The question of the week: Is Christianity a white man’s religion?

Science shows that the human brain can perform 1016 processes per second. It means that our brains are more potent than any computer currently in use. However, this does not fundamentally imply our brains are infinite. My calculator can do math thousands of times better than any genius – dead or living. Mostly our memories are often less than hopeless. We are subject to cognitive biases and logical fallacies, and we hardly can help ourselves. These irritating glitches in our thinking can cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. And this could explain why some of us (Africans) believe that Christianity is a white man’s religion.

What we have not been told.

I am happy because all that I learnt about the Missionary Movement in Africa did not only come from formal education. Was this to be the case, then I would have arrived at the same conclusion that Christianity is a white man’s religion. False premises equals false conclusion.
It is indispensable for each Christian to learn Church history. Without a fitting grounding in Church history, we become soft targets for militant atheism. Their aim is apparent: to vehemently fight Christianity and assign the blame for the world’s tribulations directly at the foot of religion, and in this case, Christianity. I have seen people who cannot differentiate Christianity from purported Christians try to blame Christianity for every ill in society. It is utter lunacy!

Perhaps, in history classes and phoney websites, we were taught that missionaries came to Africa and convinced us to close our eyes for prayer and by the time we opened them our land was gone, and their Bible was in our hands. Partly, that is what I learnt too, and it is a convenient account to swallow hook, line and sinker. It is simplistic reasoning, as it does not tax the brain. The question is, did the missionary do that?

Rarely were we taught about the incredible price paid to bring the gospel to Africa and other parts of the world. And this gospel was more than evangelism; for it came with health, education and other benefits (I know black supremacists will be on my neck for this). No one told us that they were ravaged with tropical diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis, dengue and typhoid fever (These preventable diseases are still killing us many years after independence). The mortality rate among missionaries was high, and basic science can answer the why question. Precisely, malaria (still an old nagging headache for Kenyan healthcare system) changed Africa to missionaries’ graveyard as can be demonstrated in a message written by Alexander Murdoch Mackay of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) to a committee back in Britain: “I want to remind the committee that within six months they will probably hear that one of us is dead. But…when that news comes do not be cast down, but send someone else immediately to take the vacant place.” It is reported that within three months, one missionary was murdered, two had given up, another had contracted fever. Within a year two more had been killed, and within two years Alexander Mackay was the only of the eight missionaries left alive in Uganda. He survived 12 years, dying of malaria at the age of 40.

To the West of Africa (Ghana), Andreas Riis similarly said: “Let us press on. All Africa must be won for Christ. Though a thousand missionaries die, send more.” This level of sacrifice was a familiar rhythm lived out by missionaries. They seldom stopped even when they ran out of medical supplies, food and money. The results were two: Christianity gaining a foothold in Sub-Saharan Africa and missionaries perishing like flies– dead in their prime.

This narrative contradicts the self-serving, controlling and imperialistic tale promoted by those who want to look at history with confirmation biases.
A Sociologist by the name Robert Woodberry was fascinated by the evident correlation between democracy and Protestantism. In a comprehensive paper that ended up into an broad research project, Woodberry concluded that: “Areas, where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past, are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.” This was the summation of his 14 years of research—published in 2012 in the discipline’s apex journal of American Political Science Review.
Woodberry documented highlights of missionaries Alice and John Harris, who photographed abuses in Belgian Congo and brought it to world attention.

In Botswana (Southern Africa), John Mackenzie was influential in helping to create a land protection agreement. Positive developments were also forming in South Africa courtesy of Trevor Huddleston who published a trenchant critique on apartheid. It brought the unjust apartheid system to the world stage. The paper was called Naught for your Comfort.
It is manifest that many of us have confused Western culture with the gospel, and as a consequence, we may have a somewhat or entirely erroneous view of what Christianity is in the first place.

Our distorted history

Our history, as Africans, is warped. That is why it is unreasonable to lay full blame on those who have never taken time to know the complete history of our vast continent. We have been deeply brainwashed to the extent that we think Christianity and imperialism are synonymous.
The view that the white man (not the bodaboda guy in Nyeri) used the Word of God for his advantage and to our detriment holds some truths. But as we have observed, it is not the full portrait.

Why is this view factually and logically erroneous?

