Inculturation with special reference to Olufuko
The issue of the relationship between the Gospel and culture is not new in the discourse of Christian church.
Most of the European missionaries saw African culture as an anti-Jesus Christ culture. It was assumed that Jesus Christ will be against African culture because the latter was viewed as promoting heathenism. Missionaries did not, for example, think of African religion and initiation rituals, philosophy, languages, proverbs, songs, poetry and stories as the loci of insights into matters such as forgiveness and the mystery of life that could enrich the universal church’s understanding of the fundamental mysteries of faith.
Thus the debate on African religious and cultural rituals is a point in case.
Recently one of the churches in Namibia issued an apostolic or pastoral letter asking its members to disassociate themselves from what is labelled as the “reintroduction and revival of traditional girls’ initiation rites (Olufuko)”.
It claimed that such rites within African Christianity are “against the Biblical teaching and principles” and “infringes upon Christian values and morals of our society” - even to the degree of encouraging “youth to practice promiscuities”.
At the same time the particular apostolic statement failed to affirm that for centuries the churches were under the captivity of the Western or European theologies that were regarded as normative and undisputed. Today the situation is fundamentally different.
Since the late 20th Century the time has passed when Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific sat at the feet of Europe and North America in order to learn and do theology.
It is therefore disheartening and discouraging to be instructed by African Christians and their leadership that African rites of passage such as Olufuko are clothed in promiscuity and African Christians should disassociate themselves from their own religio-cultural rites of passage.
It is a fact that the Christian faith never exists except as ‘translated’ into a culture. For example, why do Christian churches in Namibia celebrate Christmas around a pine tree?
The concept of a Christmas tree was first introduced by Germany long ago in the 16th Century. Surely it is a German cultural practice that has been reintroduced into Namibian Christianity and is not regarded by Christian churches as unbiblical and unchristian.
Instead, the missionaries told African Christians that it is biblical since it comes from a “superior” western culture.
In the process a theology has been developed from the “civilized” perspective with the single purpose to subdue, if not eradicate, all the rites of passage of the “uncivilized” Africans.
For Africans the time has come to start self-theologising in the life of the church from their own perspective.
Self-theologising is needed to highlight the way in which Western Christian churches has raped the African culture - inflicting upon it what has been termed “anthropological poverty” through cultural dominance and mental slavery under the umbrella of the four Cs (Christianity, Commerce, Civilisation, Conquest).
Today the decisive consideration is that Christianity ought to be Africanised - that is being en-fleshed and embodied in the peoples’ culture.
This process is known as inculturation of theology.
Inculturation of theology means that there is no eternal theology that may play the referee over African theology and African rites of passage.
Our African theologians and church leaders ought to take note of such self-theologising. If we follow this road our understanding of Christian theology and our reading of the Holy Bible will indeed be qualitatively different from all earlier models of Western theology.