This essay examines the work of two prominent progressive Haitian Theologians: Laënnec Hurbon, a Catholic Theologian and former Priest, and Jean Fils-Aimé, a Protestant Theologian and former Pastor in Montreal, and their interaction with the Vodou religion. Both thinkers have written prolifically about the three major religious expressions in Haiti and the enduring religious conflict between Protestantism, Catholicism, and Vodou in the Caribbean nation. The history of relations between Christianity—both Protestant and Catholic—and Vodou in Haiti is marked by a high degree of combativeness, hostility, and discomfort. To resolve the religious tension between Haitian Vodou and Haitian Christianity, Hurbon has suggested a frank ecumenical dialogue between Vodou, Catholicism, and Protestantism, and carefully demonstrated the legitimation of Vodou in the Haitian experience and life. In the same line of thought, Fils-Aimé has recommended an inter-religious dialogue between the two religious traditions, and brilliantly argued for the inculturation of the Vodou faith in Haitian Protestantism and culture. Through their work, both thinkers continue to campaign for more religious tolerance, pluralism, and religious inclusivism in Haitian society. I am suggesting that the Catholic theologian Laënnec Hurbon in his classic work Dieu dans le vaudou haı¨tien (1972) has inaugurated what we phrase the Christian–Vodouist compromissory tradition. Following the footsteps of Hurbon, Fils-Aimé in his controversial and learned work Vodou, je me souviens, published in 2007, has done for Haitian Protestantism what Hurbon has achieved for Haitian Catholicism—pushing forward the idea of the inculturation of Vodou culture and practices in Protestant Christianity in Haiti—within the framework of a Protestant– Vodouist compromissory tradition.
We just can’t continue to assume America’s race problem will eventually fix itself. Being color-blind is never an effective cure to the predicament of race. Ignoring the pain and problem of race will not make it go away. Blaming each other is not an effective strategy; this method does not provide the cure. In America, race has a devastating bearing on the American psyche and practice. Its impact invades the whole of the American life and experience including the sphere of religion, education, sexuality, theology, economics, class, housing, employment, love, friendship, and any form of social and human interactions.
The race problem makes interracial friendship almost an impossibility in our culture. It engenders fear among us and distrust among Americans of different social classes and racial groups. The predicament of race in our culture contributes substantially to human suffering and heightens the problem of pain in our society. Not only it defers interraci love, dating, and marriage; it has the potential to bring fear and misunderstand ing in existing interracial friemdship, love, and marriage. It causes deep hurt and disappointment among American children. America’s racial imagination can be compared to a heavy yoke and a multifaceted burden we carry, live with, and ultimately endure. It will not be an exagerration to infer that our race-thinking and race-motivated actions are perhaps synonymous with the human condition and experience in America.
Race-thinking and race-acting is theological, intellectual, mental, and psychological. While many have interpreted the race problem as a sin problem, it also has deep roots in our social arrangements and human imagination. Race blinds the teacher to see the potential of greatness in his/her student. Likewise, it makes the student doubts the integrity and commitment of his/her teacher to his or her learning and success.Race not only defers our lifegoals, it leads to shattered dreams and life objectives. Race makes us forget that we are humans and relational people. Race dehumanizes people and defames human dignity. Race is the enemy of our common humanity and undermines the biblical notion that both man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God.
America’s racial fabric and imagination suffers a profound spiritual and theological crisis that affects all facets of the human life and condition, and human relationships in the American Society. The sick person needs to be treated. The cancer patient needs chemotherapy to effect cure. Let’s work together until dawn to find a common and satisfactory solution to this national conundrum.
Between History and Myth: Three Perspectives on the Role of Religion in Haiti’s National History and the Haitian Revolution
Generally, there are three main interpretations of Haiti’s national history and the watershed historical moment of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), in which the dynamics between religion, myth, and history became a scholarly and intellectual investigation and curiosity. The three perspectives of the unfolding events leading to the Haitian Revolution and the successful birth of the Haitian state and concurrently the ultimate abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue include the Protestant version of Haitian History, the Vodouist version of Haitian History, and the Secular (non-theistic) version of the Haitian History. The goal of this short essay is to briefly recapitulate these three ideological approaches, and to articulate an alternative view.
