The Church as seen by a Young Layman: Unmasking the darker side of modernity in Christianity

The Church as seen by a Young Layman: Unmasking the darker side of modernity in Christianity
Published: 23 September 2018 (342 Views)
It is now forty one years since Steve Biko, the doyen of South African Black Consciousness Movement passed on. A part of this piece title is developed from Steve Biko's, I Write What I Like. Although Steve Biko may not be with us physically, his memories live on with much vigor as they were more than a generation ago. The paper was presented in 1972 at a Conference of Black Ministers of Religion, organized by Black Community Programmes at Edendale in Natal. Despite being a layman (not an expert in Religious matters) Biko's submissions point to an individual who challenged Christo-centric egoistic teachings of his time. The implicit arguments for Black Theology are articulated with important observations against a society which used Christianity for self-serving purposes. Four issues were highlighted, which are vital today and the future generations as they were over forty years ago. A decolonial reading of this chapter by Biko opens us new insights on current challenges encountered by the Church, the clergyman as well as the believer/s.

The first important major issue raised by Biko was that of a Christianity which sought to inculcate forgiveness to believers that is 'turn the other cheek' whilst facing poor people. Drawing from the archives, King Leopold ll of Belgium, in a letter directed to missionaries send to Africa in 1883 also echoed such teachings with beatitudes central to their message. The story of Christianity in Africa is not all flowery, as it also exhibits the 'darker side of modernity.' Beyond political domination in the colonial agenda was the need to 'colonise the soul' of the Africans. Thus the popularization of the three Cs. In their so-called civilization mission was that aspect of darkening the soul with Christianity. Africans are now directed to be forgiving by the same people who disturbed their religious systems, such is the irony and hypocrisy of the West. This however does not suggest that forgiveness is not an ethical thing to do but the very fact that it is directed by unconverted makes it problematic. The apartheid regime used the black-white divide to serve white monopoly in all facets of life. The South Africans are 'destitute people' in that their land, the root of empowerment isn't in their hands, twenty five years after their claimed independence. In that regard, Steve Biko's articulations remain vital and his memory has to be fed to the living young generation. Decolonization is not fully implemented when the man of the pulpit still preaches forgiveness without first and above all, the land injustices are not addressed.

The Preacher has to grapple with these issues openly. Even in Zimbabwe, some preachers have wrongly approached to the Bible in their sermons as the forgiveness button is pressed carelessly and without serious thought. The Herald Zimbabwe Newspaper,1 September 2009 had a story titled Refrain Your Tongue from Evil. In brief, the article pointed to the main reason for poverty among Zimbabweans as resultant of sinning. Obvious Vengeyi (2011) also critically engaged with such teachings from Pastors and the like-minded who fail to unmask the real factors behind poverty among Zimbabweans. In fact Vengeyi (2011) dismissed the gospel of prosperity preachers by situating the historical context in which poverty manifests in Zimbabwe. The story of South Africa cannot be ignored in this whole discourse as the scars of colonial inequalities are everywhere. As such Steve Biko's layman observations are worth addressing in contemporary Zimbabwe.

Tracing even from the time of Martin Luther King to the time of Steve Biko, the centricity of Christian doctrines in both the making and unmaking of colonialism has been extravagantly perceptible. The church in its centrality has pivoted numerous defacto ideological implications that make it contestable to dogmatically articulate the role of the church in projecting the praxis of decolonization. From a Euro-North America albeit Neo liberal narrative the church remains as a critical discourse legitimizing the Hegelian patterns of whiteness against the rest of the world. From a Marxian perspective, the church is still an elite project legitimizing the exploitation of the masses. In Africa both the neo-liberal and Marxist theories, still fail to account for the perceptions of black people towards the church.

