THE power of this book is signalled in the title: “reimagining”. Christianity in Africa is often reified in such a way that Christians on all sides of the debate about sexual diversity conclude that God is finished with us all. Then, the relevance of this subject to growing in faith becomes unintelligible. This book resists static theology and facilitates a more mature approach to African Christianity and sexual diversity.
As is stated in this book, Christian faith has multiple contexts and often conflicting possibilities for various political visions and social struggles. Its meaning cannot be fully controlled by those who hold worldly power. “On the contrary, its symbols, texts, languages and rituals can be appropriated, negotiated and transformed in order to shape counter-narratives and inspire counter-mobilisations.” Here is the truer power that God reveals in Jesus: reciprocal love, which elicits alternative imaginative worlds to those of colonialism and hegemony.
An assumption among many is that Africa is a country, not a continent. It is an assumption that is found in Westernised education and in stereotypes that also flow into Western Christianity. So, African Christianity appears as only a conservative force in contemporary Africa, driving opposition to homosexuality and LGBTI rights.
Also, narrow perspectives of Christianity as only a Western religion must be countered. For many, Western missionaries brought Jesus to Africa. This book contests this picture by drawing attention to progressive and innovative ways in which Africa’s diversity engages with religion, specifically Christianity, in support of sexual diversity and the quest for justice for LGBTI people.
More specifically, the authors, Adriaan van Klinken and Ezra Chitando, by discussing specific exemplars and movements across the continent, help us to visualise where African Christian traditions provide strong potential for countering conservative, anti-LGBTI dynamics. The authors also provide case studies of leading African writers who are reimagining Christian thought to shed its stereotypes about Africa.
In addition, the authors introduce specific African theologians, philosophers, and Christian-inspired groups who are transforming religious practice, but are unknown to many in the Western world. From this important book, a general readership can learn about how contemporary African cultural creativity appropriates Christian beliefs and symbols.
There is, unfortunately, more of an inclination to reject African agency in many of our human enterprises, including our response to the pandemic crises. For me, as an African American theologian, it is refreshing to read a book that shatters idols and stereotypes and helps us to reimagine how Christianity can lead us to see our neighbours as ourselves — especially our LGBTI siblings in Africa.
This is not a vision born out of naïvety, however, given that Ghana, for example, is proposing up to ten years in jail for LGBTI people. One step out of naïvety and towards maturity is taken simply by reading this book.
The Very Revd Michael Battle is Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society and Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at the General Theological Seminary, New York. His latest book is Desmond Tutu: A spiritual biography of South Africa’s confessor (WJK, 2021).
Reimagining Christianity and Sexual Diversity in Africa
Adriaan van Klinken and Ezra Chitando
Church House Bookshop £18