Type: Exploratory
Pages: 7 | Words: 2012
Reading Time: 9 Minutes

In early 19th century, only few people across Africa practiced Christianity apart from Coptic Egyptians, Ethiopians, and people of Congolese Empire currently known as Congo Brazzaville. In 1800’s, Catholic missionaries initiated their Christianity mission to the western part of Africa, in Gabon and Senegal. On the other hand, protestant missionaries launched their mission in Sierra Leone at around 1804. These missionaries represented many churches or denominations such Catholic, Anglican, protestants, just to name a few, and many of them engaged in stiff competition in their effort to attract more Africans to Christianity.

Between 1813-1873, David Livingstone travelled in many parts of African continent to spread Christianity because he believed that a combination of Christianity and legitimate trade was the perfect way to end slave trade. Therefore, he played a vital role in rescuing Africans from slavery. However, the effort of David Livingstone and other missionaries had no huge impact on the slave trade especially in the East coast. They did not manage to convert a substantial number of Muslims to Christianity. Many missionaries from Europe endeavored to run their Christianity missions, risked their lives and health in the process. In addition, Portuguese missionaries in Mozambique and Angola in late 19th and in the 20th century were feared for their connections with Portuguese colonial authorities. As a result of link between the state and church, protestant missions became very popular and, many of Mozambique and Angola nationalists got educated in school owned by Protestant missionary.

However, Christian missionaries went to Africa because of numerous reasons including humanitarian, social, and economic reasons. The major reason was spread Christianity to African people. Christian missionaries achieved this through teaching of holy gospel in order to convince African people to covert to Christianity. In addition, Christian missionaries were dedicated to fight slave trade, for instance earlier travelers such as Dr. David Livingstone among others had discovered the extreme evils of slave trade that were taking place in east Africa and other parts of African continent. Therefore, some Christian missionaries moved to Africa with the intention of stopping slave trade and introduce legitimate trade in Africa. Also, Christian missionaries wanted to counter the spread of Islamic religion in parts of East Africa from coast with the aim of converting many people to Christianity and shun their traditional African religion. Christianity was a driving force of massive change in Africa; it resulted to emergence of new opportunities to some people, destabilized the status quo and it also undermined the powers of other people in Africa. Christian missions in Africa brought about literacy, education and hope to the disadvantaged. Conversely, the wide spread of Christianity in Africa denied people a chance to be proud of their cultures and ceremonies because of its rigid European form. This paper focuses on the progression of Christian missionaries in Africa and how it resulted to controversial issues among African Christians.

Controversial African Issue

Emergency African Independent Churches

Emergence on new independent churches was one on the most controversial issue among African Christians. In the late 19th century all through to 1970s, many African Christians decided to part ways with missionary churches and establish their own churches. This was facilitated by their own understanding of the teachings of the Bible and what they perceived as unfair practices by missionaries. In 20th century, there was a wide range of African movements that were established their own churches in Africa; scholars referred such churches as African Independent Churches (A.I.C) because all these churches established independence and autonomy from missionary churches. As a result of constant disagreements in mission churches between missionaries and Christians, many independent churches were formed in African continent. According to statistics, there were about 7000 different independent churches in Africa by 1980.

During this time, some Christian missionaries regarded traditional African religion as evil and perceived some of their beliefs as strange and weird. Christian had a very tough task in making African people accept the teachings of the bible. This was because in traditional African religion, people were not using Bibles in the spread of gospel. In addition, many African people could not understand English or other foreign languages, thus hindering the smooth spread of gospel. As a result, there was need for Christian missionaries to educate African people so that they could comprehend the teachings of the Bible to ease the spread of Christianity. Moreover, Christian missionaries had to convert the teachings of the bible into various languages with the help of educated Africans. This played a key role in enabling people understand the teachings of the bible.

Since 19th century to around 1970s when many African nations had gained their independence, many missionaries from European countries, West Indies and North America carried out their Christian missions in Africa. Despite the fact that European colonists facilitated their Christian missions, these Christian missionaries did not move to Africa because they got invited by the European colonialists. Their main agenda was to spread Christianity by converting many Africans to Christianity. In order to attain this target, missionaries focused their efforts to preaching and teaching about Christianity. In order to meet majority of people with vast differences, missionaries had no other option other than to learn their languages. Moreover, they concentrated on translating various parts of the bible into local languages.

However, in order for Africans to read the translated Bible, there was need to teach them how to read. Consequently, schooling and education to Africans became extra goals for the missionaries. In many parts of African continents where missionaries went, they built schools. Initially, these schools were established by the missionaries with the aim of teaching Africans teach reading as well as religious instructions. They believed that the ability of people to read the bible would ease the conversion process.