First, the Protestant (Christian) version of Haitian history states that in August 14, 1791, a group of enslaved Africans gathered in a secret Vodou meeting at Bois Caiman (a little place outside of the city of Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and about two to three miles from the entrance gate of Plaine du Nord), sacrificed a pig as part of their religious-Vodou ritual, and dedicated the country of Haiti to the Devil so they could be free from the tyranny of slavery and French colonization. Protestant Haitian Christians have interpreted this historic meeting as a demonic pact. From that point on, Haiti has been cursed because of that (1) historical pact their African ancestors made with the Devil, and (2) that the Vodou religion to which Haitian ancestors committed themselves is an evil religion. Consequently, many Haitian Christians and Church leaders, both in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, equate Vodou with devil worshipping and directly associated the Afro-Haitian religion with stricken-poverty characterized Haiti’s contemporary society and the plight of the majority of Haitian population. Vodou does not truly liberate people; rather, it keeps its adherents in in profound spiritual bondage and material poverty.
Second, the Vodouist perspective of Haitian history argues that in August 14, 1791, a group of enslaved Africans, many of whom were Vodou priests and Vodouizan, gathered in a secret Vodou meeting in a plantation plain called Bois Caiman, made a pact among themselves—not with the Devil as the Protestants claim—and swore to be free or die. Vodouizan also contend that most of the military leaders and commanders of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803) were also Vodou priests who not only mobilized the rancorous enslaved population to freedom and independence, they provided encouragement, spiritual comfort, and eventually led Haiti to become the first independent Black-Republic in the Western world. As a result, in the Vodouist interpretation of the Haitian history, the Vodou religion is interpreted as the catalyst that empowered the slaves toward freedom out of slavery and independence from French colonialism. Vodou is both Haiti’s (ancestral) spiritual and cultural heritage which all Haitians should promote and preserve. People in this tradition also maintain that Vodou is the religion of the Haitian majority, and it is the faith that sustains the Haitian people from the beginning to the present.
Finally, the Secular (non-theistic) version of Haitian History affirms that Bois Caiman is a fabrication and national myth in Haitian History. It never happened because there were no contemporary eyewitness accounts that attested to the historical credibility and accuracy of that nocturnal meeting, and that it is difficult to know exactly what really transpired in the night of August 14, 1791, if it even happened. The written accounts of the historic night should be understood as pseudo historiographies which were written many years after the actual event took place by travel writers and historians who fabricated the story of the Bois Caiman event. These written accounts should be seen as embroidered accounts of an acceptable national myth. The alternative idea advanced by proponents of this school of thought is that generous number (about 30 to 40 %?) of the African slaves, who were transported to the Saint-Domingue island in the period of the Haitian Revolution—that is at the end of eighteenth century—came from the kingdom of Kongo; they were prominent soldiers and men of war who possessed incredible military skills and strategies, and knew how to win a war. The success of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 can only be attributed to African military genius—not to religious piety or dependence to a Supreme Being/God.
Toward a More Inclusive Interpretation of Haitian History: An Alternative View
Both Protestant and Vodouist interpretations of Haiti’s national History and the Haitian Revolution acknowledge the theistic or divine element of Haitian History. The non-theistic secular interpretation rejects the doctrine of divine providence in human history because, in a sense, it contradicts the critical nature and study of human history and the clear delineation between observable historical facts and myth-making/fiction. The Vodouist version of Haitian history champions ancestral cultural traditions and practices, and see Africa as the center piece of Haitian cultural and religious identity. By contrast, the Protestant version of Haitian history undermines the ancestral religious traditions and spirituality of the Haitian people because it contradicts Christian morality and the belief in the only Triune God. In fact, the Protestant narrative attests that when an individual is converted to the Christian faith, his/her national identity and racial identity do not matter anymore because in Christ, God is creating one race, one people, and one collective Christian identity. Protestant Haitian Christians also stress that Jesus is the substance of Haitian identity because in him, God is also creating a new Haiti in contemporary Haitian society. Vodou is the antithesis of Christianity. Haitian Protestant Christians unapologetically affirm that Christianity is the only true religion of the living God and the true religion of human liberation. Finally, the Protestant perspective maintains the idea that Haiti is cursed because at its beginning, the founders failed to dedicate the country to God, but did so to the Devil.
