Speaking Truth to Power: Can We Help Shape 'African Majority' Churches' Engagement with the British?

Speaking Truth To Power: Can We Help Shape ‘African Majority' Churches' Engagement with British Society?

 - Olu Ojedokun, Ph.D. -

Today, in this article, I intend to take some respite from speaking the truth in the political ‘realm' in order, I hope to seek another direction, a different route, a new road, one which I hope might lead me to a higher path. 

The quest begins with who amongst us dares to buck the trend, to write the extraordinary dissenting  piece of article, the one man or woman opinion whose time has not come but in many years time someone, somewhere digs it up at 3.am in the morning and it becomes perceived wisdom?

It has always been uncomfortable to be part of dissent as opposed to choosing to move with the majority.  Our lives would be much simpler if we simply stuck with the known and the majority views and seek to conform.  I pause to state that I do have a confession to make, that I believe am a Christian and I have agonised for sometime now, and wondered how men and women we now perceived to be great achieved their ‘greatness'.  How did Dr Martin Luther King Jnr against the perceived wisdom that non-violence could achieve nothing make his mark in his generation?  What was in Nelson Mandela's fibre that allowed him to buck the trend and cement his greatness, leaving aside the office of President of South Africa when it was the norm to go extra terms until discredit?  What made William Wilberforce the son of a wealthy merchant from Hull , England stand by and advocate for the abolition of slavery for years when slavery was considered to be business as usual in Western societies.  Our own Queen Amina of Zaria , who was credited as the architect who created the strong earthen walls around the Zaria City , which was the prototype for the fortifications used in all Hausa states.  She was an innovator when it was not fashionable for women to be in the fore front.  What gave her singular courage and inspiration to impact her generation?[1] 

I am seeking some answers to these questions within the context of a personal conundrum, one of how can a minority hope to shape its engagement with a majority culture on its own minority terms?  Minority in terms of faith, because the facts according to Sky News of 23rd April 2008 now claim that in the United Kingdom 1,631, 000 Christians now attend Church regularly. 

A minority also in another sense, facts from the last UK census in 2001 indicates there are about 500,000 African (this does not take into account the 400,000 Caribbeans).[2]  This brings me to the question of how can 500,000 Africans impact 58 million people in the UK ?[3]  Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) suggested in a quote that we need to be daring, to be different, to be impractical, to be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace and the slaves of the ordinary. 

I think I just about agree with her.

However, in order to survive in many Western societies many immigrants have learnt to be politically correct and adapted and metamorphosed in order to fit in with the majority.  This has manifested itself in a variety of ways.  Some with African names are known to have anglicised it or resurrected their long forgotten ‘English' names in order to fit in.  Others have attempted to adopt and affect the European slang and manner of speaking in other to blend.  Some have even married the ‘land'.  Yes, amongst, ourselves we have climbed great heights mobilising some form of church ‘growth' unparalleled in the UK . However, there is little evidence that the African immigrants as a Christian people have successfully engaged the 66% unchurched in the UK .[4] 

It has been suggested in history that a minority, no matter how officious in its propaganda or skilful in its public relations, no matter how many important contacts it has made, it cannot affect, unless it, either neutralises the majority or wins it over to active support of its cause.[5]  In the UK 's case I argue that winning can only be accomplished by acculturisation and culturally sensitive evangelism.[6] 

Our relevance as minorities may lie in the extent to which we are able impact and engage the societies in which we find ourselves.  But just how do we bring the good news of Christianity to the 66% unchurched in the UK ?  If we accept the fact that cultural identification is vital for the effective communication of the good news of Jesus Christ, then we open the doors to evangelising with their lives as well as with our words.  For It is suggested that just as Jesus Christ immersed himself in first-century Jewish culture, so we African Christians, as His followers are required to immerse, understand and relate closely to the society in which they are called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.[7] 

If the status quo in which most of us as African Christians in the UK find ourselves, are in churches we dominate and it is accepted by omission or commission then it could imply that we are in fact replicating the Old Testament people of Israel.  The people of Israel were not sent out in the proclamatory mission to the Gentile nations around them but were rather called to remain in the ‘promised land' and attract other peoples to them.  In other words we could be in danger of restricting our outreaches to demonstrating through the magnificence of our buildings, our wealth and our lives that we are living according to God's word and expect the beauty and holiness of our lives to shine out like a light to those around us, drawing them in like moths to a light or like bees to nectar. 

But even if this strategy of engaging the unbelievers works, it is still clear that we as African Christians as indeed all other Christians are called to a task of missions.  This is not simply evangelisation or primary witness among the unchurched, although such work has its place, the emphasis is the need to bring people to such a discipleship so that they can learn.  This implies an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ that will lead to a growing maturity in Him.[8] 

This article does not claim to have many of the answers about successful engagement with British Society, however, on 23rd May 2008 at RCCG Victory House, 5 Congreve Street, Old Kent Road, SE17 1TJ, from 9.00.30 am to 4.00pm, with lunch provided, ‘African Majority' Church Ministers will be gathered together in consultation seeking to:

  •  Help shape their engagement with British Society; and
  • Discovering biblical exposition that engages with contemporary British culture.

    I dare to suggest and to believe that we can all be part of a new, innovative and exciting journey, we can be the extraordinarily dissenting voice, the one man or woman opinion, whose time has not come but in a few years times someone, somewhere digs it up at 3.am in the morning and it becomes perceived and accepted wisdom in the British Society. 

    I have learnt that when smallpox was eradicated it was considered to be the single greatest human achievement of the century.  Now with Almighty God on our side surely we ministers of African origin can with His power do something more remarkable in the British Society as we can always do in times when our eyes look towards the heavens and with outstretched hands we behold God in his majestic glory.

      

The writer, a Field Director of Friends International is a Member of the Boards of Evangelical Alliance UK and the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance.   


[1] Downloaded on 23rd April 2008 from blackhistorypages.net/pages/amina.php

[2] Background information:  The Black African Community snapshot ([2]Downloaded on 6th January 2006 from http://engage.comms.gov.uk/webfiles ... diences/minoritycommunitiesguide.pdf) Black Africans make up 0.8% of the total population and 10.5% of the ethnic Minority population.  There are 484,783 members of the community, and they are the fifth largest ethnic minority group in Great Britain. Black Africans are also the fastest growing ethnic minority group. The population has more than doubled in size between 1991 and 2001.   Nigerians, Ghanaians and Somalis form the main largest communities within the Black African group.  A mix of religions is practised within the community, varying by country of origin. Overall 69% of British black Africans are Christian, while 20% are Muslim.  Muslim Black Africans are mainly from North and West Africa, particularly Somalia and Nigeria.  Around three-quarters (78%) of Black Africans live in London.  The Black African community in England and Wales has a younger age Profile than that of  the total population,   with 30% aged under 16 years (compared with 20% of  the total population).

[3]  Downloaded 23rd April 2008 from http:/www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=185  

[4]  Background information:  The Black African Community snapshot ([4][4]Downloaded on 6th January 2006 from  http://engage.comms.gov.uk/webfiles ... diences/minoritycommunitiesguide.pdf)

[5]  Ibid. Urofsky, 1978 p.35

[6] Friends International, a UK Charity offers extensive expertise on cross cultural evangelism

[7] The Gospel  According to St Matthew 28:19,20 also see Goldsmith, Martin (2001)

[8] Goldsmith, Martin (2001); Op. Cit.



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