white man's religion

Kongolese Christianity in the Americas of the 17th and 18th Centuries

By: Dr. David Daniels

 Since the shape and contour of Kongolese Christianity in Africa is a contested topic within the study of Christian history, its presence within the Americas is even more controversial within academic circles. This paper strives to outline the ways that scholarly proponents of Kongolese Christianity as a religious movement indicate how it exhibited itself in the Americas. This paper contends that Kongolese Christianity was a discernible current within the stream of early diasporic African Christianity in the Americas by building upon the work of scholars who explore the presence of the Kongolese and Kongolese Christianity in the Americas: John K. Thornton, Linda M. Heywood, Jason R. Young, Jane G. Landers, Michael A. Gomez, Elizabeth W. Kiddy, James H. Sweet and Karen Wanjiru Ngonya.1 With a focus on intercontinental linkages between Africa and South America as well as North America, this paper strives to veer away from the debate about africanism and African retentions. Rather, the discussion focuses the contributions of Kongolese and Angolan practicing Christians along with their nominal Christian counterparts as well as non-Christian Central Africans. For all these populations, they recognized Christianity as a religion that had Kongolese and Angolan adherents. These three populations participated in varying ways in creating a religious climate in the Americas that was conducive to enslaved Africans embracing Christianity. For the latter category, while Christianity was not their religion, it existed within the Central African religious orbit in which they operate. While this paper resist identifying Kongolese Christianity solely in terms of a set of doctrines, practices, or institutions, there will be a discussion of the role of institutions such as confraternities and practices such as “the ring shout.” The discussions of these elements are only meant to point towards the existence of a Kongolese Christianity as a religious arc or thrust.Rather than enter a debate about the location of these elements on a continuum of Christian expressions, a contention of this paper is how Kongolese and Angolans identified themselves as Christians. In this paper, it will be argued that Kongolese Christianity was a contributing factor in the emergence and development of Christianity among people of African descent throughout various communities within the Americas during the 17th  and 18th  centuries.


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David D. Daniels III joined the faculty of McCormick Theological Seminary in 1987 and was inaugurated Professor of Church History in 2003.

David received the Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, in 1976, majoring in religion and economics. In 1979 he obtained the Master of Divinity from Yale University. During his years at Yale, he was a Benjamin E. Mays Fellow for the Fund for Theological Education. David earned a Ph.D. in Church History from Union Theological Seminary in New York in May, 1992. From 1979 to 1983 he was instructor of Religion at the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH.

David has been a member of the American Academy of Religion since 1989, the Society for the Study of Black Religion since 1993 and the Society for Pentecostal Studies since 1979. He is a member of the steering committee of the Evangelical Theology Group and Afro-American History Group of the American Academy of Religion. He is a member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Pentecostal International Dialogue. He has served as commissioner for the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches U.S. A. for the 1988-91 quadrennium and has participated on consultations sponsored by the National council of Churches in the United States and the World Council of Churches in united States and Costa Rica.

He is author of various articles on the history of Christianity and book reviews published in Theological Education in Pneuma, Christianity Century, Encyclopedia of African American Religions, and A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions. David also served as an advisor to Legacy of A Leader, a 1991 video documentary on Charles Harrison Mason. He serves on the editorial committee of a new history of World Christianity project funded by Orbis Press.

David serves as a member of various research projects: Religion in Urban America
directed by Dr. Lowell Livezey and the Funding of Black Churches project directed Dr. Thomas Hoyt. He has served as a member of the Lay formation and Education Project directed by Dr. Dorothy Bass and the Wesleyan/Holiness project directed by William Faupel. He has served on the advisory committee of Contextualized Urban Theological Education Enablement Program directed by Dr. Edith Blumhofer.

David has lectured at various colleges and seminaries in the United States, including Northern Illinois University, Alma College, Adrian College, North Park University, Butler university, Lewis University, and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He has also lectured at the Bossey Institute in Switzerland, the Spiritan International School of Theology in Attakwu, Enugu, Nigeria, the Cheikh A. Diop University of Dakar, Dakar, Senegal, and Emmanuel College of Victoria University at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

David has been an ordained minister in the Church of God in Christ since 1980. 

