Christianity Is Black with a Capital "B": The Religion and Politics of Kwame Nkrumah

Article excerpt

Black Studies, as a self-defined academic discipline, has its origin in the sociopolitical struggle of the 1960s when scholarly activists fought to establish the study of the Black experience in the university curriculum. Over time, Black Studies has become a multifaceted discourse that examines the philosophy and praxis of African people, covering a range of topics that include history, politics, sociology, psychology, economics, and religion.

Within this interdisciplinary framework, Karenga, a pivotal scholar in the discipline, argues that Africans, both on the continent and in diaspora., are a religious people who have demonstrated a concern for spiritual realities from ancient times to the present day. Upon studying the history and theology of African religion, Karenga and other Black Studies advocates consistently begin with the traditions of the Ancient Nile Valley and continue with an examination of more recent belief systems, like those of the Dogon of Mali. (Adams 1979; Asante 2002; Diop 1974, 1991;Griaule 1978; Griaule and Dieterlen 1965; Karenga 1990, 2002; Painter 2007).

However, as these scholars publish on this topic, they typically overlook a profoundly important religious tradition that reveals the political astuteness and theological acumen of African people. They fail to appreciate the paramount significance of Christianity as a counter-hegemonic ideology employed by believing Africans as an instrument of liberation in their struggle against European domination in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

To illustrate, Baum, in his article "African Religion," which appears in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, devotes the major part of his discussion to various points of theology, including Supreme Beings, Lesser Spirits, Religious Expression and Instruction, and Evil and Suffering. Although he comments on the historical influence of western Christianity on African culture, he makes not reference to the counter-hegemonic use of Christianity by believing Africans as they strove to liberate themselves from western colonialism.

Researchers like Baum fail to recognize such African Christian subversives as Simon Kimbangu (1889-1951) who opposed Belgian imperialism in the Congo as a special envoy of Jesus Christ and leader of the Church of Jesus Christ on This Earth, founded in 1921. They also tend to overlook his contemporary, Enoch Mgijima (1858-1929), a former Christian minister, who led his believing converts in confronting the racist government of South Africa as pastor of the Church of the Children of Israel (Davidson 1989, Mazrui 1993). In addition, these scholars frequently neglect such Christian oriented nationalist movements as Ethiopianism, which was based on Psalm 68:31 of the Old Testament and inspired counter-imperialist resistance in the late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries in South, Central, and West Africa (Labode 2005; Moorhouse 1973; Omoniyi, 1908).

I address this omission by examining Kwame Nkrumah's and the Convention People's Party's use of Christianity as a source of anti-colonial ideology in their struggle to liberate Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) from British colonization between 1948 and 1966. I argue that this is simply one example of the political and theological ingenuity of African leaders as demonstrated by their use of Christianity as a counter-hegemonic ideology in their fight against European domination throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hence, this research emphasizes the astuteness of African people in a way that contributes distinctively to the existing research on the religious history of Africa as produced by Black Studies advocates.

I develop this argument by first surveying the use of western Christianity by Great Britain as an instrument of imperialism in early Gold Coast history (1800-1915). I then examine in detail the African employment of Christianity as an anti-colonial philosophy and the ingenuity of Nkrumah in utilizing religion to create political solidarity during Ghana's early struggle for freedom (1947-1966). …