Black Theology, edited by Basil Moore (Hurst & Co. £2.50)
When a friend suggested recently I should review Black Theology, I nearly refused, saying I was neither black nor. a theologian — in fact I usually run a mile at the sight of a theology book! Once persuaded, however, I was glad he had persisted, for it turned out to be far from a cliche-ridden theology book, and has a lot to say to white Christians.
It is a collection of essays and talks by black South African ministers and pastors (James Cone, a black American :theologian being the one exception) edited by Basil Moore ol ;the Student Christian Movement, and sets out to dis!cover what it means, and should mean, to be Christian and black.
The writers are no armchair theorists. the Rev. Manas Buthelez.i has been banned from South Africa for five years. The Rev. Sabelo Ntwasa is under house arrest, and the Rev. Mongameli Mabona is in exile in London. Their crime is to have taken part in conferences and discussions on black theology, and to have written the sort of ideas which appear in this book.
The message is certainly bold and dangerous if you live in a country like South Africa. Briefly, it is this — that Christianity is a freedom movement, for Christ was a member of an oppressed people, black and poor, and he came to set them free.
The Jews were "black" in the sense of being racially, socially and economically inferior to the Romans, and Christ, being a Jew, was one of them. He came to free them; not in some mystical unseen way, or violently, from Roman dictatorship, but in a very tangible way from whatever bondage they were enslaved to. It was not the "Jesus Liberation Front" or secret arms caches which made the authorities fear Christ, but the fact that the blind saw, the lame walked and the sinners were pardoned, and that their own might-is-right hold on the people was being loosened by a force they did not understand.
I have paraphrased all this rather crudely. Ananias Mpunzi puts it better; "You, black person, are unique. Your longing to express your uniqueness is the stirring call of Clod within you. So don't let anybody try to fence in your unique being. Throw off anything that would attempt to do so."
Other contributors develop different facets of this theme. Akin Omoyajowo, looking at Christianity in Africa, notes that there are no fewer than 6,000 independent African Church movements, with rapidly rising membership.
Garrick Sokari Braide, of the Niger Delta, won more converts to Christianity in a space of two years during the 1914-18 war than the Church Missionary Society had won in the same area in the previous 50 years.
Omoyajowo shows that these Churches are genuine expression' ol' Christianity IA Africa, no less than the white Churches — "the effectiveness of the ministry of these Churches illustrates the fact that God can speak to the Africans in their own language and in their own tradition and cultural setting."
Mongameli Mabona explains how liturgy is one way which has helped to alienate black people from Western forms of Christianity. He says: "Present so-called Christian worship is full of mysterious signs and mystifying ritualistic gestures . , . 'are we communicating with an aristocratic or a capitalistic God who wants the little people to be very well behaved or even muted when they approach his majesty?
"Let there be less cringing and scraping in liturgy. Let us be apostles of more freedom and spontaneity in worship."
These black Christians are saying, in other (and clear) words, that Christianity is not the white man's property — neither its worship, its teaching, nor even its structures — and that black people must rid themselves of their mental slavery to this idea if any other liberation is to happen.
For Christianity is about being black and oppressed, and about being liberated. This being the case, Black Theology has a lot to teach white Christians, We have had a ratheronesided picture of Christianity after all?