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Christian culture

The anthropological work published on the African Independent Church in the s and s show how the AIC instigated the development of alternative to the then still dominant structural-functionalist paradigm, which failed to address "social change" in a theoretically adequate way Mayer Not only anthropologist but even African Independent Churches leaders like Mzimba, Makhubu , and Ngada and Mofokeng themselves have taken time to write about their beliefs and values.

Both in Anthropological and in Christian literature one cannot deny the fact that at the core of AIC is their relationship with ancestors and rituals performed for them. Hence, academics like Mbiti have taken time in detailing with the role and meaning of the living dead as he calls them in the lives of African people.

Some of these Churches, like the Zionist Christian Church and other independent churches were started by black Africans who were not necessarily clergy or evangelists in mission churches. The African churches recognised the practices which were opposed by missionaries such as polygamy, initiation practice, ukubuyisa ceremonies for appeasing ancestors etc Pauw The church history that has been discussed above led to the current situation in the African Independent Church. Christians were also influenced by politics; as they sought their identity they began to see a need to stand for themselves and sought not only their cultural freedom but their political freedom as well.

In the 20 th century, Christian converts were well-educated; as a result, they were independent, self-sufficient and self-propagating so they had the freedom to choose their religious beliefs. At this time, there was also a strong growth of cultural nationalism and black consciousness among Africans in South Africa and in Africa at large.

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Some of the church clergy and leadership were also political leaders, so this created a bond between African local churches and the society. During my ethnographic study, I found out that there were two views and practices related to ancestral veneration, i. Pentecostal Churches clearly describe themselves as churches that have nothing to do with ancestors.

In fact they share the same opinion with missionaries by regarding any consultation of ancestors as "worshiping" them; thus they regard that as evil and sinful before God. One can conclude that just as the practice of ancestral rituals defines the belief and faith of African Independent Church, the non-practice of African rituals is what defined Pentecostal Churches. One would hear them in their testimonies and in their preaching confessing their faith in Jesus Christ and saying the Jesus freed them from 'worshiping' ancestors.

It was also interesting that Pentecostal Churches did practice initiation but performed what they called ukoluka kwecawa Church initiation which included full observance of the practice not ceremonies they deem to be associated with ancestors and those that they perceive to be against their Christian principles. For instance, they did not have 1 intsonyama, they did not talk to ancestors during the ceremony and they did not have alcohol like the case of AIC and MC and also did not have an igqira traditional healer present during initiation.

In practice there is no difference between most black Mainline Church members and African Independent Churches. Both the African Independent Church and most Mainline Church members practise African customs and rituals including initiation with all their traditional and orthodox practices including the existence of all rituals and use of alcohol. All ritual activities of initiates who were said to be members in these Churches were performed in the traditional or orthodox manner, the coming in and the graduation ceremonies were similar to all rituals associated with it.

Even the intsonyama practice was done and in some cases there was the presence of a traditional healer and all that was not questioned and viewed as anti-Christian. The AIC incorporated African rituals into their church services and they are open about it. Currently, the African independent churches in general still do not separate Christianity from African cultural life, meaning that there is no conflict between Christian conversion and the performing of African rituals and other practices. There is no separate traditional and Christian life to them; all life is one and complete so they do not have to hide that they performed traditional rituals.

They do not see ancestral practices as worship of ancestors as suggested by missionaries but as a way of appeasing or venerating them. Generally, African independent churches agree that ancestors are an important part of African culture; therefore, they should not be demonised. As a result, they have incorporated them in their church liturgy. For instance, it is common among them to use language usually used by traditional healers such as camagu let it be so and siyavuma we agree instead of "Amen" used by most Christians.

It is also very common that the church ministers can also be traditional leaders and church members openly consult them. At times, in church they even announce that a church member will have a ritual ceremony and also encourage others to attend. Even in some funerals, if the deceased was an igqirha, during the service the Minister or elder gives a chance to amagqirha plural of igqirha to sing and perform rituals related to the calling of ubugqirha being an igqirha and that is not viewed as a religious conflict.

However, the Mainline Church members separate church life from African ritual life, in the sense that individuals or family members can perform their African rituals at home, even consulting an igqirha as long that is kept a family matter. Members who are called to traditional healing are also accepted in the Church as long as they only consult at their private spaces and that they keep it to themselves, otherwise the Church does not promote that.

Contrary to the African Independent Church, in the Mainline Church, traditional healers are not allowed to perform their rituals at funerals even if the member was an igqirha. The view is that amagqirha can go and perform the ritual at the home of the deceased and not in the Church. Among the Mainline Church there were two groups, those who perform rituals and those who do not, with the majority of those who openly perform all their rituals.

The two opposing views also included ministers and Church leaders. For example, some ministers said that they did not practise or support African rituals but allowed their members the space to practise their beliefs. All members of the Church must understand each other's beliefs and practices. Literature indicates that in the s and s, rituals were performed in secret, making sure that the clergy and the missionaries did not know about the occurrence of these events; presently, rituals are openly performed as long as they are kept away from the Church.

