Monday, November 23, 2009

African Christianity and Politics

A strong piece of reflection from a Zambian ministry leader who we'll be spending time with this summer at Jubilee Centre in Ndola, Zambia...

Mark Noll is his book Turning Point states that David Livingstone’s, “lifetime activity in sub-Saharan Africa-as missionary, explorer, scientist, consultant to European governments, and antislave zealot-was guided by a firm belief that modern agriculture, energetic commerce and serious Christianity could together end the slave trade and ennoble African society.” Livingstone did not foresee any problem with the combination of imperial and Christian interests. However, the combination of colonial and Christian interest did create problems as the European began to use the missionaries’ to influence indigenous people to cede land to European companies. The land rights transfer to these companies included mining rights, game rights, governing rights, taxes and privileges of whatever sort connected with territory. This is why early missionaries are blamed for paving the way to colonial rule in Africa.

Today, Africa has not changed much. Instead of the combination of imperialism and missionaries’ interests, there is now the combination of Christian leaders and African political leaders interests. Africa is not short of credible Christian leaders who are engaging presidents of nations and leaders of local communities that our hope to overcome the ravages of HIV and AIDS and extreme poverty lies in “Christianity, Commerce and Industry.” However, a most serious difficulty for the Christian leaders in Africa is how to convince citizens that politicians who have biblical leadership qualities combined with skills are what will bring prosperity to the nation. Especially since the current structures of power in most African countries, and recruitment into them, seem destined to produce leaders for the country who enjoy less than honorable reputation of character-leaders who are uncommitted, practice tribal politics, and are corrupt and self-serving. In the later part of 19th Century the missionaries refused to represent Christ fearlessly and independently as to prophetically speak against the evils of colonialism. The missionary attitude was to visit the colonialists privately and have dialogue with them over a cup of coffee. This achieved little and it eventually led to a violent reaction by the colonized people of whom most were Christians and elders in the missionaries’ churches.

In the 21st Century the church in Africa has not generally lacked evangelists, pastors and teachers. No wonder the church is growing numerically fast. But prophets have been scarce in Africa. The situation in Africa today, as it was in the later part of 19th Century, requires prophetic power to address the sin of greed, selfishness, and corruption which is one of the causes of poverty, AIDS, war and oppression in Africa. With the growing Christian population and the combination of free market and democracy there is no reason why Africa should be bound in ethnic hatred and be failing to spread the benefits from its resources to the needy so that those who have much do not have too much and those who have little do not have too little (Exodus 16:16-18). The question is: are we preaching from the Bible with profound insights that our people identify with powerfully as seen in the example of the early church in Acts 2-4? May the church leaders not be blamed for paving way for selfish and evil political leaders.

Lawrence Temfwe

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