Beyond the explored three multiple viewpoints of Haitian history, as highlighted in the aforementioned paragraphs, the Islamic version of Haitian history and the Haitian Revolution has been neglected by both Haitian and Haitianist historians and thinkers. Recent studies on the Haitian Revolution and the religious culture of the Africans in the time of the Haitian Revolution have demonstrated the Islamic element of the Haitian Revolution, and the fact of Islamic piety in the colonial life in Saint-Domingue. However, the Islamic interpretation of the Haitian history is not a new perspective; proponents of this school of thought maintain that a large number of the enslaved population at Saint-Domingue and iconic leaders of the pre-revolutionary era (i.e. Francois Makandal) and the Haitian Revolution (i.e. Dutty Boukman) were fervent adherents (i.e. Fatima) to Islam. Some of these slaves came from countries that had enjoyed an incredibly Islamic influence and political rule and peace such as Senegal (i.e. the Askia dynasty of Sudan), Ghana (i.e.The Mossi Empire of modern-day Ghana), Nigeria (i.e. the Bornu Empire), etc. In contemporary Haitian society, the Islamic perspective of the Haitian Revolution has attracted a new cadre of Haitian intellectuals who rejected both the Vodouist and Christian interpretations of Haiti’s national history and the Haitian Revolution. This attitude is also due to a reinterpretation of Haitian history in the light of the Islamic past of the Caribbean nation, and that Islam continues to spread progressively its wings in various parts of the country.
In all of the four perspectives discussed above, there’s a high level of hermeneutical exaggeration of Haitian history, the historical data, and the Haitian Revolution, which is presented to us as “historical certainty.” The individuals who prefer a religious interpretation of Haiti’s national history and the Haitian Revolution emphasize the importance of their own religion in the success of the unfolding events of the Haitian Revolution and the triumph of human freedom, and human rights and dignity in global history. They also accentuate the functional role of religion in the process of social and political transformation, and the reversal of human oppression and political tyranny. It is impossible for the champions of this view to conceive the human experience and human history without the divine imprint and God’s direct intervention in gearing human actions and modifying certain historical events toward his desired goal in the best interest and good of all people. On the other hand, the secular approach of the Haitian Revolution counters the theistic thesis.
In addition, first of all, the Africans who gathered in the night of August 14, 1791 to plan their freedom and independence from white rule and the labyrinth of slavery did not make a pact with the devil. It is an “evangelistic strategy” that right-wing Haitian Protestants promulgated to win converts and create collective fear among the Haitian people. The Protestant Haitian narrative seeks to foster a new national consciousness in the Caribbean nation in order that Protestant Haitian Christianity might win Haiti for Christ and transform Haiti into a (Protestant) Christian nation. (Interestingly, from the founding moment of the new Haitian state, in the first Haiti’s Constitution, Catholic Christianity was declared the official religion of the Haitian state; technically, Haiti began as a Christian nation—not by individual confession or commitment to the Christian faith and values—but for political expediency and affiliation with the so-called “Christian nations” in the Western world). White American and European missionaries created this tragic narrative to demonize the Vodou religion, disvalue the African element of the Haitian culture, and Christianize and westernize the Haitian people. Haitian Protestant Christians unashamedly believe this discourse; they even own it and now boldly proclaim this peculiar narrative about the ambivalent role of religion and history in Haitian history. This attitude is such a terrible strategy to proselytize people to Protestant Christianity. There are more effective and biblical ways to win the “lost Haitian soul” for the Kingdom of God and its Christ. We reject the Protestant interpretation of Haitian history; it is pseudo-history. Haitian Christians do not have to lie about or exaggerate the religious history of Haiti to magnify God and validate the truthfulness of the Gospel message to their fellow Haitians. God is bigger than human history and religion, which we have created.
Secondly, the meeting that took place in Bois Caiman in August 14, 1791, was not strictly a “religious gathering;” rather, it was a “political meeting” that was inspired by various religious forces: African traditional religions, Christianity, and Islam. The summit did happen although it is impossible to demarcate with accuracy the precise historical elements and details of this historic event. This is where history and fiction meets.
