When people ignorantly spew spurious gnosis, some of us are tempted to respond to them with the episteme of the gospel. I read a more or less anonymous article published by City Fm online, under the title captioned above, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. As a student interested in religions, I have always followed the dictum that ‘the believer is always right.’ This is not to deny the fact that I have sometimes grudgingly challenged this principle underlying the study of religions. But regardless of the problematic nature of this principle, we still need to respect the rights of the believers to represent their religion. But that is not to say that what they say cannot be subjected to empirical scrutiny.
Two factors have compelled me to write a rejoinder to the topic: first, as a Christian, I am obliged by the injunction in I Peter 3:15 to provide answers to whoever questions the validity of my faith as a Christian. Second, as a student, I feel challenged to share with the reading public what I know about homosexuality and Christianity in Africa. These two reasons coincide with my quest to set the records straight.
First of all, it is about time we deconstructed the false notion and myth that Christianity is un-African. Any casual student of history will come to the conclusion that Christianity was in Africa since the first century. The book of Acts, a book that provides the historicity of early Christian missionary activities, alludes to the fact that there were Africans among the first century Christians. Church history, authored by secular historians, also admits that there were Africans among the first century Christians.
The gospel accounts provides us with evidence that the man, who was called to assist Christ to continue the journey to Calvary was Simon of Cyrene, an African. It must be stated that the relationship between Africans and the Judeo-Christian culture dates back to the pre-Christian days. Africans had interacted with the patriarchs in several instances before modern history. Africa has always been the place God used to redeem His chosen people, the Israelites, from extinction. A clear example is how God used Egypt as the rightful place to resolve famine, which was a potential threat to the survival of the Israelites. Jesus as an child was saved by Africans when Herod was after His life.
We should note that most of the historical doctors of Christianity, who formulated the dogmas of the Christian faith, were Africans. Suffice it to mention a few of them: Augustine, Tertullian, and Origen. These great thinkers of the Christian faith were all Africans. These individuals are widely celebrated because of the roles they played in the formulation of fundamental Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus, the personality of the Holy Spirit, and the original sin (the total depravity of man after the episode of the Garden of Eden).
Is Christianity foreign to African culture? Usually, those who ask this questions have some assumptions that are very flawed. These assumptions include the assertion that Christianity is foreign to African culture; Christianity destroyed African culture etc. What I think should be the right question is: ‘Is Christianity foreign to any human culture?’ If we frame the question this way, we are able to properly ascertain whether the Christian message was foreign to any culture. Here, I want to state that Christianity is foreign to all cultures. There is no culture that is inherently consistent with that of Christianity. All cultures, since the fall of our progenitors, have deviated from the core culture of God.
The fall of man, recorded in the book of Genesis, had a complex and comprehensive effect on every facet of man, including culture. The fall tainted also our biological disposition, which has corrupted some aspects of our instincts. Following the fall of Man (in the generic sense), we all deviated from the culture of God, and had our genes badly tainted with evil, hence homosexuality. So, Christianity has always proven to pre-exist every culture. What cultures have done is to adapt to the Christian faith. There is no human culture that is distinctively Christian. All cultures smack of corruption. So every culture that encountered Christianity had to make some adjustment to accommodate the Christian culture. This explains why Jesus was very critical about the Jewish culture, which had suffered from deep-seated corruption prior to His incarnation. Similarly, when Christianity was introduced to Rome, the Roman culture had to make some changes, especially when the church became a state religion in the 4th C.
Yes, Christianity was introduced to some parts of Africa in the 15th C, but if we are to follow the sequential logic of events, we will come to the conclusion that Christianity was in Africa before the birth of the United States of America, the perceived Christian nation on earth. In the 15th C, Christianity did not thrive for complex and diversified reasons and so there was a resurgence of missionary activities in the early part of the 19th C. Again, if we are to follow the logic of history, it will be clear that Christianity was in Elmina, for example, before the birth of the United States of America.
Again, to sneer at Christianity because of the political morass and morality that has taken a nosedive, including homosexuality, is a weak argument. Corruption is not the predicament of only Africans. The recent scandal that rocked FIFA, leading to the resignation of Sepp Blatter, is an exemplification of the universality of corruption and also shows how the sinful nature of man manifests in all societies. Yes, Africa is underdeveloped, but to accuse Christianity for the continent's underperformance is to be ignorant of history. It is clear that the causes of Africa's underachievement are very complex. But we need to situate Africa's challenge within the context of history. First, the twin evils: slavery and colonialism (I know some scholars including Neil Ferguson and Adu A. Boahen provide some justification for the 'benignnes' of colonialism) contributed greatly to Africa's predicament.