Early African Christianity: Ethopia

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part III

By: Dr. Vince Bantu

One of the primary reasons that the majority of African-Americans and other African-descended people in the diaspora have rejected the Christian faith is not, as one might expect, theological contentions regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ. New religious movements emerging from the African-American community during the past half-century address the majority of their anti-Christian invective not against Jesus but the implication of the Christian faith in state-wide expressions of white supremacy at the expense of black bodies. The missiological telos of the Kingdom of God being fully reflected among every people group implores us to celebrate the full story of the universal Church, especially as it developed in Mother Africa. Ethiopia has stood as a symbol of African pride—as the oldest independent African nation—and of African Christianity as the bearer of an ancient Christian tradition that is inextricable from Ethiopian identity itself. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tawähïdo Church maintains the tradition that the Queen of Sheba mentioned in 1 Kings 10, after her visit with King Solomon, had a son name Menelik who became the first monotheistic king of Ethiopia. Church tradition also holds that the eunuch of Candace mentioned in Acts 8 was Axumite and was the first to preach the Gospel in Ethiopia. While it is likely that Christianity first came into Ethiopia as early as the first century, the fourth century is the terminus ante quem for the introduction of the Gospel in Ethiopia as several notable historians and Church fathers attest to the presence of an established church hierarchy in Ethiopia during this time. The Egyptian Pope Athanasius as well as the fourth-century Roman historian Rufinus mention a Syrian slave named Frumentius who was raised in the imperial court of Ethiopia who evangelized the royal family. After being ordained the first official bishop of Ethiopia by Athanaius, Frumentius discipled the Ethiopian king Ezana who was the first king of Axum to introduce Christianity as the state religion of Ethiopia. Shortly after this time, Ethiopia received a group of missionaries called the Nine Saints who have been thought to have come from Syria and who further advanced the growth of Christianity especially in the northern rural provinces. The Nine Saints introduced monastic practices, opened monasteries that still survive today, and taught the Miaphysite doctrine of Christ existing in one person and one united nature—which was the reigning view in Egypt and Syria. The Ethiopian Church’s name Täwahïdo means “being made one” or “unified” and is based on this fundamental doctrine. One of the Nine Saints—Abba Garima—is thought to have been the translator of the Garima Gospels—translations of the Gospel accounts in the ancient Ethiopian language which is still used in liturgy called Ge’ez. Originally thought to have been translated in the twelfth century, recent radiocarbon analysis has firmly placed these manuscripts in the fifth century during the time of the Nine Saints. This makes the Garima Gospels not only the oldest surviving Ge’ez manuscripts, but the earliest biblical manuscripts from any country accompanied with decorated paintings. While the Byzantine Roman Empire frequently persecuted Miaphysite (“one-nature”) Christians in Syria, Egypt and Nubia, an alliance was formed with Ethiopia to rescue persecuted Christians in the Arabian Peninsula. A Yemeni Jewish leader of the Himyarite Kingdom of Southwestern Arabia named Yusuf ibn Sharhabeel began forcing conversions upon Christians on pain of death. This caused the Byzantine Roman emperor Justin to seek the help of Ethiopian king Kaleb to rescue the Arabian Christians. Despite the fact that both the Ethiopian and Arabian Christians maintained a Miaphysite confession—and that Roman emperor Justin severely persecuted Miaphysite Christians in Egypt and Syria—the Romans nonetheless aided Ethiopia. Kaleb’s victory over Yusuf consolidated Ethiopian control over southern Arabia, liberated the Christians from persecution and ended the Himyarite Empire which was founded in the second century BCE. During the reign of Kaleb’s son Gabra Masqal, tradition holds that the unique Ethiopian liturgical style was developed by Saint Yared. The unique system of liturgy emerging in Ethiopia is called Degwa and consists of three characteristic styles of chant: Ge’ez (unadorned and simple), ‘ezl (deep and solemn) and araray (lighter, more decorative). This uniquely African Christian style of worship has been a central feature of Ethiopian Christianity for centuries and is connected to the sixth-century figure Yared. Yared is said to have been transported to Paradise where he received a vision of three celestial birds which represented the Trinity and transmitted this musical gift for the Ethiopian Church. When the imperial capital moved from Axum to Lalibela at the ascension of the Zagwe Dynasty in the twelfth century, King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela commissioned the construction of nearly a dozen magnificent rock-hewn churches named after various sites in Jerusalem. The Ethiopian kingdom centered in Lalibela continued under the Solomonic Dynasty which witnessed the composition of the Kebra Negast (“Glory of the Kings”); a comprehensive history of Ethiopia connecting the imperial lineage to King Solomon. Ethiopian Christian literature flowered during this time with examples such as the Kebra Negast, Fetha Negast (“Law of the Kings”) and the writings of George of Gasetcha. George is one of the earliest writers in Ge’ez for which an identity can be firmly established. George was a prolific theologian, poet and homiletician and some of his central texts include the Book of the Mystery of Heaven and Earth and the Book of Hours. The writings of George of Gasetcha represent the inherently poetic nature of Ethiopian literature, theology and liturgy. Ethiopian Christianity experienced renewal when king Fasilides re-centered the imperial capital again to Gondar in the seventeenth century. After the failure of Fasilides’ father Suseynos’ attempt to form an alliance with Portuguese Jesuit missionaries and spread Catholicism in Ethiopia, Fasilides expelled the Portuguese from Ethiopia, established Gondar as the capital of Ethiopia and paved the way for a renewal of Ethiopian culture. One important example of this was the development of a uniquely Ethiopian system of philosophy by seventeenth-century scholars such as Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat. Yacob’s seminal work Hatata explains his construction of morality, reason and harmony and is a landmark in African philosophy. While these few examples provide us with a mere window into the rich history of the Ethiopian nation and the unique Christian tradition that has developed there for nearly two millennia, this short survey will hopefully equip the Body of Christ with a beginning knowledge of the Ethiopian Church—a church that has been the foundation of and the central influence in the oldest independent nation on the continent of Africa. 