As the colonial period progressed, missionary education continued to expand into both primary and secondary schooling. Although these schools were only accessible to just a minority of African children it was imperative because in many African States, colonialists could not spend money on education. Moreover, some missionaries concentrated their efforts to health work such as opening clinics and hospitals in rural and remote areas.

Through education and health care, missionaries established attitudes and values that reflected their comprehension of Christianity as well as their perception on African cultures and religions. Many Christian missionaries used beliefs that were widely held among Americans and Europeans of that day. Many believed that European practices, social structures and cultures were more valuable than African practices, social structures and cultures. As a matter of fact, many missionaries advocated that the cultures of Africans were primitive and that African would only develop individually and as communities by exposing them to Christianity and western cultures. This is when educated African Christians started their plans to leave mission churches.

According to my view, the perception of Christian missionaries on African culture provided an inaccurate and distorted understanding of African religions, practices and social practices. Nevertheless, as Christianity became more established in Africa, African Christians applied their interpretation and understanding of the Bible as well as the Jesus teachings, challenged misrepresentations as far as missionary practice and understanding is concerned.

Reasons why African decided to form their own churches

There are many reasons that made Christians to divert from missionary churches to form their own churches, some of the reasons include:


The main reason that made African Christians to leave mission churches was Racism. since the origin of Christianity in African continent to around 1970s, missionaries had the tendency of mistreating and discriminating African Christians. Many of the held the notions that people from Africa were not culturally and intellectually equal to Europeans. Africans perceived such attitude as a big insult to African Christians as well as the continent at large. In addition, these attitudes frustrated the efforts of educated African Christians to hold any leadership positions in the missionary churches. Therefore, some of the educated African Christians believed that for them to obtain any leadership position in churches, they had no other option but to leave the mission churches and establish their own independent churches where there was no racism and in which there will be an opportunity for African leadership.

Rejection of African religious beliefs cultures and practice

Another major reason that contributed to the establishment of independent African churches is the fact that many missionaries regarded African religious beliefs and cultural practices as primitive. As a result, Christian missionaries attempted to compel African Christians to shun and reject most of their cultural and religious practices and beliefs. African Christians believed that there was no part in the Bible that criticized their religious and cultural beliefs and practices. In fact, African Christians mainly believed that there were many commonalities between their religious and cultural practices and beliefs and the teachings in the New and Old Testament. Therefore, they could not see any logical reason for missionary to oppose the adoption of Christianity to African culture. As a result, some African Christian leaders opted to leave missionary churches and establish their own churches that would respect and incorporate vital aspects of African cultural practices, which they perceived to be inconsistent with Christianity.

Connection of missionaries with colonial government

Some African Christians decided to part ways with missionary churches because they realized that some missionaries were linked with colonial governments that oppressed Africans on the lands. This also resulted to the establishments of independent churches across African continent.

On the other hand, missionaries also played a key role in the development of African continent. Despite the increased divergence of African Christians from missionary churches, missionaries benefitted African Christians a lot. Firstly, it is through missionaries through their churches and schools that African Christians learned how to read and this enabled them to interpret the Bible and teachings of Jesus. Therefore, despite of the negatives things they did to African Christians, it is worth noting that their contribution in educating African Christian has helped them to form stable independent churches.

Secondly, it is imperative to appreciate the fact that other than the religious teachings, missionaries also spent a substantial amount of funds to educate Africans in other field of studies through primary and secondary education. Many great African leaders including many current and retired presidents of African countries were beneficiaries of missionaries’ education programmers. Finally, through mission churches, Africans were able to access health facilities such as hospitals and clinics which were mainly located in mission churches. This was imperative because such basic facilities were not available in the traditional African society.

According to my perception, missionaries played a very critical role in improving the lives of Africans by eliminating illiteracy, provision of quality health care, fighting slave trade as well as teaching Africans how to read the Bible. However, the issue of racial discrimination in mission churches is unfortunate because both whites and Africans have the same intellectual capacity given equal resources and opportunities. The difference between Africans and white is only color; therefore, racisms should not be experienced especially in churches because even the Bible advice Christians to treat their neighbors just as the way they would like to be treated. Although the some missionaries’ cultures were beneficial to African people, it was unethical for missionaries to regard African cultures as primitive and forcing them to shun their cultures. Before the spread of Christian missionaries in Africa, People in Africa were still attached to their traditional African religion which was mainly based on their culture. All African communities had their own traditional religions that their religious beliefs varied from one community to another. Therefore, forcing Africans to shun their cultural and religious beliefs was an insult to them since it is what define their identity and makes them different fro the rest of the world.

In conclusion, my own position on this controversial issue is that there is need for every race, tribe or nation to respect the religious and cultural beliefs of others. In addition, it is unethical for one race to discriminate other races because what they believe in. While I appreciate the vital role that missionaries played in the development of African continent, it was imperative for them to respect the beliefs of African since that is what defines their identity.

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