First, who said the Jews of the Bible were white? White people, in strait-laced definition, is restricted to Europeans. In substantive meaning, there is no white human being. Even if Christianity was to be white man’s religion, does this render it false and thus unfit for Africans? People who propagate this line of thinking also need to stop using technological and scientific inventions and discoveries of Nazi Germans – and they are many.
Logically speaking, we do not determine the quality of an argument by looking at its origins, but by carefully examining its properties.
I tend to think the Eurocentric view of Christianity is the basis of these weird conclusions. The white Jesus is a European invention.

Second, according to Pew Research, the majority of Christians are not white. In 2011 there were an estimated 70 million Christians in China alone, and the population is north of 350 million in the ten combined countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, ten Asia-Pacific counties combined, have over 250 million Christians. In America, the number was placed at 246 million.
As they say, figures don’t lie. The conclusion that Christianity is a white man’s religion does not hold water statistically.

Third, Africans have always been part of the Church from inception. Christianity never landed in Africa, for the first time, via slave masters (mark you the early slave masters were Arabs and not Europeans). History reveals that Africa had a considerable Christian population before Slavery, and European Imperialism came knocking. For example, in the book of Acts (Acts of the Apostles is considered true historical accounts by the majority of historians), we encounter Ethiopian Eunuch, who could have been the first non-Jew disciple or convert. He was the Treasurer for Queen Candace (Acts 8).
Tradition has it that this same eunuch travelled back to the African nation and spread the gospel. A significant number, including the Queen, converted. He became a bishop and died as a martyr.
As we move on, we should not forget that the Church began at Pentecost. And at the Pentecost, as recorded in Acts, Peter preached to people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds: Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Cyrene (Africas), Cretans and Arabs.

Thus we can see the first Christians were representative of the entire known world. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41

Fourth, Christianity was thriving in Africa as early as 180AD. There are documented stories of African martyrs (around Carthage) as early as 180AD. Majority of these martyrs had refused to acknowledge the Roman Emperor as god. By the year 200 AD, there were many local churches in Egypt.
By the end of the third century, Northern Africa had been planted with Christian flags.
Southwards, Ethiopia and Nubia (Sudan) were the only two African civilisations with Christians but not under Roman rulership. The discovery in 1962 of a Cathedral in Feras attests to this. The cathedral had decorations of 169 splendid paintings of dark-skinned Nubian kings, queens and bishops, and biblical figures, and saints. There exist written records from Christian Nubia containing religious text – the Gospels, lives of the saints and their liturgical documents.

Documented history notes that Faras was converted around 543 AD following a mission initially sent by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. However, it is imperative to note that there had already been Christian missionaries in the kingdom before this. Therefore we can comfortably say that the exact date of Christianity’s official adoption is unknown. My observation is that people who lived in Kenya at that time may have made contact with Christianity as Nubia neighbours Kenya.
Nubian Kingdoms survived for 700 years, resisting attempted domination by Muslim conquerors for 600 of those years.

Conclusion

It is indeed true that there have been white Christians who have dishonoured the Christian faith and have exploited it for their tainted ends. That can be said of any dominant world religion or worldview system.
We can also say that about atheism and scientism, which have also taught the inferiority of Africans. But we must quickly – as I mentioned earlier – distinguish between Christians and Christianity. Christianity is not necessarily what Christians do, but what Christ and the Bible teach (You do not judge a worldview by its abuse). I must also say that we do not make our claims acceptable by priming audience with adverse information about the opponent. We do it by evaluating the claims and claims alone. For example, you cannot tell the audience that Germans cannot be trusted as leaders because they practiced Nazism years back. It is logically fallacious.
Professor John Mbiti (an African Philosopher and authority in African Theology) in his book The Early Church in Africa, rightly argues that the message of Jesus spread all over Africa before it ever reached Europe. “Christianity in Africa is so old that it can be rightly described as an indigenous, traditional and African religion,” says Professor Mbiti.

Egyptian and North African scholars such as Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo and Clement are generally acknowledged as fathers of the church.
The names of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth should ring a bell too.
In conclusion, the assertion that Christianity is a white man’s religion does not follow. It is boarders on a non sequitur.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV). 

References

  1. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race(Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 68.
  2. Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: OldTestament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), Ex. 12:37. Logos Edition.
  3. “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population,” Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2011, accessed July 28, 2019, http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Christian/Christianity-fullreport-web.pdf.
  4. Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century(New York: Knopf, 1990), 51.
  5. Carl Davis, A Brief History of Christianity in Africa(Unknown, 2015), 92-93, Kindle.
  6. Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 95, Kindle.

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