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The role of the church in the quest for true humanity

By Sphelele Khumalo

I write not as a man of God, a self-proclaimed Prophet of the good news, a believer or a critic of the church but I write as a black man who is part of the wretched of the earth. The oppressed, alienated black population in a quest to find their true humanity in Africa, even in the diaspora, which is anti-black in form and pro-white in content and centralization. I still acknowledge the influence of the church surrounding and the influence of its power within the society I find myself in, in the institutions initiated to maintain and manage the perpetual civilization process of society.

The church contains much influence in maintaining the exploitative status quo in the post-colonial colonial South Africa of a new constitutional dispensation. The church emerged as one of the tools that maneuvered along with Western education through the interwoven relationship of the trio which constitutes cultural, economic and political spheres. Amid the seizure of the land from the rightful owners by the Western colonialists, the three spheres of a full nation were also seized as the land signifies the identity, authenticity and fullness of a nation. Its people identify themselves within that identity, fullness and authenticity as that of their land, if the land loses the three, so the people lose, as they cannot claim true humanity within the land that no longer exists in its fullness, authenticity and actual identity.

One who is seeking his identity in a world like a deep abyss can find interest in this biblical text in the Old Testament, Psalms 137:4:

‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’

Ngugi wa Thiong’o draws us to the same question when he juxtaposes the two verses in an essay published in his book Homecoming. According to the distinguished African novelist, the other verse which invites the church to act according to the biblical teaching rather than the interest of maintaining the status quo is accessible on the Book of Revelations 21:1:

‘And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven were passed away; and there was no more sea.’

Of course, for black people it remains far for them to see the new heaven as the black population is still drowning while searching for its true humanity in an anti-black world set with pro-white values and the whole perception reigning supreme continuously even in Africa.

Ngugi sends us to new horizons where the position of the church seems to come to a standstill position when it comes to the quest for the freedom of Africans on Earth. He asserts ‘the cries of the Psalmist are apt to our situation’ as black people remain under colonial power in post-colonial nations. Where does the church stand? Is there possibility that the church which has been used to maintain and normalize slavery in the past, today it can become a powerful vehicle towards our liberation?

He goes further to urge the church to take a positive position towards the quest to build a sovereign Africa for all Africans without the atrocious triumph and demonic ideology of white racism and its spheres.

“I believe that Christians with members of other organizations which avow humanism could help in the struggle to move away from the strange land of capitalism, neo-colonialism and Western middle-class culture. For this we may very well need to destroy the old temple to build a new, different one.”

Here, the words of the book of revelation ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth’ can successfully come into new effect in the context of South Africa, a country with a false democracy where a minority group of whites still holds the means of production while millions of indigenous people are drowning in endless poverty, hopelessness and continuously victimized under the factors of white racism. The church has been a monument for lies and half-truths just as institutions of learning. The exploitation-assimilative education taught in schools today holds the duty to maintain and manage the status quo while simultaneously being a Western factory that is breeding African Europeans who are proud to hold and practice Western culture foreign to them. Has the church moved away from the same position or does it remain an institution founded to justify inhuman acts of slavery and colonization?

Understanding the church from its metaphysical paradigms one would argue that the application of the church in Africa is quite amiss from what the church stands as in Europe. In Africa, the Church seems to be the mediator and ground leveler between the oppressed Africans and oppressive white community. One would argue that blacks are committed to the church more than whites are. Millions fill synagogues every Sunday with a hope and zeal that freedom is on its way. The Western powers presented the church to blacks physically, now the blacks are pushing the religious game.

In Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’, he clearly illustrates how the colonial settlers used the church and maneuvered the African indigenous religious systems and imposed the White God as the true almighty where no other Gods can exist rather than their God. In the novel, the village of Umuofia, amongst other African villages, are being threatened and destroyed by the Western settlers for the first time. Those who refuse to assimilate to the white community values and administrative ways are sent to the dark world of humiliation and terror. The imposition of Western religious systems on African, indigenous people sends Africa into a new abyss where there seems to be no way out except assimilating to the new system.

Through the assistance of the church, white foreign colonizers managed to morally justify slavery, colonization and exploitative pro-white centralized civilization. Today, the African land is in destruction because of the capitalist system which continues to perpetuate assimilation and exploitation of the African people. The church continues to play a huge role. In South Africa, one may note that townships continue to be filled with churches from corner to corner more than skills training providers or libraries. However, do the churches speak the language of freedom for all or do they preach the acceptance of the hardships with hope that ‘there shall be eternal life in heavens’? Blacks are already in hell, with townships as organized hells. There can’t be a better version of hell than that.

James H. Cone, who is recognised as the father of what is termed ‘Black Theology’, provides the role that the church can now take which is central to the emancipation of all blacks in Africa, and in the diaspora. The founder of Black Theology on a quest towards liberation argues that only until a church is working towards liberation for the oppressed does it qualify as a house of God, until then it’s only blasphemy. He writes in his book ‘My soul looks back’:

“Black theology must be a church discipline, true to itself only when validated in the context of people struggling for the freedom of the oppressed. Its chief task is to help the church to be faithful to the task of preaching and living the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ in the world today”

The church must be centralized to work for the liberation of the oppressed. In the 21st century filled with irreverence and intellectual dishonesty, where can the institutionalized church be placed? With its greatest concern not being realization of freedom for the oppressed but financial liberation of the few through masses drowning in poverty. Only until the church takes on the call of liberation for blacks shall it be removed from the ‘special protections services’ of the white capitalist retained status quo. Where the majority of blacks remain poor filled with the evangelistic belief that ‘in heavens there shall be forever lasting freedom and happiness’.

Same as Achebe as he states in his publication titled the Celebration failed to find himself as an oppressed black man in the middle of colonial South Africa in a white centralized novel. I also suffered the same fate when I could not identify myself on both sides, either the one for religion and the ones which question it. An English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and author Richards Dawkins identifies God in his book ‘The God Delusion’ as:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Being part of the oppressed, can send you to the conclusion that Richard is writing of the white God of slavery, colonization and fallacious democratic civilization. The God of the oppressed, is a black God fighting against the demonic acts of the white atrocious God. I can argue that the above mentioned God of white demonic philosophy was at work in Sharpville, Marikana and Langa making sure that the massacres took place. Therefore, the call for the church to identify with the struggle towards liberation of the oppressed is in place. Black people are oppressed all over the world.

The cries of the blacks have been going unheard for decades. For how long should the servants of the White Demonic God reign over a foreign land? The Black Church in Africa shall take the direction of black theology and move for the liberation of the black masses dying in poverty, drowning in debts, facing the unfortunate fate of hopelessness and landlessness. The church has power, but it can only choose to work for freedom of the oppressed or to maintain the exploitation of the oppressed.

Book Sources:

Achebe, C. (1958) Things Fall Apart, United Kingdom: William Heinemann Ltd.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, (1972) Homecoming, London: Heinemann.

Cone, James H. (1982) My Soul Looks Back, Nashville: Abingdon.

Dawkins, R. (2006) The God Delusion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.