Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The Politics of Preaching to Exiles

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The Politics of Preaching to Exiles

Article excerpt

Metaphors of exilic struggle in the black diaspora

In 1969 a reggae song reached number one in the British pop charts. This song was written by the artist Desmond Decca, a Jamaican who came to Britain to start a new life, just as the earlier post-war immigrants from the Caribbean did. What was interesting about that song, and what is significant for my paper at this conference, is the dominant image projected by the title and by the repeated refrain, viz. The Israelites.

The song used the imagery of the wandering of the biblical Israelites as a lens through which one may understand the struggles and sufferings of black people in Britain, both as captives and as freed people. For Decca and others, The Israelites was a metaphor for people on the move, people in transition, people struggling in the diaspora, people caught up in an ideological, spiritual, economic, and social bind from which they could not be freed without a creative struggle.

For other popular cultural artists with a Caribbean heritage, such as dub poets and traditional calypsonians (who are often seen as social prophets), and reggae artists with a Garveyestic or Rastafarian motif, such as Bob Marley and Winston Rodney, alias Burning Spears, the term Babylon became a more dominant metaphor for depicting the whole experience of oppression and the struggle of black people in the West, and in the so-called third world. These artists depict this experience as a captivity or exile, and parallel it with the Hebrews in the Babylonian exile, or with the people of God in the apocalypse who are pictured as being oppressed by a beast-like power, and are awaiting their day of redemption.

Lyrical proclamation as a subversive strategy of resistance and empowerment

Through their songs of protest and resistance, these singers intend to educate the captives about their true history, worth and destiny. The artists tell the story of a strong, creative, noble and peace-loving people who now suffer both spiritually and economically as a result of colonial and postcolonial exploitation. Their songs also image the people's contemporary struggles against racial prejudice, powerlessness, their lack of access to facilities, poor housing and education, and an uneasy relation with the criminal justice system and the police, who are often seen as the visible presence of Babylon's system. These public lyrical discourses, which are also known as roots music, conscious music, or redemption music, may also be seen as forms of prophetic and poetic preaching done outside the traditional Christian communities, and which seek to empower and re-orientate captives toward an eschatological chanting down of Babylon. This would not be unexpected, as some have pointed out that Garveyism and Rastaf arianism could be seen as early attempts to develop a liberation theology for the Caribbean. [1]

Today, when black people hear the word Babylon, it conjures up in their minds a sense of exile and estrangement in the black diaspora. For Ennis Edmonds, Babylon has come to represent anything from a personal struggle or hardship in the diaspora, to the entire oppressive power structures derived from colonial and postcolonial enterprises, their ideologies, their religious and political apparatus, and even their educational and legal institutions and values. [2] Edmonds says:

Globally, Babylon is that worldly state in which the struggle for power and possessions takes precedence over the cultivation of human freedom and the concern of human dignity. [3]

The images of Babylon, captivity, and the ancient Israelites may all be used as synonyms to refer to the contexts of struggle in which black Christians must now teach, pastor and preach, whether that context is Britain, France, Germany or another' European country or international context. The exilic metaphor remains for us, then, a fertile missiological crescent for theologizing and for developing a contextual Christian proclamation, or a spiritual chanting for empowering captives and enlightening captors. …

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