A Review of
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!