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ReligionChristianityCape Coast. Laments from the Global Christian Forum

Cape Coast. Laments from the Global Christian Forum

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By Martin Hoegger

Accra, April 19, 2024. The guide warned us: the history of Cape Coast – 150 km from Accra – is sad and revolting; we must be strong to bear it psychologically! This fortress built in the 17th century by the English received a visit from some 250 delegates to the Global Christian Forum (GFM)

We visit the underground passages, some without skylights, where slaves in transit to the Americas were crowded. What a contrast with the governor’s large room with nine windows and his bright bedroom with five windows! Above these dark places, an Anglican church built by the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel”. “Where hallelujah was sung, while the slaves shouted their suffering below,” explains our guide!

Most troubling is the religious justification for slavery. In addition to the fortress church and the Methodist cathedral a few hundred meters away, here is this inscription in Dutch at the top of a door, in another fortress located not far from ours, shown to me by a participant who visited it: “The Lord chose Zion, he desired to make it his habitation” What did the person who wrote this quote from Psalm 132, verse 12 meant? Another door has the inscription “door of no return”: taken to the colonies, the slaves lost everything: their identity, their culture, their dignity!

To mark 300 years since the construction of this fortress, the African Genesis Institute placed a commemorative plaque with this quote from a passage from the book of Genesis: “(God) said to Abram: Know that your descendants will sojourn as immigrants in a country that is not theirs; they will be slaves there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will judge the nation whose slaves they have been, and then they will come out with great possessions.” (15.13-14)

In the Cape Coast Methodist Cathedral

The question that was on my mind when entering this contemporary cathedral of the slave trade was asked by Casely Essamuah, the general secretary of the GFM: “where do these horrors continue today? »

A “prayer of lament and reconciliation” is then led in the presence of the local Methodist bishop. This verse from Psalm 130 sets the tone for the celebration: “From the depths we cry out to you. Lord, hear my voice” (v.1). The preaching is delivered by Rev. Merlyn Hyde Riley of the Jamaica Baptist Union and vice moderator of the World Council of Churches central committee. She identifies as a “descendant of slave parents.” Based on the book of Job, she shows that Job protests against slavery, with the defense of human dignity as a fundamental principle, against all odds. The inexcusable cannot be excused, nor the unjustifiable justified. “We have to recognize our failures and lament like Job, and reaffirm our common humanity, created in the image of God,” she said.

Next, Setri Nyomi, acting general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, with two other delegates from Reformed churches, recalled the Accra Confession published in 2004, which denounced Christian complicity in injustice. “This complicity continues and calls us to repentance today.”

As for Rosemarie Wenner, German Methodist bishop, she recalls that Wesley took a position against slavery. However, the Methodists compromised and justified it. Forgiveness, repentance and restoration are necessary: “The Holy Spirit leads us not only to repentance but also to reparation,” she specifies.

The celebration was punctuated by songs, including the very moving “Oh freedom”, composed by a slave from the cotton plantations in America:

Oh Oh Freedom / Oh Oh Freedom over me
But before I’d be a slave / I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free

Echoes from the visit to Cape Coast

This visit marked the meeting of the GCF. Several speakers subsequently expressed the impression it made on them. Mons Flávio Pace, secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity (Vatican), relates that during Holy Week he prayed in the place where Jesus was locked up, under the church of S. Peter in Gallicante, in Jerusalem, with Psalm 88: “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths”. (v. 6). He thought of this psalm in the slave fortress. “We must work together against all forms of slavery, bear witness to the reality of God and bring the reconciling power of the Gospel,” he said.

Meditating on the “voice of the good shepherd” (John 10), Lawrence Kochendorfer, Lutheran bishop in Canada, said: “We have witnessed the horrors of Cape Coast. We heard the cries of the slaves. Today, there are new forms of slavery where other voices cry out. In Canada, tens of thousands of Indians were taken from their families to religious residential schools.

The day after this unforgettable visit, Esmé Bowers of the World Evangelical Alliance woke up with a heartfelt song on her lips, written by a slave ship captain: “Amazing Grace.” He became an ardent fighter against slavery.

What most touched Michel Chamoun, Syriac Orthodox bishop in Lebanon, during these days of the Forum, was this question: “How was it possible to justify this great sin of slavery? » Every slave is a human being with the right to live with dignity and destined for eternal life through faith in Jesus. God’s will is that we all be saved. But there is also another form of slavery: being a prisoner of your own sin. “Refusing to seek forgiveness from Jesus puts you in a terrible situation because it has eternal consequences,” he says.

Daniel Okoh, of the organization of established African Churches, sees in the love of money the root of slavery, as of all iniquity. If we can understand this, we can ask for forgiveness and reconcile.

For Indian evangelical theologian Richard Howell, the enduring caste system in India leads us to forcefully reaffirm the truth of human beings created in the image of God, according to the first chapter of Genesis. No discrimination is then possible. This is what he thought about when visiting Cape Coast.

Dear readers, as we have been urged to recount what we saw in this horrible place and then experienced in the Cape Cost Cathedral, I have delivered to you this significant moment of the fourth global meeting of the Christian Forum, with the reflections that he aroused.

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