To show how much colonialism and slavery undermined Africa's progress, Marxist scholars including Walter Rodney have argued that colonialism actually did nothing good for Africans. Rodney actually states, 'Africans entered colonialism with a hoe, and came out with a hoe." Related to this point is the myth that Christianity was the brainchild of these two evils. From history, we know that there were three distinct Europeans who came to Africa with three distinct interests. Though at a point interests overlapped and were conflated, it is clear from the annals of history that the Missionaries, the Merchants, and the Mercenaries had different interests.
This explained why there were occasional conflicts among Europeans over the slavery and colonisation of Africa. Again, usually we tend to homogenize all Europeans as far as slavery and colonialism are concerned. This mistake is a misreading of history and a fallacy. Burbank Jane and Frederick Cooper show in their book, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, how in Europe, many Europeans contested slavery and colonialism. In Britain, Paul B. Rich in his book, Race and Empire in British Politics, brings to the fore how differences in opinion with respect to colonialism, greatly polarized the British. In the book, Rich argues that the two major political parties in Britain at the time had no uniform ideas about colonialism.
In post-colonial Africa, international politics could also explain the underdevelopment of Africa. The West is now very much secularised and yet they are the brains behind the challenges of Africa. Most of the brains behind the looting and pillaging of Africans are simply not Christians. What is more to link moral degeneration to Christianity is also a feeble argument: Was Hitler a Christian? Was Mussolini a Christian? Usually, some people make reference to the crusades to chastise and also attack the credibility of Christians to discuss social and political. But a superficial reading of history will reveal that the so-called Christians used Christianity as a charade to achieve a political goal. To show that the crusades, the inquisitions, and slavery were all motivated by political interest, the late Pope John Paul II in his several speeches in the 1990s apologized to the world for all the atrocities that we committed in the name of the church and God. We are yet to read other religions that participated in slavery apologizing to the world.
Now, is homosexuality African? This question is lame. The question should be, ‘are we right to romanticize the African past?’ Or is homosexuality alien to any culture? And what do Africans mean when they say homosexuality is un-American? There is attempt by most people to attribute perverse sexual practice to an external source. I have argued in several of my journalistic articles on homosexuality that homosexuality, as a depraved sexual orientation, is not un-African.
In fact, several pro-homosexual scholars have proven beyond doubt that traces of homosexual practices obtained in some societies in pre-colonial Africa. So, yes, some cultures had homosexual practices. But to argue out of the blue without any evidence that there were homosexuals among the Asante, to the extent that some of the Asantehene(s) might have been gays is inane. Again, I am studying in Uganda, and most of my Ugandan friends, some of whom are simply not Christians and usually critics of Christianity, have contested the assertion that one of the Kabaka(s), usually Mwenga II, was a homosexual. This allegation is seriously contested among Baganda people in Uganda.
Now, to the main issue: what do Africans mean when they say homosexuality is un-African? First, homosexuality is un-African because the practice was never in the public domain: there was never an attempt to transpose the practice from the private space into the private space. It was never celebrated as the norm. In the few instances where homosexuality had been cited in Africa, a close reading will reveal that the practice was the exception rather than the norm. And usually they were limited to the metaphysical world.
I know of the Sangoma, for example, in South Africa. But the rites associated with homosexuality were excluded from the public domain. One feature of rituals is that they defy logic: that is why they belong to the metaphysical world. So, in the realm of rituals, what is unacceptable in public life or normative life is acceptable. Have you not read bizarre rituals undertaken by Sakawa boys? Satanic activities are usually encroached in aberrations. What is foreign again about homosexuality is the attempt by the West to shove down the throat of Africans a sexually perverse practice in the public space: the attempt to legalise what is supposed to be private.
Lastly, is the Christian Council of Ghana caught in the state of homophobia? I don’t think the Christian Council is homophobic. The Christian Council is not asking for the lynching of homosexual, neither are they demanding discrimination against them. What the Christian Council is asking for is that the sate should not go the way of the United States. We should not legalise immorality.
In conclusion, I will like to add my voice to the call of the Christian Council for the government of Ghana to come clean on the homosexual issue. It is obvious that the Americans, the so-called the superpowers of the world, would want to spread this satanic practice. So, Mr. President you have precedence: Mr. John Kufour in 2006 disallowed the holding of homosexual conference in Ghana; in 2011, the late John Evans Atta Mills explicitly expressed a negative attitude towards homosexuality in Ghana. We are therefore requesting you to do the same. In relations to homosexuality, am against two things: legalizing the practice, and lynching and discriminating against homosexuals.
Charles Prempeh ( [email protected] ),
Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University, Uganda