Frequently the participation of black people in the institution is mistaken for their belonging to the discourse, very little is invested in extracting the actual causalities probing black people to attend or even practice the religion in a manner that is alien to their culture/ history. Many books and articles about religion in Africa have been written but by outsiders. In these writings a number of wrong and derogatory things have been said. Even worse, these submissions have led Africans to use those same wrong terms and hold the same ideas to articulate their participation and belonging to the church. Let us put right some of these wrong things.

The second area of interest is the obsession with bureaucracy and institutionalization. Far from the teaching of the Bible which is alien to the black people, white monopoly in leadership has to be confronted. Situational black theology becomes imperative as real problems affecting the oppressed and repressed are addressed. Truthful teachings shall among other things unmask the evils existing in the world and by so doing emancipate the oppressed. Thus believers should be encouraged not to 'suffer peacefully,' but to confront inequalities existing in our societies as they are.

What then is the 'church' to a native? Or what is the native to the church? Who is the church when it comes to the politics of epistemic disobedience? Steve Biko teaches us that all societies, individuals, ancient or modern, young or old, identify themselves with a particular religion, in the case that none exists one is developed. Therefore using the church as both an ideological construct and an ideological contrast, this article resolves that, in the same manner the church was used to de-culturalize black people, it is equally imperative for the same church to be used in reconstructing the metaphysical empire of the previously disenfranchised polity without any terms and conditions that derive legitimacy from the western Hegelian truth(s).

When calculating the politics of manufacturing a belief system, it is logical to conclude that every human should have their own deity/knowledge. Even from a Hegelian notion of a 'one deity' universe, interpretations of the communications to that deity/knowledge should not be homogenizing, any consistency to the later patterns of hegemony becomes antithetical to those phonotypical factors that form the thrust of reasoning. As such, any incompliance to the cause of pluralizing conceptions to the deity is tantamount to racism or a deliberate attempt to dismember_specific groups from the politics of being.

Thirdly, white hegemony is upheld with 'white equals value' approach. Christianity which puts the Africans at the centre in their response to particular problems of their daily lives is vital. The call for dismissing the centrality of whites in religious beliefs everywhere becomes a pertinent aspect. Black theologians should stand up for the task beforehand is huge.

Of recent the church has perpetuated its assault on indigenous knowledge systems. Very often, specific local knowledge(s) are excluded from practice on the basis of their parallel position to the discourse of the church. This perennially makes natives feel inadequate about themselves, feel guilty for just being black as if blackness is tantamount to being a spiritual misfit.

Since we have established that religion belongs to the people, no individual member of the society should stand and dismiss his people's religion neither should there be anyone standing up to command people to disband their own religion or their shared interpretations on 'the' deity and his works.
The church is a universal part of human life, of necessity it must have a great and important value otherwise by now most people in the world will abandon it completely. Of interest in this text was celebrating the life of Steve Biko through his splendid contribution to the body of knowledge using the church as a point of reference. In Biko's terms, religion in the same manner it was central in the conquest of black people it should also be central in the liberation of the same black people. From a decolonial perspective, the church should actively assume the mandate of undoing the coloniality of power. It can only do so if it shifts its emphasis from inculcating imbecility in the minds of an unsuspecting audience into inculcation spirituality of self consciousness.  
 
Finally, too much focus on specialization is emphasized on unlike anything. Due to monopolization and bureaucracy usually found in some churches, blacks should fight such that their voices and influence are well thought out. More worth remembering that Christianity was imposed by way of coercion rather consent. Although this may be debated, Christianity was not all good. It is the 'darker side of modernity' that Steve Biko unmasked to Africans, as such they remain relevant.

Brian Maregedze is a Historian and Author (membership: Leaders for Africa Network [LAN] and Zimbabwe Historical Association [ZHA]) bmaregedze@gmail.com

Tedious Ncubeis a Political Science and Public Management Researcher with Leaders for Africa Network [LAN]. TediousNcube@icloud.com

Disclaimer: These are their own views.

- Brian Maregedze and Tedious Ncube

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