There is a phrase that has been traveling the the mystical teachings of jesus circles for a couple of years now. I get upset every time I hear it. Some proud academic will stand up and say, “There have been a lot of people becoming Christians in Africa, but in Africa, faith is a mile wide and a half inch deep.” I have no idea what point the first person who spoke that was trying to make. It has become the modern characterization of African Christianity, even among African church leaders who have been trained in the United States or Europe.
Africans pastors have utilized that phrase to to rebuke those who mix Christianity and African traditional religion. Non-African missionaries and professors use it to chastise Christian leaders for not training their flocks in-dept about the Christian walk. Either way, it disturbs me greatly.
It is simply not a statement that characterizes the majority of Christians in Africa. The American Christian magazine Christianity Today published a couple of articles a decade ago that dealt with the issue of some African Christians offering sacrifices and libations to ancestors and even a few pastors and priests endorsing the practice. These cases, while true, are not the norm in Africa. However, make no mistake about it, those Christian denominations and church that are growing do identify heavily with African culture and that is proper and good. It wasn’t too long ago that many Africans would call Christianity a foreign religion. The buildings, the way they worshiped, and the songs they sang all came from Europe and America. That is not the case today. African pastors have grown churches that embrace African architecture, glorified vibrant, African worship, and called on their own poets to write songs that are put to traditional melodies. That does not make African Christianity an inch deep, it makes it African.
While authors of the articles in Christianity Today may have generated some debate, there is no debate among the majority of African Christians. There are far more African Christians that have suffered some form of persecution for refusing to offering traditional sacrifices than those who would endorse, let alone perform, them.
The faith of most of the African Christians that I have known over the past past half century is stronger than my own. Syncretistic practices (the mixing of Christian and traditional religion resulting in something different than either) do exist in Africa, just as they do in America and Europe. God is not a white man, nor do followers of his son have to act as white Christians. Christianity is firmly planted in Africa and its roots are miles deep, not an inch deep