Finally, we should embrace a more inclusive interpretation of Haiti’s national history and the Haitian Revolution, which would affirm the remarkable contributions of both enslaved and free African Christians, Muslims, and African Vodouists to the freedom and independence of the Haitian people from colonial bondage, political totalitarianism, and the institution of slavery. The faith of the Africans who were brought to Saint-Domingue was not monolithic nor have the Africans subscribed to a homogeneous interpretation of religion. A lot of countries, which Haitian ancestors came from, were already Islamized and Christianized—such as Kongo, Gabon, Angola, Senegal, Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, etc. The enslaved population that was compulsorily transported to the island of Saint-Domingue to work in the New World’s agricultural plantation system were ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse. They were fervent Christians, Muslims, and Vodouists. Some were even non-religious for since the beginning of creation and time men and women have challenged the social construct of religion and even rebelled against God their Creator.
The Haitian government is celebrating 200 years of the presence of Protestant Christianity in Haiti since its arrival in 1816, under the administration of President Alexandre Petion. However, Protestant’s activities in the Caribbean nation can be traced to colonial times and the slavery era in Saint-Domingue. Because Catholic missionaries, who have been appointed by the French monarchy, were chiefly responsible to catechize the enslaved population, the Protestant mission was quickly declined n the first one hundred years, if not less, of the slavery epoch. Also, the Catholic church was the official religion of the state and held tremendous power and influence over the religious and secular education of the Haitian people. Interestingly, Protestantism is the fastest growing religion in contemporary Haitian society; it is estimated 30 to 40% of the Haitian population is actively committed to the Protestant faith, a clear indication of the progressive decline of Haitian Catholicism and Haitian Vodou.
For more about this event, refer to the article listed below:
In the small group I’m facilitating this semester at #CalvaryChapelPSL, we will be studying Tim Keller’s “Grace Changes Everything.”
If you live in the St. Lucie and Indian county areas and are looking for encouragement and solid biblical teaching on how to live graciously and gently-empowered by the Gospel of grace and life-in this broken world, I cordially invite you to join us every Wednesday @ 700 p.m.
Our first meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday, September 7. Should you have any questions or concerns, kindly send me an email @ firstname.lastname@example.org
” Join author and pastor Tim Keller in an eight-week, video- based study of the gospel and how to live it out in everyday life. In Week One you and your group will study the city, our home now—the world, that is. Week Eight closes with the theme of the eternal city, our heavenly home—the world that is to come. In between, you’ll learn how the gospel changes our hearts, our community, and how we live in this world. ”
The Predicament of White Evangelical Scholarship and Evangelical Theological Education: Radical Reconciliation for a New Christian Community
In this short essay, we articulate a two-fold objectives about white evangelical scholarship and theological education in America. First, we suggest that the project of Christian reconciliation and unity, from the perspective of ethnic and racial difference, in the various Christian circles in America must begin in the theological seminaries and divinities where prospect Christian ministers are trained for the Christian ministry and vocation. The second objective of this piece is to argue that reconciliation and harmony can be successful achieved in various Christian communities and Evangelical circles when we radically restructure the theological curriculum of Christian seminaries and divinities schools by intentionally integrating non-White professors and administrators in the culture of these institutions, and correspondingly, by placing these individuals in position of power and influence to make critical decisions to enrich student enhancement and success toward the intellectual and spiritual progress of these schools. Consequently, the theological education of prospect Christian ministers and leaders should be broadly-diverse, encompassing the transcultural, transracial, and global experiences of Christians and the multiple narratives of Christianity beyond the White-American and European theological paradigm and hermeneutical framework and reasoning. As a result, we introduce two concepts: “radical Christian reconciliation,” and “revolutionary Christian unity.”
