African Divine Church
Christianity began a slow spread across Africa from Egypt in the first century. It spread slowly and established only a few strong holds in places like the Kingdom of Aksum in present day Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Shortly thereafter Islam began its spread across Africa as well - competing for followers. But Africa was not a blank slate amenable to any new belief system. Thousands of years (tens of thousands?) before Jesus or Mohammed walked the earth Africans were following their own indigenous beliefs. It wasn't until the last hundred years that Christianity began to really take off in Africa. In the year 1900 there were about nine million Christians in Africa - today there are more than three hundred and fifty million. Despite being the planet's second largest continent, Africa has gone, in a relatively short time, from having an entirely indigenous belief system to being mostly Christians and Muslims. Because most indigenous African religions are not mutually exclusive and they easily permitted the addition of Christian and Islamic beliefs. Today, only Togo can claim that the majority of its population practice exclusively traditional African religions.
Religious scholars now see much of the Christianity across the continent as being a completely different form of Christianity than is known to the West. Often infused with traditional beliefs or simply interpreted in a uniquely African way the Christianity of Africa today shows tremendous variation. Today there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations in Africa - each with its own, unique, beliefs.
My visit to African Spirit Church of Light, which often goes by the name African Divine Church, (ADC) was as the first segment in an ongoing series on African Christianity that explores the way African and Western religion differ. Followers of African Divine Churches are seemingly ubiquitous in East Africa but their teachings are just fluid enough to be difficult to pin down. African Divine Church is notorious for stunning parades of followers singing and dancing down rural African roads with a Christian cross at the front of the procession. Equally stunning but much less frequently seen is what happens inside the church. This particular branch of the religion was too small to parade in the streets so its weekly Sunday service was entirely contained within a small mud walled building.
The experience begins to the sound of a young boy beating a cow-hide drum in front of a simple mud building. His beat punched through the quiet air of the Kenyan countryside. I followed this drum down a road that rarely sees cars through fields of sugarcane and shy children until I met the pastor...
I met the pastor leading the service outside his church: a middle-aged man named Chris Nyongesa. His service was attended, with the exception of a single 'door man', by women (and two little girls). Despite this his preaching was dramatically androcentric; claiming that "women should remain below the man" as a "kind of respect from God." He also explained that this church had two doors, one for the leading men, and another for the women (and for me...).
The African Spirit Church of Light is not an example of Christianity in Africa as a whole but rather one small example of Africans taking an imported religion and interpreting it in a way that is largely different than any Western interpretation.