Pastor-Scholar Agbali looks at inculturation and contextual theology as aspects of Christianity in Africa.
I have decided to lower my responses herein within this forum, as important as it might sometimes be to allow other voices as participants in constructing this dialogue. This is mainly because I am sensing that the field is getting narrower, and the players are getting fewer, as well as the focus is becoming limited to the dominant and interesting issue of migrants and diasporic home coming. Yes, while this interest is intriguing and of course demand great attention, it is my believe that other arena of Africa and African situations equally need to be discoursed about. I have found out too that given time constraints, I need not response to all and every issue herein. However, there is a significant one that let me put aside such view and to reenter into discourse, a kind of linguistic code-switching after a period of some pause.
The issue of African religions, Pentecostalism, Charismatic movements and African Christianity while raised in here as received very minimal responses and consideration. This is interesting for me given that John Mbiti, the renowned African religion scholar, notes in his book, African Philosophy and Religion (1970), p. 1) that Africans are not only religious but "notoriously religious." Sometimes I wonder whether Mbiti was not talking about spirituality rather than religion. In any case, in spite of such considerations, only very few scholars have responded to the issue of Pentecostalism and African Christianity that filtered into this space. As both a theologian, anthropologist, and sociologist I found this particularly interesting. Coupled with the level of what I know about the resilience of religion, and specifically Christianity and Islam in Africa, and the manner of its elevation within the African social polities, it was interesting how only very minimal number of scholars addressed this issue. Also, since the focal direction of this forum have pointedly being signified by immigration and diasporic discourse regarding return, struggles, successes, and challenges,
I am amazed that given the growing transnational African religious formats that now shapes the contours and define the spatial configuration of many American and European cities, that only very few have paid attention to this phenomenon. Given also that the sensors have enraised my antennae and intellectual observation I wondered greatly what this means about African intellectual emigrants (immigrants) as they settle in the West. Is settlement in the West synonymous with loss of the sense of religion? Or does this significant event in African live become less nuanced and therefore reduced in African scholarships and discourse? Or is this a sign of the transformation of critical consciousness that defines the self as the removal of a shell associated with colonial and imperial identity? Well precedents exists as we can see of the mode in which Azikiwe changed his name from Benjamin into Zik. Even, while not radically Nkrumah became interdenominational rather than the Catholic that he was previously, even though a Catholic Priest was very involved in the molding and making of the earlier Kwame Nkrumah. Okot P'Bitek, who was a catechist gave up his Christianity, following what he felt was the mode of living the lie of the Christian faith in the West and the indoctrination of non-Westerners to dominate their body and souls by Christian missionaries and ministry. Okot P'Bitek's own intellectual articulation is nuanced in his book, African Religions in Western Scholarship (Nairobi: Heinemann, 1970). Even, the famous Mahatma Gandhi noted that of Christians, when he noted that "I love your Christ" but dislikes the Christians for the incompatibility between their textual dogma and their lived experiences.
In the diasporic consciousness instances like this abound. In a racist society these issues can lead to a denial and rejection of the tenets of Christianity. Recounting a personal story, once while celebrating the Catholic mass in an hospital chapel in Detroit, Michigan, during the Kiss of Peace (expressed by handshakes), I had moved round the room as the presiding minister to each participants. I came to one white woman (nothing personal about the gender please), and she bluntly told me "I do not want to give you my hand, I do not want to be contaminated." Initially, I'd thought nothing perjorative about this thinking it had to do with her medical situation, until she quickly noted "you are not my kind," and moved on to shake others in the room. Well the truth of the matter was I felt degraded as a person, if I had gone to a Church and felt the same way, I would have said farewell to that Church. But I had to bear it, humiliated as I was, but the same person received communion later from my contaminated-maybe heathen hands- and even later requested my contaminated hands to anoint a sick relative with the sacrament of the sick, and for me to do all that I can to see that this patient "escapes" from damnation. Ironic, but this is a real and personal experience. Now, I laugh about it.
However, many Africans have and continue to feel that way, when they go to the church they have been raised or affiliated with from back home- Anglican, Catholic, Presbysterian etc.- to their utmost surprise. I have heard folks tell me how during the time of the same kiss of peace, Church folks move away from or circumvent folks of color during the sacred event of the Eucharist. Yet, unable to understand the nature of what they have been taught as to their worldwide member of this religious bodies, that afflicted with the disease of racism and denigration reduces their membership and humanity to flirt. Many while attending these churches do not feel at home, but feels highly their alienation. Today, the truth of the matter, is many folks are no longer attending the Churches they belonged to back home. Rather, the hype is that many who were Catholics, Anglicans, and other mainstream churches are now shedding their skins, and incorporating into African formed, operated evangelical and pentecostal churches that are forming and now dotting the spaces of various global metro-areas. As a result they seek for religious liberations within religious and spiritual institutions and idioms that give expression to their familiar and familial aspirations, especially of community. Also, these arena allows the full expressions of one to exercise cultural elements of Africanity, as these spaces are among the few ones where African clothings and attire, can be normative. In this case, one has no problem of the sometimes annoying statements that come from non-Africans, when they touch the Agbada (Babariga) and after admiring it, says it would be a good fabric for use to make a sofa! Or wondering why one is wearing an oversized pyjamas when one actually is wearing a kaftan.
