I have a pressing question, about the origins of Christianity in Africa, and mainly South Africa. I attended a lecture the other day that was discussing issues of race, the development of black South Africans, the plans of the former and current government and apartheid etc. How can one argue for Christianity in that sense, looking at how it was used by missionaries to change the mindsets of the locals and all other events which then led to infiltration and consequently ruling by the British, and how racism (by God-fearing, Christian people) was played out?
I find myself struggling with that whole concept, more so than the use of Christianity and the fear of the wrath of God to control people during olden (is it Victorian) times.
I really hope you can help me out on this.
If I understand you correctly then you are making a point about the credibility of Christianity in the eyes of so many people. To some extent many people on the African continent see Christianity as the religion of their oppressors (or at least of their forefathers’ oppressors) and associate it with all kind of wrongdoing, whether it was under British Colonialism or the South African apartheid government. This seems to put a question to the merit and integrity of a religion like Christianity.
I think the main point to consider in exploring this issue, is the fact that politics and religion have often been mixed together throughout the centuries to further particular agendas (which usually have to do with power and wealth). The sad fact is that Christianity in particular has often been abused by people who have tried to achieve certain political goals. In the process many people have formed a completely inadequate idea of what Christianity is actually all about. But I think it is important to recognise that you cannot judge the merits of an idea by how it is abused. So when one scrutinises Christianity, one should begin by asking what it actually says about issues such as racism, cultural domination or any other issue for that matter.
I think the spread of Christianity in Africa has often had the unfortunate element of cultural superiority associated with it. But this is a complex issue, because this cannot be said of all instances where missionaries worked or where European Christians, for instance, established themselves permanently in Africa. But more importantly, it is definitely not the case that the message of Christianity has the aim of undermining the culture it reaches out to. Of course, the message of Christianity do have the power to transform, redeem and affirm many things in all cultures since there are things in any culture that can be improved, corrected or acknowledged as good. But again, there is complexity involved here, for a particular culture is made up of all kinds of individuals with ideas and wills of their own. For instance, it is often so that when people are confronted with the moral standards of Christianity, they simply refuse to recognise their own moral failings. It is then easy for such people to claim that Christianity seeks to suppress or deny their culture’s unique expressions and traditions, when in fact it has nothing to do with their culture as such, but all to do with individuals’ refusal to come to grips with the moral standard of Christianity they are challenged with.
In summary I would therefore say that the important issues are 1) to be clear on what the claims are that Christianity makes and what the Biblical text actually says, and 2) to examine whether such claims are actually true and whether the interpretation of the text is sound (for e.g., the Bible nowhere claims that one race of humans is superior over another). Only then is it often apparent how people have twisted the ideas of Christianity for whatever reasons, or how they have misapplied (through ignorance or on purpose) it in particular instances.
Please let me know if what I say makes sense or where I have misunderstood your concerns, because I think it is important to resolve your struggle with this. I would love to further discuss this or any other issues you would like to raise. You are also welcome to meet in person if that ever suits you better. But I do find that writing helps one to clarify ones thoughts and questions, and receiving a written answer is often more thorough and something that one can come back to and review at leisure.