ICYMI:

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part I - Early African Christianity: Eygpt

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part II - Early African Christianity: Nubia

Also, check out our interview with Dr. Vince Bantu below:


Dr. Vince L. Bantu joined Covenant Theological Seminary in 2016 as Visiting Professor of Missiology. He holds a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian languages from the Catholic University of America and serves as co-chair of the Theology Committee of the Christian Community Development Association. Dr. Bantu is an MDiv graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education in Boston, and served the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a church-planting apprentice of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. He also served as a program coordinator for the Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Dr. Bantu also holds a ThM in church history from Princeton Seminary and a BA in theology from Wheaton College. His primary interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, and theological education in under-resourced communities. He has served as an adjunct faculty member for several institutions, including Nyack College, New York Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Center for Early African Christianity, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Bantu is happy to be back in his native St Louis, where he is a teaching pastor at Jubilee Community Church. Dr. Bantu, his wife, Diana, and their two daughters enjoy traveling, parks, games, and are huge movie fans.

Early African Christianity: Nubia

Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part II

By: Dr. Vince Bantu

The sentiment that Christianity is the “white man’s religion” is a perception that does not find resonance in biblical or historical reality. Christianity is not “becoming” a global religion; it has always been a global religion. At every point, the Christian faith has found Afrocentric expression and it is God’s heart that the Gospel take firm root among every nation, tribe and tongue. The proclamation of the psalter that “Kush will soon stretch out her hands to God,” (Ps. 68:31) finds unique application in the reality that the descendants of the Kushites—the Nubians—not only embraced Christianity as the national religion as early as the fifth century CE, but fought off Arab Muslim invasion in order to maintain an indigenous, black Christian kingdom that would flourish for a thousand years. The late antique Kushite kingdom centered at Meroë fell away in the late fourth century. While there is not much evidence to suggest a significant Christian presence in the Sudan during its Meroitic Kushite period, it is noteworthy that the “Ethiopian” eunuch mentioned in Acts 8 was likely from Kush, rather than the southern Axumite kingdom of Ethiopia. The queens of Kush were commonly called Candace (or Kandake) and “Ethiopia” (or Greek Aithopia) was often used to refer to black inhabitants south of Egypt conflating both the Nubian kingdoms of the Sudan and the Axumite empire of Ethiopia. However, the earliest detailed account of the introduction of Christianity into Nubia came in the sixth century through the historical account of the Syrian bishop John of Ephesus. According to John, Byzantine Roman empress Theodora sent missionaries to Nubia through Egypt who led the Nubian royal court to Christ resulting in the Christianization of northern Nubia (Nobatia). A century before this Roman intervention, however, one of the earliest Nubian kings to consolidate the Nobatian Empire—king Silko—declared in a victory inscription belief in one God who granted him military victory in Nubia. This could indicate a gradual progression of monotheistic transformation in the previously polytheistic Nubian religious landscape. There is also fifth-century evidence of Nubian refugees taking shelter in the Coptic monasteries of Upper Egypt. Whenever Christianity entered Nubia, it is likely to have done so through contact with Egyptian Christians with whom the Nubians maintained close ecclesiastical affiliation throughout the entirety of their Christian history. In solidarity with the other major African churches of Egypt and Ethiopia, Nubian Christianity maintained an anti-Chalcedonian—or, Miaphysite—nature, indicating a belief in the essential unity of the human and divine natures of Christ. Not long after Christianity