Having noted the above scenario, Dr. Akrong's call for the studying of the fundamental issue of African Christianity is a cogent one. I guess it was in 1975 in Jos, such one study, actually a Conference led to the publication of an edited volume (Fashole-Luke, et al (ed), Christianity in Independent African (Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press). Since then different theological groups continue to meet and respond to the issues of African Christianity. Among these are the group of Ecumenical Association of African Theologicans (EAAT), and on national level this is taken place. However, this attempts have mainly been consigned to marginal academic jolly-jolly kind of events, without practical import for the articulation of a Christian or religious ethos that has functional significance in shaping social realities. Sadly, to take the instance of Nigeria, while the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had done a whole lot as an ecumenical and activist organization, it has failed to expound on an ecumenical level any tangible scholarly production that address issues affecting the course of Nigerian Christianity. While heavily invested on shaping politics CAN has failed to affect other arena of Christian and social import. CAN political agenda actually elevated it into a national organization, especially in 1986 when they stood against the Babangida's government registration of Nigeria as a member of the Organization of Islamic Country (OIC), and also ordered Christian readership nationwide boycott of the National Concord newspapers and others in its stable given that the publisher, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola's supported Nigeria's membership of the OIC .
Having noted all of these, theologically many Christian groups have and continue to sanction the purview of contextual and inculturation theology to better help to ensure the interpenetration between culture and Christianity. Contextual theology articulates an operational theology that while ensuring the sanctity of the specific dogma or corpus of belief utilizes events within the social environment toward enhancing understanding and faith. Inculturation theology, is similar to contextual theology in its attempt to order Christianity to utilize positive cultural paradigms from any given culture for the dissemination of its messages and critical enhancement of authentic Christian living. It is intended to mirror the mold by which Christ, as the son of God, and God himself, through his incarnation took the form of humanity, adopting and validating the human body and condition as good. These are actually similar in their scope. Contextual theology is mainly the name utilized by non-Catholic Christian Churches, especially those within the embodiment of the World Council of Churches (WCC), whereas the Catholic Church favors inculturation theology.
Without going into its discrete details these theological purviews offer an enrichment for African Christianity to embed itself within the mainstream and life of Africa. Hence, through partnering with different existential institutions, organizations, and individuals, and utilizing the interdisciplinary genius of African scholars and everyone, these theologies by opening up the space for discussion would help to vitally address, renew, and commit itself toward the enhancement of the African social polity. Of course, while talking about Africa, it has to involve the African diaspora communities as they too live out these manifestations, as well as adapt them significant in terms of environmental and social conditions of their diaspora. In this vein, it is regretable that during the last African synod of the Catholic Church (1994) only very few African theological experts were actually present offering their perspectives on the council floor held in Rome. Neither were many African intellectuals and scholars familiar with the event and its contents. The same is true of many other ecclessiastical bodies in Africa. Would it be possible that in similar events in the future that scholars, members of other religious communities would be involved in discussing the dimensions of the events and the debating the discussions itself. For one reason, I think that here America has a lot to offer us. The American media, starting with the Boston Globe helped to begin to bring into the public arena, and has succeeded in shaping the American Catholic Church's response to the issue of clergy's sexual abuse of minors. Can the African press be trusted to help generate such discussions without being too sectoral, sentimental biased and bigoted? Can African sociologists and anthropologists, as well as historians begin to critically examine the ecclesiastical and religious structures in Africa?
While noting these, we must acknowledge the many contributions of the various shades of African Christianity to the betterment of the African condition and social structures, through their educational and healthcare programs. I know that many scholars would note that these were associated with the colonization of consciousness and the consciousness of colonization (Comaroff, J and Comaroff J., 1992. Ethnography and the Historical Imagination; and Comaroff, Jean, 1985. Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People). In spite of all, the significance of Africans in utilizing Christiantity toward ordering their own spirituality that helped them go through the traumatizing situations on the continent should not be pushed aside. Also the continuing legacy of adding to the Christian repertoire new forms and voices to global Christianity should likewise not to consigned as ignonymous acts. The recent voicing of African Anglican Bishops to the diatribe on homosexuality within their communion, even if debatable, indicates that African Christianity have come of age.
Therefore, I intend to also encourage discourse on the issue of African Christianity, as well as African religions in general. This was a spontaneous attempt at addressing this issue, and not a very scholarly or intellectual attempt. Talking of which, I laugh at the idea of being identified by the term priest-scholar, or scholar-priest as it has become fashionable on this forum. I am not negating it, but I think that each person who looks at issues objectively is a scholar, without a specific attempt at occupational labelling. Just a last food for thought.