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Christian and African

August 4, 2006

Here is an interesting article from the BBC about Christianity in Ghana.

When I was there in January meeting with church leaders and theologians, I could sense the struggle written about in this article. Church folks wrestled with the question of how to be both distinctively Christian and distinctively African. “How do we affirm,” they seemed to ask, “that God knows Africa and Africa knows God? And how do we follow Christ without giving up our identities as Africans?”

That may seem like a weird question here in the US where we take our citizenship and ethnicity as a given, and religious Americans take our religion as a given. We take them for granted to such an extent that we confuse the two – we tend to believe that being a good citizen and being a Christian are one and the same. We blend the two together so seamlessly that we start to think that God is an American and we confuse the rules of citizenship with the heart of Christianity.

(These days a lot of folks think being a Christian and being a Republican are the same thing, but that’s a topic for another day!)

Consider this: many Christians remain in an uproar about the failure to have crosses, prayers, and the 10 Commandments in public schools and courthouses. Yet the US flag in the sanctuary, patriotic songs and Veteran’s Day – Memorial Day – 4th of July celebrations in church are accepted uncritically and without a second thought. So before anyone cries out “syncretism!” at African Christians for attempting to retain their African culture, we need to look in the mirror. An awful lot of what we in the west take for granted as part of Christian life is really the American way of life. If these Africans are guilty of syncretism, so are an awful lot of us.

So what is it that makes one distinctively Christian? How do we go about understanding the local cultures in which our churches are situated in order to facilitate worship that is distinctively hometown and Christian?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. PamBG permalink
    August 5, 2006 10:05 am

    Interesting Will. The church where I did my placement was about 2/3 African and the minister was also African. He refused to allow libation rituals at funeral vigils in the church; the previous white minister had permitted these. I don’t know what “the right answer” is, but it’s a tricky question, I think.

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