By “radical Christian reconciliation,” and “revolutionary Christian unity,” in the context of theological education and Evangelical Scholarship in North America and in the Western world, we are protesting against the monolithic narrative that gears theological engagement and stirs theological learning in this Region and beyond; both phrases propose an intellectual shift and a new direction toward a more inclusive Evangelical scholarship ad theological education to counter white evangelical resistance to the biblical and theological voice of non-White Christian thinkers. The desire not to actively engage non-White Christian biblical scholars and theologians has, in fact, led to the ensuing decline of Evangelical Scholarship and weakened its intellectual impact on culture and society. Comparatively, the erasure of non-white Evangelical scholarship in contemporary Evangelical thinking has contributed to the depreciation or devaluation of Evangelicalism as a worldview and system. The silence of minority voices in contemporary Evangelical scholarship has also resulted in the devaluation, untrustworthiness, and misapprehension of Christian Evangelicalism in modern theological history of ideas. The problem lies in the legitimacy and authenticity of the Evangelical intellectualism.
White Evangelical scholarship has fostered a deliberate disengagement with non-white Evangelical scholarship. This purposeful alienation and intellectual distancing, which is more perceptive in the disciplines of theology, Christian ethics, and biblical studies, between white Christian thinkers and non-white Christian scholars, have often delayed the work of reconciliation and harmony in Christian communities and Evangelical guild (s) in America and beyond. The idea that Evangelical scholarship produced by white thinkers is rigorous and more faithful to the Biblical data as compared to the Evangelical scholarship produced by non-white thinkers is not only intellectual arrogance, it is sinful. No Christian thinker or evangelical scholarly community is the guardian of Evangelical or Christian scholarship. Christian hermeneutics is like a spiral that encapsulates various voices and ideas. From an ethnic and racial perspective, in order for genuine Christian reconciliation and unity to become a practical reality in Christian intellectual communities and institutional places, we must begin with the terrain or sphere in which our pastors, ministers, counselors, Christian leaders, missionaries, etc. receive training and education for the ministry and a career in Christian vocation.
How to move forward toward Radical Christian reconciliation and unity
In this juncture of the essay, allow me to offer a few helpful suggestions in the subsequent paragraphs below. The first four suggestions are directed to white presidents and administrators of divinity schools and Christian seminaries; the last four recommendations are addressed to white Christian professors teaching in seminaries and divinity schools. These suggestions will be followed by two important appendices: Appendix A, Number of Full-Time Faculty by Race/Ethnicity, Rank, and Gender – United States, 2013, and Appendix B: 10 Largest U.S. Seminaries, 2015-2016.
A) For White Christian seminary and divinity schools presidents and administrators
Foremost, achieving ethnic and racial diversity in Christian theological education is not or should not be a program of theological schools; it is a necessity for the triumphal work of the Gospel and the imperative of reconciliation in Christian higher learning.
Secondly, while it is important that racial and ethnic diversity is representative in the student population of your seminary or divinity school, it is critically crucial that racial and ethnic diversity is also evident among the individuals of your staff and administration, especially among those who hold the power and influence to shape the future of your school and make critical decisions for the student and faculty body. In other words, it is of paramount importance to delegate power and responsibility to non-white administrators and committee members toward the growth and success of your seminary. The integration of ethnic diversity in your faculty and staff population should be an intentional doing.
Thirdly, if you are white and the president of a seminary or divinity school, you should be intentional about multicultural theological education by incorporating a well-represented diverse and multi-ethnic theological curriculum. In other words, a theological curriculum that tells a single narrative, that is the singular experience and monolithic account of White American and European Christians and Western Christianity—while neglecting or silencing the multiple narratives of non-Anglo Saxon Christians, and the stories of God working actively among the peoples and cultures in the world–is a great disservice to the Great Commission and international mission. It is also a tragic hindrance to missional evangelism and Christianity’s engagement with cultural and religious pluralism, and transnational and trans-cultural world.
Fourthly, hiring non-white faculty members who are going to be faithful to the mission of your seminary or divinity school is not a program; it is necessary if you want to achieve both faculty and student diversity and contribute to the important task of reconciliation in Christian higher learning. The “color,” “race,” and “gender” of your faculty body is indicative of your theological vision, the extent of the school’s mission, and ultimately, your politics of inclusion and exclusion.
