African clerics seek to omit colonial legacy from gospel

Bishop John Rucyahana, the President of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, and Sheikh Salim Hitimana, the Mufti of Rwanda, during the conference at Kigali Convention Centre. / Kelly Rwamapera

Over 500 religious leaders from across Africa are convening in Kigali for a three-day congress being held under the theme ‘religious freedoms and building a tolerant continent of Africa’.

The congress organised by the General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (SDA) started Thursday will end on Saturday with a grand congregation at Amahoro National Stadium which will attract over 30,000 people.

Emphasising religious liberties, speakers revealed that despite the fact that Rwanda and most other African nations respect freedoms of worship; denominations themselves could be somehow entangled in the theology of colonisers.

Retired Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana, the president of National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) welcomed the conference as “another way of decolonising mindset of believers”.

“The forefathers of denominations in Africa were colonisers who also had a long history of enmity between religious sects in their countries, and that’s the discord they sawed in Africans”.

Bishop Rucyahana called upon religious leaders to denounce the gospel of hatred “because it was a colonial legacy not the intention of the gospel in the Bible itself”.

“We’re aware that religious persecution in Europe banished some denominations to other continents like America,” he said, adding that “the same European coloniser’s mind-set was spread in Africa but thank God we’re getting out of such”.

Prof John Mbiti, a religious philosopher and writer from Kenya, attained his doctorate in theology in the early 1960, when the independence winds were sweeping across Africa.

He too said he had noticed some cases where the Bible has been mistranslated, at times for political expedience.

As a translator in bible societies, he claims to have noticed the use of western expressions and sentence structures in some African Bibles “due to the fact that they were translated on certain regulations from colonisers”.

“Instead of translating from the original writings, Greek or Hebrew, some bibles are translated directly from English, French or German under the supervision of Western countries,” he noted.

This kind of translation, he says, is another hindrance to religious liberty.

Pastor Hesron Byiringiro, the SDA president at Rwanda Union Mission said that the conference was organised in Rwanda because of full religious liberties denominations enjoy in the country.

He added that the SDA is one church that enjoys freedoms of worship “even going to church on Saturday when the rest of the country is doing community work on the last Saturday of every month”.

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