Sunday, October 28, 2007

Genesis and African Bishops

Alice C. Linsley

Anglican Archbishop Bernard Amos Malango of Central Africa in a letter to former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold stated: "The false gospel you are promoting by your actions is not saving anyone; it is an illusion." Here an African bishop states that what the Episcopal Church claims as real is far from reality. What does Bishop Malango mean by this?

His statement referenced the Episcopal Church’s public commitment to homosex as a blessed state, created by God. Regardless of how one may feel personally about homosex, the tradition of Israel, that of the Apostles, and the biblical worldview agree that homosex is a violation of God's order in creation. The man's seed is to go to the proper place, just as the plant seeds find their proper place in the ground.

How is it that African bishops confidently insist that their reading of the Bible is authentic on this issue? Is it arrogance or a power grab on their part? Are they trying to control the Anglican Communion? Hardly. Africans grasp the worldview of Genesis because Genesis presents an African worldview, specifically a Nilotic worldview.

African Christians resonate with the book of Genesis and universally recognize its authority. It feels African to them. Indeed, Abraham’s ancestors came out of west central Africa and the palace city of Sheba, one of Abraham's ancestors, has been found in a dense jungle on the Atlantic coast of Nigeria. The oldest human fossils have been found in Africa, most recently in Cameroon, not far from the area that was once the homeland of Noah. Scholars now acknowledge the African cultural heritage behind Judaism, Christianity, Islam and some Vedic texts. (See, for examples, the work of Abraham Akong, Cora Agatucci and George Lichtblau.)

The Old Testament speaks of many cultural phenomena that are associated with traditional African religions: the priesthood, animal sacrifice, consecration of objects, sacred kings, theophanies on mountains, circumcision, sacred law, blood rituals and taboos, sacred time, gender roles, and telling history through sacred story and genealogy.

Traditional African religions revere the teachings of the fathers or elders and regard the older traditions as being more authoritative than the newer. Innovations are not the hot item in traditional African societies.

The Word, as eternal, generative and originating with God, is a common theme in African oral arts, recurring among many tribes. This concept of the eternal and generative power of the Word is expressed in the following song of the Pygmies of Africa:

In the beginning was God.
Today is God.
Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is as a word that comes out from your mouth.
That word! It is no more.
It is past and still it lives!
So is God.

Consider also this praise song of the Bambara of Mali:

The word is total:
It cuts, excoriates
Forms, modulates
Perturbs, maddens
Cures or directly kills
Amplifies or reduces
According to intention
It excites or calms souls.

African bishops resonate to the cultural context of Genesis and understand that Genesis orients the whole of sacred Scripture. For Africans the Bible speaks in familiar tones, from a familiar context. It is a context that maintains binary distinctions: heaven and earth, night and day, male and female, God’s way and man’s way. In this context male and female supplementarity is an expression of God’s creative power and homosexuality signals not evolutionary advance, but devolution from Paradise.

Tribal religions operate on the principal: as in heaven so on earth. So, it is not surprising that the oldest moon cycle counter, the Lebombo Bone, was found in Africa. It is between 85,000 and 100,000 years old and represents a binary calendar.

Traditional African religions are based on a binary view of reality. Likewise, Genesis assumes the binary distinctions of day-night, sun-moon, heaven-earth and male-female. These are seen as a signature in nature of the Creator who loves order (te-hut) and hates disorder, chaos and lawlessness (te-hom). The Episcopal Church has rejected this biblical worldview in favor of its own view, characterized by randomness, evolutionary theory, socialism, materialism, individualism, and western arrogance.

In Genesis, readers find the most fundamental theological assertions concerning God. These are that God is the creator, that God is sovereign over all the earth, that God cares for and interacts with his creation, that God created humans male and female in God’s image, that sin leads to separation from God and kin, that God has a redemptive plan and that God’s plan includes judgment and mercy. Judgment comes as the consequence of breaking the laws established by the Creator "in the beginning." God’s mercy is seen in the restoration of the offender to Himself and to the community. The fullest expression of this restoration is found in Christ Jesus, who reconciles the world to the Father through His blood.

One can find African bishops who reject some of these fundamental assertions. Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu is an example, but he is an anomaly and anomalies serve as exceptions to the rule. His Anglican Church of Southern Africa is an anomaly among the African churches, as it is the only one to ordain both women and non-celibate homosexuals to the priesthood.

Tutu has said, "Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical, the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act - the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reason have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?" (Interview with All Africa News)

Clearly, this bishop doesn't accept the biblical worldview as the Church has received it, and which the Church has no authority to change. Nor does the Church have the power to change the fundamental order of nature that was established by God in the beginnning. Can we reverse gravity or make the sun to rise in the West? It is arrogant to think we have such power.

It is delightfully ironic that the Lebombo bone, the oldest evidence for a binary worldview was found in Swaziland, in southern Africa. God does have a terrific sense of humor!

Related reading:  Why The Episcopal Church Leaders Hate the Nigerians; The Importance of Binary Distinctions; Avoiding Heresy


Rick Lobs said...

Very Interesting. Rick+

Rick Lobs said...

Interesting Post, Alice, thanks. Rick