Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Review: The Sacrifice of Africa – Emmanuel Katongole [Vol. 4, #9]

A Review of

The Sacrifice of Africa:
A Political Theology for Africa
Emmanuel Katongole.
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

One of my most memorable experiences of the last year was the opportunity I had to spend a week at the Summer Institute at Duke Divinity School, hosted by the Center for Reconciliation there.  Some of my best memories from that week involve hearing stories of unfathomable faith and courage told by church leaders from the Great Lakes region of central Africa.  Emmanuel Katongole, professor of theology and world Christianity at Duke and Roman Catholic priest of the Kampala archdiocese in Uganda, was one of these African leaders, whose lecture was one of the highlights of the Institute.

I had been familiar with Katongole’s work for a couple years, particularly his narration of the genocide in Rwanda, Mirror to the Church, which I reviewed here in 2009.  I was therefore delighted to see that he recently published a new theological reflection on the African context, The Sacrifice of Africa, in which he probes the meaning of recent African stories of Christian faithfulness.  I can see that this book might easily be overlooked by readers who are unfamiliar or unconcerned with African Christianity.  However, to overlook this extraordinary book would be a grave error.  Following in the footsteps of his Duke Divinity School colleagues J. Kameron Carter (author of Race: A Theological Account) and Willie James Jennings (author of The Christian Imagination), Katongole’s work here serves to spur the church to imagine what faithfulness to the Gospel will look like in a post-Western world.  Katongole’s work is therefore of great significance because it reflects on the meaning of those who – in the poignant words of J. Kameron Carter – “have imagined and performed a way of being in the world beyond the pseudotheological containment of whiteness” (Race 378).

Drawing upon Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, Katongole superbly identifies and critiques the past sins of African Christianity:

1)      Colonial Impact, Social Memory and Forgetfulness.
2)     The Lies of Noble Ideals
3)     The Politics of Greed and Plunder
4)     The Wanton Sacrificing of Africa
5)     The Visible, Invisibility of Christianity

The Sacrifice of Africa offers a whirlwind tour of stories and thinkers who help us understand the ways in which the African Christian social imagination was warped by colonialism and modernity, and concludes with the stories of three amazing African Christians – Bishop Paride Taban of Sudan, Angelina Atyam of northern Uganda and Maggie Barankitse of Burundi – whose work offers hope of a revitalized, more faithful social imagination, not simply an ethereal imagination, but an imagination that engages in the struggles of these places and begins to be realized.  Katongole concludes the book with the observation that these stories offer us hope that churches can be more than merely religious communities, that they can become “a form of Christian social praxis that involves reordering geography, history, economics, politics, time, communities , relationships – in short, everything” (194-195).

In this Easter season, when we celebrate the new creation initiated in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, works like Emmanuel Katongole’s The Sacrifice of Africa, give us hope that the Christian social imaginations of churches in our own places can be guided by the life of resurrection, even when the culture to which we have been so deeply embedded collapses around us.  Our only hope lies in this resurrection, and we thank God for faith the faith and courage of our African brothers and sisters who are leading the way!

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
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One Comment

  1. “The Sacrifice of Africa” provides much food for thought, and I do not doubt that it will generate a fresh conversation at the intersection between Christian social ethics and Africa. Although I think I have a few issues with the way in which Katongole narrates several themes in his book, my main critique is that Katongole fails to demonstrate that the three final stories embody the u201ctheoretical frameworku201d he develops in part II. Tabanu2019s Holy Trinity Peace Village, for example, in a wonderful way, creates a space for Christians, Muslims, and traditionalists to live together in peace. However, given this reality, it is difficult to see how the Peace Village represents the u201cecclesiological vision, a model of the churchu2026u201d that Katongole promises in the introduction. Additionally, it is difficult to observe the difference between Atyamu2019s Concerned Parents Association and the u201cpoliticalu201d or u201cpastoralu201d paradigms Katongole critiques as a typical performance of Christian social ethics (see pp. 33-40). More specifically, Atyam decidedly works inside of nation-state politics when Atyam u201cmet with the rebels and with different government leaders, including the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni” (Katongole, 157). nnMy intention here is not to delegitimize the work of Taban, Atyam and Barankitse. I find their work and respective visions compelling and laudable. Moreover, I do not wish to suggest that these particular communities could not provide an inspiration or a witness to the church in a manner similar to Katongole’s vision. Instead my goal here is point out the incongruences between Katongoleu2019s theoretical vision (the fruit of his critique of the nation-state) and the three stories, which Katongole suggests embody that vision. Given this critique, one might wonder if this calls into question much of Katongoleu2019s constructive proposal. That being said, I am grateful to Katongole for his thoughtful examination on this important topic.