B) For White Christian seminary and divinity schools professors
First of all, if you are a white Christian professor teaching at a seminary or divinity school, operating within the paradigm of evangelical scholarship, be intentional in your selection of “required texts” for your course, as you should strongly consider assigning non-white Christian authors or texts written by non-Anglo Christian thinkers. By doing so, you are encouraging your students to be open to the non-white reading and interpretation of Scriptures; their theological experience and training will be enriched immeasurably. This is also an important endeavor for your students to study broadly and thinking outside the “white box,” and “the white narrative” of Christianity, and most importantly, your students will have a better grasp of the human condition and appreciation for their theological education.
Even though you may not share the experience or culture of the non-white Christian writer you’re teaching and your students are learning about, you are well acquainted with various theological methods and theological pedagogy to effectively facilitate the conversation in your classroom. As you’re enriching your students spiritually, culturally, intellectually, and theologically, you are also growing together with your students by benefiting from this shared experience.
Secondly, if you are a white biblical scholar or theological professor, it is important to challenge your students to think broadly beyond the historical, textual, and cultural hermeneutical approach–the standard approach of Evangelical hermeneutics– what if you were to lead your students to think critically about a certain text or particular theological system or theological idea from a non-Western perspective providing a non-white reading of the Biblical data. What if you were to ask your students to suppose how an evangelical community in Africa, Asia, or Caribbean would interpret a particular theological idea or biblical passage? Your role as a facilitator is to encourage intellectual curiosity grounded on alternative reading of the Biblical account.
Critical non-conventional theological and biblical interpretation, by any means, will encourage theological apostasy nor engender intellectual doubt about the reliability and credibility of the biblical account. Building strong theological muscles and a critical mind that honors God in the thinking process and the production of Christ-exalting ideas is a mark of good Christian scholarship and sound theological instruction.
Thirdly, as a seminary or divinity professor who has the freedom to craft new courses and tailor the new course to achieve certain objectives and particular goals toward student enhancement and success, you should also venture in offering unfamiliar and challenging courses, such as theology and race, theology and anthropology, theology, gender, and sexuality, Church History from the Non-Western Context, Non-Western Biblical and Theological Hermeneutics, Christology from non-Western Perspective, etc.
Finally, White evangelical biblical scholars and theologians and seminary and divinity schools presidents and administrators ought to know that the sovereign and almighty God of the universe has also called people everywhere to Christian scholarship, and raised non-white Christian biblical scholars and theologians to serve the church faithfully through sound theological writing and Christ-exalting scholarship. When White Evangelical scholars and theological schools’ administrators commit themselves to actively engage the works of non-white Christian thinkers, and pay close attention to the alternative perspectives they bring to the table, which might often challenge the accepted hermeneutics or even counter the so-called “standard interpretation,” the first phase of racial and ethnic reconciliation and unity will begin. Don’t be quit to dismiss non-white Evangelical scholars or their works. Cite them respectfully and responsibly even if you disagree with their thesis or the theological premise.
The conundrum of contemporary theological education in America lies in the fact that most contemporary evangelical theological seminaries and divinity schools are not preparing their students adequately to effectively and constructively engage the culture, and radically transform their society with the training they received. Another shortcoming or pitfall of contemporary evangelical theological education pertains to the reality that these same institutions are not preparing their future pastors, ministers, or church leaders to minister to various multi-ethnic and multi-racial groups and circles. Interestingly, the twenty-first century carries a lot of promises for Evangelical scholarship and theological education to thrive and expand their horizons for the greater good of Christianity to the glorious praise of the Triune and eternal God. The need for generous inclusion of many different people at the Evangelical table is as urgent today as it were one hundred years ago.
Number of Full-Time Faculty by Race/Ethnicity, Rank, and Gender – United States
Race and Ethnicity
Asian or Pacific
Native or Inuit
Source: 2013 – 2014 Annual Data Tables – The Association of Theological Schools (ATS)
In the past month or so, some of you have emailed me and/or requested my friendship on Facebook; I have failed to honor your request. I apologize for this inconvenience. It’s been a crazy summer here as I was attempting to finish up a manuscript on Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Theology and Political Theology, and concurrently teaching two intensive six-week summer classes. Kindly, please make your request again so we can be reconnected via Facebook!