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Each group did not report any discrimination even the minority one those who do not perform rituals were comfortable. Unlike the Pentecostal Churches, the Mainline Churches do not preach against ritual practices and ancestors; as a result when one attempts to criticise the African rituals, others will whisper "yeka into zabantu" leave people's things alone.

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Most Mainline Churches as a collective have not yet come up with a stand on the issues related to rituals but there is a Church tradition or doctrine adopted from missionary teachings that is against ancestral venerations. During this study, the informants were aware of that teaching and apart from the current status core of each person doing what they want; the missionary stand has not been interrogated.

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In addition, most elders among the informants said that they were very comfortable with the current opinion and practice of Mainline Churches in relation to ancestral veneration. However, during the interviews for this study most youth expressed frustration that the Churches did not have a known stand on the topic. Some said that it did not matter whether the Church was for or against rituals practices but as long as there was a common stand on the issue. Some expressed that they always feel embarrassed whenever they are asked of the Church stand on the issue and they cannot clearly articulate it.

Some remarked that to some extent, the lack of opinion does create argument among themselves as young people and such arguments never come up with any solution and in the end it has to be the Church leadership that gives direction on the matter. Some said that the church does have seminars about African heritage and African culture but a clear stand in relation to African ritual practices is never communicated. The findings of this study show that the character of black Mainline Church members in relation to their ancestors and rituals is the same as that of the African Independent Church.

The main difference is that the black Mainline Churches do not promote or talk about rituals in Church but in essence most of them; more especially the elders find no conflict between being a Christian and practising African rituals and practices. Undoubtedly, from the onset, the missionaries were clear with regard to ancestors and African rituals; the teachings of Pentecostal Churches and the African Independent Churches are also clear, but surprisingly, the black members of Mainline Churches are silent on the subject, which is the main concern of this paper.

The main issue is that in their own published literature they write a lot about African people and their cultures including ancestral veneration and rituals but do not come out on their stand as Mission Churches with regards to the topic. We see that narrative with authors like; Magoba, Dandala, Jafta, Mekoa and others. In a recent book written in honour of Dr.

Mogopa there are various chapters on African practices and African Independent Churches. For instance, Chapter 8, Mokoetsi , talks about inherent traditional preaching and he quotes a lot of Mbiti who openly argues that African traditional practice and rituals including ancestral veneration constitute African Christianity.

Mokoetsi only contextualises his literature to preaching but fails to scrutinise the broader black Methodist belief with regards to Mbiti's assertion.

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We find the same narrative in Chapter nine and ten by Mogopa where a discussion of African traditional practices and African Independent Churches are highly commended and appreciated but still there is no way forward drawn for black Methodists. The only known stand among the MC is by teaching of missionaries which forbids any kind of ancestral relationship. The current stand and practice suggests that the MC have now moved away from the teaching and influence of missionaries with regards to ritual practices but have not yet come out with one voice like they have done with regards to racism, discrimination and apartheid policies.

One can see their stand on their practice of African rituals at home, and this leads one to conclude that they are at the same space as the black mission Church members of the s, who secretly practiced their rituals at home in fear of missionaries.

I also recall when I was at University of Fort Hare between and teaching Theology; I often over-heard students from African Presbyterian Church teasing students from Uniting Presbyterian and Methodist Church, saying that at least as the African Independent Church, they have come out and openly practise their rituals without fear of white people.

They further noted that Mainline Churches believe in ancestral practices and rituals but are too scared to incorporate that into their liturgy due to fear of white people. The difference in this instance is that they are not afraid of excommunication, but they just do not want to offend their white counterparts.

The current situation of the Mainline Church seems to perpetuate division among themselves; for example, black members who oppose African ritual practices might easily offend those who are pro-ritual practices and vice versa. Members are left on their own to decide what to believe and to practice with regards to this issue. One would agree with me that this is a doctrinal matter, for the fact that missionaries suspended and excommunicated members who participated in them, that on its own suggest that it cannot be left in the hands of lay people.

There is a need for the clergy to scrutinise this in reference to the current Mainline Church in the democratic South Africa.


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The Mainline Churches need to deliberate on the issue of African identity, culture, ancestral venerations and ritual practices and take a stand on it. This will give direction to ordinary members and will further assist them to know what they believe and reasons for the belief. It seems that in belief and in practice there is not much difference between Mainline Church and African Independent Church members regarding practice of African ritual practice. Even though in the Mainline Churches, African rituals have not been incorporated in the Church, but African Mainline Church members are free to participate in their rituals at home.

Some people like Njeza find this as a conflict while some like his parents find no clash on the two. The main challenge is that even those who are comfortable with it are aware of the teaching of missionaries and the general stand of their Churches, which is against such practices. Again just like in Pauw's informants, the current situation to some extent does create hypocrisy in sense that they know that the doctrine of the Church is against ritual practices but they still perform them.

This paper poses a challenge to various faith groups to review their views, beliefs and practices and also explain why they do things the way they do. The young generation born in the democratic South Africa is not afraid to ask questions and the elders must be able to give them information on such important Church teachings before they depart from this world.