We were really pleased to read the recent short report by Daewon Moon, Pentecostalism in African Christianity: the formation and scope of a distinctive spirituality.
He identifies African Pentecostalism as a distinctively African way of being Christian. Not only does this have its own indigenous African roots going back hundreds of years, it is also responding to and being shaped by African experience today.
Moon alludes to the importance of the grassroots, where Tamie’s research is focused. The pastors and the platforms may have the limelight, but Pentecostalism is about much more than that. African Pentecostalism is not a phenomenon to be explicated through its official, formal voices. You’re unlikely to encounter it fully in writing, or even on screen.
Moon’s comments about prosperity are very valuable. Questions about the prosperity gospel are hardly something Africans are unaware of; in fact there’s already a critical interaction going on. In Tanzania, people can well appreciate the difference between teaching on prosperity – which every Christian community seems to be engaged in – and the self-appointed manabii and mitume and their promises of fire and miracles. The women Tamie is working with are theologising about prosperity partly in response to this.
As Moon indicates, Pentecostalism is hybrid and hybridising, capable of working with both the traditional and the modern. For Africans, Pentecostalism is a way of being modern, but it also enables them to do so in a way that coheres with their thought-world and cultural background.
Where Western Christianities would often push the spiritual realm to the periphery, Pentecostalism enables Christians to acknowledge and interact with it. In Tanzania we see that the spirit realm is ever-present even in urban environments. In what is perhaps the tip of the iceberg, seeking spiritual power is part of public life with politicians consulting prophets and waganga (witch doctors) during election season (see this report at Al Jazeera). Rather than dismissing such things or framing them in (potentially neocolonial) terms of human development, Pentecostal communities teach people to resist and overcome the powers by the power of Christ.
For us, the ‘charismatization of African Christianity’ is not pejorative. We are witnessing communities discovering how to be successfully African and Christian.
Image credit: mbuyu flower by Arthur Davis
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.