Photo: Deputy President William Ruto at a past church function in Western Kenya, he has conducted several harambees in aid of churches in Mt Kenya, Western and Kisii region.
By Wandia Njoya via FB
There’s faith, there’s culture, there’s theology, and there’s politics. They are all related, but they are not the same.
Faith is the religious belief that spurs action. But how that belief is celebrated and what action is inspired by that belief are decided by culture. In other words, people of the same faith are going to take different actions based on the cultures they are in.
Theology is the intellectual articulation of how that interpretation is done. In other words, theology explains faith by examining faith through culture, sociolgy, politics, economics and other disciplines.
Politics is the social decision making process about power and resources. So if faith is used to determine or contest decisions on resources and power, then faith becomes political.
Now, imperialists are interested in power and resources, which is politics. But they cannot come out openly and say “We want your resources and the power to dictate what you do.” If they did so, you would not welcome them but meet them with pangas. So what do imperialists do?
They hide their intentions by mixing up faith and culture, so that you are so busy talking about identity that you forget what is happening politically. The European missionaries said that African cultures were anti-Christian because African cultures were the barrier to imperial penetration. But by the 1950s, Americans had learned that Africans were not going to accept that argument any more. So what did they do?
They lauded African cultures as vehicles of Christian faith, and also suppressed theology. They said that all ethnic cultures are equal in Christianity, and Christianity is a supra-culture where we all bring our ethnic expressions as equals.
The equation of faith with culture and worldview is the most effective trick American Christianity has played on us. By calling Christianity culture, they forced Kenyan Christians to avoid political issues out of care to maintain a fake cultural “unity.” So Americans are able to bring American cultural products like worship styles, homeschooling and neoliberalism, but we were not allowed to say that this was because of US political and economic dominance. We were pressured to accept them as culturally neutral, or at least, give an African version of them. There was no langauge with which to question the political or theological dimensions of those cultural products. And then discussions of economics and politics have been suppressed by suppressing theology.
That’s how the Kenyan church remains the pillar of the neocolonial Kenyan state. The church suppresses theology in order to close off any spaces for asking political and economic questions. And then with biblicism, Christians can tell you that we cannot raise political and social questions because that is outside the bible.
Theology was crushed by intellectual laziness. The church went along with private sector in shouting about arts and humanities as useless, precisely because they knew that arts and humanities would question what the church was doing politically and economically.
And that is why Kenyan churches have no language with which to ask questions about harambee donations from politicians.
How does one get out of this stalemate? Not by misinterpreting Marx’s statement on “opium of the masses” or by arguing there is no God or that Christianity is colonial. That’s escapism. We have to fight fire with fire and return theology to the public sphere. We have to insist on theology: a discussion of faith in its context. We have to do the actual work of studying the context.
You can start by reading about the African independent churches, historical figures like Elijah Masinde and Simon Kibangu, and what Steve Biko said about black theology. Read the histories of Christianity that you will never be told about in church or in school.