the cross, God coming to us in flesh and offering himself up in sacrifice, that is truly redemptive. The God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the truly redemptive God. It is the Incarnation and the redemption of Jesus Christ which sets Christianity apart from all other religions

Non-radical Afrocentric Christianity: On the other hand, other Afrocentric Churches and Christians are simply seeking roots in their own ethnic cultures. For instance, they attempt to re-value African cultural norms by focusing on the community and family rather than the individual. They incorporate African dress, music and even rites of passage that are grounded in African culture.

Some African Americans, who are not Afrocentric, nonetheless suggest ways the black experience can enhance the whole Church, both black and white. Anthony J. Carter, who is a Reformed Christian, reaches back to biblical themes rather than indigenousness Africa religions. He sees that the early and contemporary African American Christians bring to the whole American Church a great gift, that is, its knowledge of how to be the Church in the midst of suffering. In Carter's book, Being Black and Reformed, he writes:

"If the predominantly white church in America desires to know the reality of a providential relationship with God in the midst of oppression as repeatedly demonstrated with ancient Israel, she need only plumb the depths of the rich heritage of her darker brothers and sisters. There she will not only find the most illustrative analogy of ancient Israel, but also find a people who have struggled with the pain of oppression and often tyrannical forms of discrimination and yet have joyfully witnessed the sustaining hand of God.11"

6 Edwin M. Yamauchi, Africa and the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2004), 206-207.

7 Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity,(Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press 2007), 30-31.

8 See, “Peter J. Paris, The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1995); John S Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, reprint, (Heinemann 2006); Eugene D. Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made, (New York: Vintage Books 1974); Gayraud S. Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans, third edition (New York: Orbis Books 2006).

9 In E-mail on file.

10 Mbiti, African Religions, 96-97.

11 Carter, On Being Black and Reformed, 84.

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