took firm root in Nubia, the Islamic Conquest presented new challenges for Christians in Africa. Egypt was swiftly conquered in the mid-seventh century and the Arab Muslims quickly turned their attention to the Nubians south of Egypt. The Arab Muslim attempt at conquering Nubia was historically significant in that the Nubians were one of the only people groups to successfully fight off Muslim invaders. Several Arab Muslim historians who recount the Nubian victory credit the Nubian warriors’ skill with the bow and arrow—a skill long associated with Nubians and ancient Kushites since Pharaonic times. The Christian Nubians and Arab Muslim rulers of Egypt created a peace treaty stipulating the exchange of goods and a mutual understanding that Egypt would remain under Muslim control and Nubia remain Christian. Almost everywhere the early Muslim armies went during the seventh century fell under Muslim control (Persia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya). Nubia was unique in its ability to fight off the Muslims and create an unprecedented peace treaty that would last for centuries. This historical background also significantly complicates the assumption among some African-descended people that Christianity is the white man’s religion and Islam is the black man’s religion. In the case of Nubia, we see an autonomous black Christian kingdom successfully fighting off would-be Arab Muslim invaders. While Christianity’s introduction into Africa during the first millennium was freely adopted and accepted as the state religion of many of the earliest African kingdoms, Islam’s first introduction into the continent was by force and was resisted by the indigenous African nations whose identity was synonymous with being followers of Christ. Although Christianity eventually died out in Nubia by the beginning of the sixteenth century due to increasing migrations of Islamic ethnic groups, the Christian autonomy initiated by the Nubian-Muslim peace treaty, or baqt, paved the way for a golden era of Nubian Christian culture from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries. Nubian Christianity flourished during this period largely because the central kingdoms of the Sudan—Nobatia, Makouria and Alodia—were all predominately Christian and consolidated as one united kingdom no later than the early ninth century. Some examples of the many unique features of Nubian Christianity include a distinctive ecclesiastical and diplomatic leader known as the eparch, a distinguished form of church architecture including a specific passageway unique only to Nubian churches and indigenous religious vestments depicted in Nubian iconography. The language of medieval Sudan—Old Nubian—survives in a small collection of texts that are overwhelmingly religious (i.e. Christian) in nature. This fact further illustrates the degree to which the ancient African civilization of Nubia was intricately imbedded in and held together by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

ICYMI: Multiethnic Roots of Christianity Part I - Early African Christianity: Eygpt

Also, check out our interview with Dr. Vince Bantu below:


Dr. Vince L. Bantu joined Covenant Theological Seminary in 2016 as Visiting Professor of Missiology. He holds a PhD in Semitic and Egyptian languages from the Catholic University of America and serves as co-chair of the Theology Committee of the Christian Community Development Association. Dr. Bantu is an MDiv graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education in Boston, and served the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a church-planting apprentice of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. He also served as a program coordinator for the Emmanuel Gospel Center.

Dr. Bantu also holds a ThM in church history from Princeton Seminary and a BA in theology from Wheaton College. His primary interests include racial reconciliation, non-Western Christianity, and theological education in under-resourced communities. He has served as an adjunct faculty member for several institutions, including Nyack College, New York Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Center for Early African Christianity, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Bantu is happy to be back in his native St Louis, where he is a teaching pastor at Jubilee Community Church. Dr. Bantu, his wife, Diana, and their two daughters enjoy traveling, parks, games, and are huge movie fans.