Article by USPG Theological Adviser Evie Vernon…
At a church gathering in Kenya recently, an Ethiopian pastor approached my Jamaican friend Marjorie and suggested she went Ethiopia to convert the Jamaican Rastafari community there. He felt she would be ideal as a Jamaican Christian. But how ethical would that be?
The Rastafari faith emerged as a critique on Christianity, which was seen as a religion that had sold its African sisters and brothers for material gain. Christians had colluded with slavery and justified their position by proclaiming that Africans were ugly degraded savages who could only be saved by coming into servile contact with Europeans.
Even after the official ending of chattel slavery in the British Empire, darker-skinned people were still seen as ‘lesser breeds without the law’ (Rudyard Kipling).
Rastafari grew out of the Kingston slums, in Jamaica, where black survivors of the Atlantic slave trade had been relegated to abject poverty.
Rastafari preached that being African was a blessing, not a curse – that ‘knotty’ African hair and dark African skin were beautiful – and that material poverty and degrading social conditions were no indicators of one’s true nobility.
So, in the Rastafari tradition, every woman is greeted, hand over heart, as Princess or Empress, and every man as My Lord.
Rastafari replaced the heretical demonisation of human beings with a recognition of the divine in each person – an acceptance that all are made in the image of God – a realisation that everyone is a subject of their own destiny rather than an object of someone else’s.
So should we be rushing out to convert Rastafari to Christianity? Or should we be rushing to convert Christians to Christianity?
If Christians had kept faith with our own belief that each person is made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27), and if we had respected the divine in each person, then all Christians would have fought against slavery. The Atlantic slave trade would never have been, and there would be no slums in Kingston, nor anywhere else, because all persons would be treated with dignity and respect.
If Christians truly convert to Christianity, there would be no need for campaigns to bring people to Christ because the world would recognise Jesus in the love flowing out from the Christian community.