On the internet in “Black Consciousness” and “Empowerment” circles it has become popular to spread myths regarding Christianity. In essence the argument is that the African only became acquainted with Christianity via chattel slavery. That Africans had no contact or association with the Christian faith prior to the Transatlantic Slave trade and that the White oppressor forced conversion under the threat of death. These notions are primarily founded on the teachings and writings of men such as John Henrik Clarke, Yosef Ben-Jochannan and John G. Jackson.
I will be first to admit that a form of Christianity was utilized to sacralize Whiteness and “as an instrument of social control, to produce “obedient and docile” slaves” (Lincoln, 200). But just about anything you can point to has been and will be abused in some fashion throughout history. However for the record the aim of making Africans and their Black descendants compliant was accomplished moreso with things “such as laws, illiteracy, and an omnipresent threat of extermination” (Ibid.). So even if Christianity was not a factor those other tools would have proven quit effective just in the same fashion they appear to work very well at present during a time when Black people have the freedom to choose their own faith, spirituality or none at all. There are many “I am bout it, I’mma bang on a kracka” militants on social media that are not Christians and propagate these anti-Christianity campaigns but is still passive. Outside of social media they fear death, they are generally reliant on the White Supremacist system and couldn’t even bust a grape. Yet I digress.
At this point I will venture and say that the African encountered Christianity prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery in the Americas. Africans has a long history with Christianity prior to the existence of America the country. Christianity entered Africa shortly after its initiation in the first century in Jerusalem. One source says:
“Christianity first arrived in North Africa, in the 1st or early 2nd century AD. The Christian communities in North Africa were among the earliest in the world. Legend has it that Christianity was brought from Jerusalem to Alexandria on the Egyptian coast by Mark, one of the four evangelists, in 60 AD. This was around the same time or possibly before Christianity spread to Northern Europe.”
Looking back in time one will see that Jerusalem was located on a trade route and Greece then Rome eventually began to rule that area of the world. All areas under their jurisdiction was connected. There was converts to Judaism from all areas and eventually there was Christian converts from all walks of life. Also there was apostolic (1st century) or FIRST GENERATION missionaries sent to proclaim the Christian gospel. This means that people that may have actually hung out with Jesus, Peter and Paul took Christianity straight to Africa right after it began.
One of the first groups being the group that these Black Conscious types love out of all the Africans (To some no other Africans exist). I am speaking of the inhabitants of Kemet or Egypt. Even prior to the birth of Christianity because of earlier conflicts and subjugation by Egypt there was Jewish settlements in Egypt. The 4th century historian Eusebius of Caesarea in the 320s wrote “They say that this Mark was the first to have set out to Egypt to preach the gospel, which had already written down for himself, and the first to have organized church in Alexandria itself” (Oden; 208-9). In other words Eusebius related that the guy who wrote the book of Mark that’s in the Bible today set out to formally take Christianity to Africa. Eusebius was not the only one who held to this position, it was deeply held within the context of the historical Christian church prior to him. Egyptian Christians are called Coptic Christians. The work Coptic Civilization: Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Egypt edited by Gawdat Gabra the Clinical Professor of Coptic Studies at Claremont Graduate University states:
“According to tradition, the Egyptian Church was founded by Mark the Evangelist. A fragmentary letter of Clement of Alexandria (second century) mentioned that Mark wrote his Gospel during Peter’s sojourn in Rome, and after Peter’s martyrdom he came to Alexandria . . . By the end of the second century, extant documentary papyri testify to the presence of Christians in Egypt. Some of these fragments which were found in Middle-Egypt reflect the expansion of Christianity during this time along the Nile valley” (Gabra; 19).
Two other areas that will be briefly mentioned is Ethiopia and Nubia. Ethiopia is indebted to the Coptics because much of “Ethiopia’s Christianity had come from the Egyptian Coptic Church” (Burton 26). One of the oldest church buildings in the world is of Ethiopian origin. Regarding both areas we learn that:
“NUBIA (in present-day SUDAN) and ETHIOPIA became . . . strongholds of Christianity in Africa. Unlike Egypt and the Meghreb, these areas had not been part of the Roman Empire, and thus its imperial politics had little influence on the course of Christianity in these regions. Christianity arrived in Nubia with and monks and traders in the fourth and fifth century . . . a Monophysite form of Christianity became the religion of the kingdoms of Nubia. In the region of modern-day Ethiopia, the leaders of the kingdom of AKSUM converted in the fourth century and likewise adopted Monophysite Christianity” (Gates and Appiah 67).
Switching gears to address the fact that to imply Black folks first encounter with the Judeo-Christian deity was via slavery and they totally lost their original faith is false. While people can claim that early on Black people was forced to a degree to accept a version of Christianity that was not always the case. Many hid their original African deities etc. within the form of Christianity enforced on them. They maintained their indigenous worship within plain sight.
The Historical Dictionary of Shamanism under the heading of Vodou says “Various forms of animist ancestor veneration and possession . . . that originated in West Africa and evolved by integrating elements derived from Christianity in the Caribbean and its diaspora during and after the slavery era” (233). In Brazil prior to “1888, when all forms of slavery were abolished in Brazil, candomblés also referred to sizable jamborees and gatherings celebrated on the enslaved Africans’ free days. They provided opportunities for the faithful to honor African deities cleverly disguised as Catholic saints and were one of the first concrete examples of African resistance and agency” (Omari-Tunkara; 3).
More could be said but this should suffice for a blog article. At this moment some may wonder who the hell I am and what gives me the right to question these men and their work. Well to answer that I must be frank and say that while I have not put in as much time as they have in attempting to elevate my people’s minds I can say this. I am currently trying not only to elevate the Black mind but I am also trying to elevate them economically in more than just talk. Also academically I have a Bachelor of Science, a Masters of Arts and a full Master’s degree and additional credits valued at a third Master’s degree from a regionally accredited college and university. Also I am currently enrolling in a PhD program at a South African graduate school. I am a published author and business man. I think I am standing on good ground when I say the things I do.
Burton, Michael C. Deep Roots: The African/Black Contribution to Christianity: a Study of the African/Black Personalities of the Bible, African/Black Church Fathers and the Major Contributions of the Early Black Church to Christianity. Bloomington, IN: IUniverse Inc, 2008.
Gates, Henry Louis, and Kwame Anthony Appiah, eds. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. 2nd ed. Oxford: : Oxford University Press, 2005.
Harvey, Graham, and Robert J. Wallis. Historical Dictionary of Shamanism. Lanham, Md. [u.a.]: Scarecrow Pr, 2007.
Lincoln, Charles E., and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Durham [u.a.]: Duke Univ. Press, 1991.
Oden, Thomas C. The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2011.
Omari-Tunkara, Mikelle Smith. Manipulating the Sacred: Yoruba Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candomblé. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 2005.