Sunday, February 28, 2010

Christian and Voodou Tensions Heightened in Haiti

For Christians still reflecting on the earthquake tragedy that struck Haiti two recent and troubling aspects of a news story need to be carefully reflected upon in terms of our attitudes and actions toward those of other religions, particularly those that make Christians uncomfortable.

The Associated Press reports that a group of Evangelical Christians attacked a group of voodou practitioners.
"Voodooists gathered in Cite Soleil where thousands of quake survivors live in tents and depend on food aid. Praying and singing, the group was trying to conjure spirits to guide lost souls when a crowd of Evangelicals started shouting. Some threw rocks while others urinated on Voodoo symbols. When police left, the crowd destroyed the altars and Voodoo offerings of food and rum."
Some of this violence might be understood in relation to the escalating tensions that are running high, including religious ones, as a result of the devastation and deteriorating conditions in the country. But even so, this event is troubling to say the least, particularly in light of the second aspect of the story. This comes from comments made by a representative of a Christian ministry cited in the AP story:
"We would give food to the needy in the short term but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I'm not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn't want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel."
The Christianity Today liveblog pursued the circumstances surrounding this quote and contacted the individual who made them. He is claiming that his comments were taken out of context and misrepresented. The reader can click here to read the blog post with the broader comments in order to assess the situation.

My hope is that these comments were not made, in any context. It seems difficult to think of any kind of more favorable context in which to find the comments more palatable. But regardless, this raises issues that Christians need to reflect upon, both in international situations where humanitarian need is met for those who are members of other religions, as well as in local neighborhoods where we rub shoulders with practitioners of other spiritual pathways.

First, we have got to figure out ways in which to seek a better understanding of the religions of others, especially with those religions that are often equated with "witchcraft." The association of voodou with the "witchcraft" of the Bible demonstrates a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the beliefs of others, and when this is combined with the fears of "dark spiritual forces" found among Evangelicals, particularly in charismatic traditions, it is only natural that friction will result.

Second, Evangelicals need to move beyond viewing people in other religious traditions as objects for evangelism wherein the meeting of need is the means to the end of conversion. My thinking in this was stimulated most recently in reading a book that combined considerations from brain sciences with ideas related to religious conversion. Due to his perspective on human nature, as informed both by brain research and fresh biblical reflection, the author took exception to the common fundamentalist and Evangelical emphasis on "saving souls" and called for a more holistic approach that emphasized meeting human need as the Jesus story is lived out in different cultural contexts. Human beings, regardless of their religion or irreligion, are fellow image bearers of God and we come alongside of them to meet their needs as an outworking of our love for them and God regardless of whether they decide to embrace the pathway of Jesus.

I throw my thoughts into the mix for readers here, as well as for those who may weigh in at the Christianity Today liveblog site.


Thesauros said...

I wonder if you could find "any context" acceptable for Jesus in The Book of Revelation where He faults the Churches for accepting the practice of food offered to idols? Interestingly one of the communities, Sardis had been destroyed in 17 AD by an enormous earthquake. Just wondering.

John W. Morehead said...

Thesauros, your views and comments illustrate the problem. You apparently condone violence by Christians against voodou practitioners in Haiti since you equate it with the denunciation of churches in the Book of Revelation. I would remind you of your misinterpretation in that Christ's judgment in this context falls on Christians, not practitioners of other religions. It is this kind of biblical misinterpretation and misapplication that results in the religion on religion violence in Haiti. We can and should do better in the name of Christ.

Thesauros said...

No, I'm not condoning the violence against anyone. Good point however regarding my missing that Jesus was indeed speaking to "christians."

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Not to mention that there is a distinction, surely, between food offered to idols, and food offered to "idolators"?

Though, as a non-Christian, I sometimes wonder if the deeper idolatry isn't weighing this or that verse of Revelations or Deuteronomy or Leviticus over the two "great commandments"--that we love our neighbors as ourselves, and love our God with all our hearts and souls.

Not that I'm an authority. But...

John W. Morehead said...

Good thoughts, Cat. I think Christians sometimes have difficulty in their zeal for truth, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy, and in this zeal they defined their boundaries between "us and them," but in the process love for God and neighbor may lose in the process.

There is indeed a difference between the Christian reflecting on the ethics for themselves of eating food offered to idols and offering food to those Christians might see as involved with idols.

Great thoughts.

Snoozepossum said...

Hey John,

Thank you for writing this. In the parable of the Samaritan, he did not require anything of the Jew for his help; he merely helped him.

The small voice that speaks in defense of his fellow man's freedom and asks for compassion in the face of disaster is not small at all.

Snooze Hamilton
hedge witch