By Patrick Matabeni
This piece was taken from a correspondence between Patrick Matabeni and a friend from the Seventh Day Adventist church. These are his thoughts which form part of a long struggle to article the Black agenda in a predominantly white church.
I’m of the view that the whole gamut and edifice of Christianity is neo-colonial. We see this in the myriad of images and conceptions that reinforce colonialism, from white images of Jesus to a sedative theology which makes blacks docile and servile in the face of white supremacy. The current dominant theology (which is a close ally of white supremacy) helps us in no way to revolutionize society and fundamentally address social problems unique to blacks.
I further think that a decolonized church is inconceivable in a colonized society, this then means our desire to decolonize must be evidenced in our commitment to a politics of decolonization because by decolonizing society we’re inevitably engaged in decolonizing the church, which exists in society.
This kind of reasoning is informed by the Marxist view that people’s ideas are structured by material conditions. Ideas in society (what Gramsci would call “common sense”) are just but a reflection of ruling class ideas. Religion therefore echoes the dominant ruling class ideas in society which have been internalized by the masses.
Our structural position mediates even the kind of prayer we pray, hence we can’t pray the same prayers as whites because they occupy a different socio-economic and ontological position. Malcolm X once made a beautiful analogy of the difference between the master’s prayer, the house negro’s prayer and the field negro’s prayer. Ironically they all pray to the same “God”.
I argue that real and material social solutions lie less in the religious space than in the socio-economic and political space. I make these distinctions for categorical purposes, not that I’m oblivious to the nature of the intricacy they assume in most times. In essence, I’m arguing that decolonization is fundamentally a political project to which religion must be aligned to.
So a certain theology affirms a certain politics, even if parading as ‘apolitical’. Theology in this instance becomes political fronting. The construction of slavery, colonialism and apartheid (and their theological justifications) is instructive here.
Christianity (and Adventism) descended in the African soil with a civilizing and paternalistic impulse (powered by rendering the African as a savage, barbaric and heathen) that dispossessed us politically, socially, religiously, culturally and most importantly ontologically.
I think the first step in imagining a decolonized (SDA) theology is to recognize and acknowledge that we have a neo-colonial theology which at the present moment doesn’t assist us in changing our material conditions by ushering an “Eden moment” wherein oppression is non-existent.
We must problematize a God interceding in the Most Holy post 1844 but has absolutely nothing to say or do about the material conditions of blacks besides telling them about the eschatological mansions, streets of Gold and seas of glass while whites possess mansions and stolen gold as we speak.
We must start teaching black liberation theology in our institutions as a way of building consciousness in relation to our own people and reconstructing a theology that is socially engaged.
In the context of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church, our theologians, philosophers, and other academics who are black must engage the church’s theology through research, writing and publishing about our perspective as black Adventists.
Maybe we must talk about a black General Conference (GC) president. Maybe we must also talk about having our own Africa GC wherein our money will ultimately go to.
We must bring the West to the Fanonian realization that the wealth and splendor of the West is predicated on the pauperisation of Africa hence the importance of an Africanized Adventist economy. Basically, we must demonstrate how many of our African countries ought to run by effectively running our own churches and institutions as inspired by our values of a decolonized morality and spirituality.
So the task is big I guess, and might not even be fulfilled by the current generation. But let’s lay the foundation at least.