JUDGEMENT OF AFRICAN CHRISTIAN IDENTITY

JUDGEMENT OF AFRICAN CHRISTIAN IDENTITY

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Daniel Evbotokhai

There have been many projects that attempt to undermine African identity. In fact one cannot overrule the work of many scholars who have made every attempt to erase Africans from the surface of the earth; let alone the derogatory statement made about Africans. For instance Hegel is known to have said Africans are irrational. Placide Tempels countered him when he argued that Africans are rational beings in both thought and reason. As a matter of fact, many Africans’ scholars have convincingly expressed their frustration at the lack of engagement of these people with the traditional, cultural and religious realities of Africans.

The question of African Christian identity has indeed occurred as a prominent subject in many growing theologies. It is commonly said that when water flows in a dirty pipe it flows both with the dirt in the pipe. The coming of Europeans to Africa has the good side and the bad side. It is true that they brought Christianity to us but it is not true that they gave us the sense of the Supreme Being. Ali Mazrui expresses that the thrust of African theology was to demonstrate that the Christian God had already been understood and apprehended by Africans before the missionaries came.  Before the coming of the westerners, Africans were serving God already.

However, when Christianity eventually came to Africa, it came to Africa with the cultural practices and believes of the Europeans. The Christian missionaries aimed at a technical knock-out of African culture. And in a statement credited to Obierika in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart it would seem that this was a fait accompli. He remarks: Now, he (Whiteman) has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.  Therefore, there is need for Africans to eliminate those things which intrinsically are not part of the Christian doctrine. This is the goal of African Christian identity.

In line with this, there have been scholarly arguments by many Africans to assert the existence of Christianity in Africa. For example, Bediako says Christianity could comport well with Africans if it is accepted as a non-Western religion. But for him, it needed to be stripped of its Western garb, brought naked before the tribe, and then clothed with proper African colors. Again, Jude Emeka Madu in his article Honest to African Man: Basis for the Evolution of Authentic African Christianity says that although African church men and theologians had been insensitive to this ugly situation until quite recently. The sailing through of the Zairean rites in the Catholic world is enough encouragement for any African theologian to venture into this quest for authentic African Christianity. In fact, who would have imagined that the African ancestors would be invoked with their Western counterparts in the Catholic Eucharistic liturgy? This is a worthwhile and valued effort and if other traditional areas of normative importance to Africa are explored and used as a matrix for the evolution of authentic African Christianity, then we can claim that herein lays African Christianity.

Furthermore, considering the exponential increase and large numerical strength of Christians in Africa, one would think that the effect of Christianity would be deep rooted such that we can talk of African Christians. To this end, Okeke attributes this frustrating situation to the exotic theology, rituals, symbolisms, and thought patterns which the Church still parades for the Africans to swallow.

Another very important view  was the one given by  Bolaji Idowu and John Mbiti, they argued that African theology is engaged to shape Christianity in an African way by adapting and using African concepts. They gave an analysis and interpretation of the African traditional religion and point to its relation to the Christian faith.

To further make Christian identity in Africa realistic in recent times, African evangelicals have also begun to wrestle with the quest of developing a Christian theology which has African context in mind. In this direction, African evangelicals have taken initiative to develop an African Bible commentary. Even though this is not a critical commentary, it shows a quest by African evangelicals to engage traditional and contemporary issues in Africa from an evangelical perspective.

More so, African evangelicals have also taken initiative in the development of Christian ethics and systematic texts which engage the various issues facing most African Christians. For example, Samuel Kunhiyop has engaged Christian ethics and systematic theology from an African evangelical perspective. Similarly, Matthew Michael has engaged systematic theology from the vantage point of African traditions. In spite of the strides registered by African evangelicals in the quest for an African theology, there is still need for African evangelicals to move pass their initial distrust of the quest for an African theology and to chart new perspectives or redirection of this quest.

Conclusively, this is a challenge for us to deepen our reflection and research to assert a true African Christian Identity. This remain a very controversial enterprise, scholars may continue to fasten their belt, roll their sleeves and await in hope the day the westerners will come to agree to the fact of the African perspective in the practice of Christian worship and faith.

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria. He was ordained October 20th, 2018. He offers his daily homilies, talks and articles that bother on, faith, theology, morals and many other burning issues in religion and politics. Fr. Daniel writes poems, inspirational quotes and clips.