The longing to belong

Why would African Christians in the West, discriminated against in Europe and the United States, embrace views that marginalize not only others but also themselves?

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

In the last thirty years, the presence of African Christians in the West has attracted significant study. The focus has been on what may be called the new African diaspora: that is, Africans who have come to the West since about seventy years ago (as opposed to those who were brought to the West through the trans-Atlantic slave trade). With the rise of Africa as the continent with the most Christians in the world, the study of African Christianity has included not only the Christianity in the continent but also its forms in the new African diaspora. A central question driving the study of the Christianity of the new African diaspora is the significance of African Christians in the West—that is, what the presence of African Christians in the West might portend for the future of not only Christianity, but also the West itself.

This study of new African diaspora Christianity has sometimes been placed within the framework of African religiosity. Thus, looking at the presence of African Christianity, Islam, and African indigenous religions in Europe and the United States, some have suggested that African religiosity may diminish the progress of secularism in the West. African religions, such writers suggest, have become potent phenomena, filling the gap left by a waning Western Christianity in Europe and America. In the case of Christianity in particular, it is often pointed out that two majority-African and African-led churches—the 12,000-member Kingsway International Christian Center in London, led by Nigerian Matthew Ashimolowo, and the 25,000-member Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for all Nations in Kyiv, Ukraine, led by Nigerian Sunday Adelaja—are the biggest churches in Europe.

The presence of African Christians in the West has led some to speak of a “reverse mission,” a concept that implies that Africans are now evangelizing the West rather than the other way around, as was the case in the heyday of colonialism. It has, however, been noted that because Black Africans are often seen as the “other” in the West and discriminated against, these churches are having a hard time breaking into white society. For this reason, a central preoccupation of these churches has been helping African migrants gain a sense of belonging in these societies. But in seeking to belong to these societies, African Christians have often embraced right-wing views that are antithetical to their own well-being. In this piece, I suggest that embracing right-wing views in the West jeopardizes the ability of new African diaspora Christianity to effectively enhance the well-being of Africans.

In their recent book, Afropolitan Projects: Redefining Blackness, Sexualities, and Culture from Houston to Accra, Anima Adjepong demonstrates how Ghanaians in Houston, mostly Pentecostal Christians, enshrine their sense of belonging in the United States by embracing conservative politics like portrayals of America as a Christian nation, Islamophobia, and homophobia. These are all positions that are held by right-wing and racist forces in the United States and Europe—forces which often seek to curtail immigration. The view of America as a Christian nation, for example, seeks to exclude non-Christian religions that are often practiced by people of color. This is connected to Islamophobia, which excludes Muslims and sometimes foments violence against them, and homophobia, which excludes LGBTQ+ people. As historian Anthea Butler recently noted in her book, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, these views that exclude others are often rooted in racism. “It is racism,” they writes, “that binds and blinds many white American evangelicals to the vilification of Muslims, Latinos, and African Americans.” And it is this same racism that has forced many African churches in Europe and America to exist in states of virtual apartheid, ministering mostly to other Africans.

Given the connections between these forms of discrimination, how can we understand groups of African Christians who embrace views that fund their own marginalization? How can embracing these right-wing views address the racist experiences of African Christians in the West? Adjepong suggests that Ghanaians in the United States who embrace these views probably brought some of them from Ghana, where Islamophobia and homophobia are rife, and where claims that Ghana is a Christian nation have increasingly been amplified. This connection between right-wing views in Africa and the West may need further investigation, as the influences may be more complex than they seem.

This notwithstanding, the question remains: why would a people who are discriminated against in Europe and the United States embrace views that marginalize not only others but also themselves? Addressing this question seems to call for a thorough rethinking of the views which many African Christians in the new African diaspora embrace.

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