Friday, January 04, 2008

Dishonesty doesn't belong in a tribe

A lot has been written about the violence that has engulfed Kenya (which, thankfully, seems to be easing). One thing that I've always found disturbing about such conflicts is that ethnic and tribal allegiances seem to always trump Christian identity. One saw that with horrific clarity in Rwanda in 1994, in a country that is majority Catholic.

In his weekly Friday column, John Allen presents a superb analysis of the situation in Kenya from a Christian perspective: the challenges this kind of tribal/ethnic violence (which has been almost entirely intra-Christian) in a region that is one of the new centers of gravity for the Christian world in the 21st century. he also analyzes some of the statements by newly-named Cardinal Njue of Nairobi, which seem to have been perceived as partisan, in a hotly contested election.

Here's the rub:
Painting in broad strokes, Christianity in Africa tends to be youthful, vigorous, rooted solidly in the Bible rather than abstract theology, blending deep spiritual convictions with keen political and social engagement, and perhaps most beguiling of all, largely uncontaminated by the ideological polarization familiar in Western theological debate. Contrary to popular impression, African Christianity is not uniformly "conservative," which is a Western taxonomy, but often an intriguing blend of Biblical literalism with progressive social reform. The dream is that dynamic African Christians might reinvigorate the faith in other parts of the world.

For African Christianity to fulfill that potential, however, it will have to come to terms with the contagion of tribalism.
Read the whole thing. Catholics must walk carefully in Kenya's political crisis. (The title of this blog post is from the conclusion of the article.)

[Also see Slate: What's really going on in Kenya?]

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