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Spiritual Colonialism



As promised last week, I want to address the issue of spiritual colonialism. First, let me define what I mean by the term. Spiritual colonialism is the idea that one culture is spiritually superior to another. It suggests that one ethnic or cultural expression is more valid than another. Even more nefarious, it suggests that other ethnic or cultural expressions are evil or Satanic, thusly elevating their particular cultural expression as the only way.

It’s not hard to imagine which culture seeks to assert its spiritual superiority over others. It is not a new phenomenon, but it does seem to have deep roots, not just in this country but throughout history. This cultural colonialism permeates across denominational lines and various faith expressions within Christianity. It permeates theology in all of its expressions, practice and worship. What should be viewed as worship style instead gets labeled as “holy” or “demonic”.

Eurocentric Christianity has long asserted its dominance over the Christian cultural landscape. As colonialism was taking place —that great endeavor to conquer the world—Christianity was a part of the conquest. The colonizing European countries, with the distinct spice of superiority sought to save the degraded souls of the black and brown countries they were invading. This meant “saving” them from their “demonic” cultural practices such as drums, syncopated rhythms, indigenous styles of clothing and dress, and even indigenous languages. Let me illustrate this with a personal experience.


I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania in the mid-2000’s. It was a phenomenal experience that I will never forget. Tanzania is a majority Protestant Christian country, but when we attended church there I was anticipating seeing and experiencing an authentic, African, Christian worship service. What I actually experienced however was a traditional, Euro-American worship service in Swahili. There was no clapping, no expression, no musical instruments except a piano, traditional hymns sung in European style in Swahili, and I was appalled. I was physically upset at what I was seeing because I understood that what I was seeing was a result of Euro-Christian brainwashing.

After service, back at the village where we were staying some of the members of the church came to present a mini-concert for us. It was a 180 degree turn! They had their hand drums, they were singing and moving rhythmically, with life and zest and everything I anticipated hearing from an African-musical presentation. Afterwards, a few of us approached them and asked, “why didn’t you sing like this during church?!” They appeared horrified at the question: “Oh no! We could never do that!” they responded. “Who told you that?!” we asked. Their response confirmed everything I had suspected. “We were taught this by the missionaries”. No further questions were needed. We didn’t need to ask where the missionaries were from or what exactly they taught. It was clear that they had received a fine dose of Euro-American Christian imperialism. They were fed this brand of Christianity that said that only European expressions of the faith were accepted by God. I wanted so badly to tell them that God desires them to serve Him as an outflow of their own cultural context. He is not offended by your music, your rhythm, your syncopation, or your instruments. Worship Him as you will and offer your praise to the Lord from the gifts that He has given you. While I was in a context of being in a black state, there is still much work to be done along the lines of deconstructing the mental and internal effects of colonialism in many of these countries.

Indeed, there is still much work to be done in deconstructing the mental and internal effects of African and Caribbean Americans in this country. I have been to countless churches that are still under the yoke of Eurocentric, white supremacist theology. We are made to feel like our musical expressions, our instruments, our dress, our expressions are evil and cursed by God. It is no coincidence that drums are central instruments in almost every indigenous culture around the world with the exception of most of Europe. It is also no coincidence that drums have been demonized in most Euro-American Christian denominations and expressions. It is no coincidence that suits and ties have become the standard of "presentable" attire for church. It is no coincidence that Euro-American hymns and classical music are viewed as the most sacred forms of music. This is oppression. This is spiritual colonialism, and I for one am ready to be free.

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