Why an Ex-Christian Project for Africans Matters

Thu, 3 Dec 2015 Source: Igwe, Leo

Leo Igwe

The recent visit to Africa by the catholic pontiff has drawn the world's attention to the significant Christian population in the region. The number of Christians in Africa is expected to rise in the coming decades. Unfortunately, there has been no mention of the growing number of Africans who are leaving the Christian faith. Particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, many people who are born into Christian families or those who are brought up as Christians are 'deconverting' and renouncing 'the faith of their fathers'. From Ethiopia to Botswana, Kenya to Liberia, Cape Town to Kinshasha, a growing number of Africans are saying farewell to Christianity and in fact to God. So, the formation of the Ex-Christians of Africa by a former Pentecostal Christian woman from South Africa, Nyameka Mahlengeni, is a timely initiative that holds a lot of promise for African renaissance and enlightenment. The group is currently an online initiative and is open for all ex Christians of Africa and others who are in the subject of deconversion in Christian Africa.

Some people may be asking: Why does a project that caters for the needs of ex-Christians in Africa matter at this time in the history of the continent? First of all, Africans who have openly renounced their faith in Christ are few and far apart. They are limited in number not really because they few per se but because leaving the Christian religion can sometimes be a very risky and challenging undertaking. The process elicits hostile reactions from family and friends. So, many Africans cannot be openly and publicly skeptical about their faith; they cannot embark on this critical journey of leaving their religion even they have lost faith in the Christian faith. Sometimes, people start the process of leaving their christian faith but discontinue after a while due to social pressure. They prefer paying lip service to the Christian religion to being associated with the 'stigma of non-belief'. Expressing doubts about one's faith in Christ is often taken to be a sign of religious weakness which should be suppressed or a form of temptation from the devil which should be resisted. Doubting is believed to be incompatible with being 'a special child of God'.

So Africans who entertain doubts about virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, his resurrection and ascension, the revelation of the Bible, the existence of Heaven and Hell, the judgment Day etc are afraid to voice them out. They do not want to be branded doubting Thomases who need to wait and 'tarry in prayer' till they experience the fullness of faith. In Christian Africa doubters are condemned to a state of self-life imprisonment.

However it is important to note that if expressing doubts about the Christian faith makes one a Thomas in Christian communities, moving from doubting to disbelieving makes a person evil, satanic and socially undesirable because the Bible tells Christians ''Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?'' (2 Corinthians 6:14). And many Christian families take this as a literal guide. Their socialization is governed by the rule that the unbeliever is a personification of wickedness and darkness. So Africans who abandon their Christian faith often feel lonely and rejected because they are ostracized, vilified and demonized. Deconversion severs family and social bonds.

The Ex-Christians of Africa project is a mechanism to respond and address the psycho-social, moral, material and philosophical needs of the deconverted and the deconverting in Africa. It will help rebuild, restore and fill in important gaps in the lives of those who have renounced Christianity in the region. The project will help connect all ex-Christians and would-be ex-christians. It will give a sense of community and fellowship to all who have deconverted or are on the process of deconverting from Christianity. The Ex-Christians of Africa initiative is set to be a platform for interaction and exchange of ideas and a forum for ex-Christians to share their doubts, stories and experiences with friends and like minds. At the Ex-Christian forum, doubting is a virtue that is celebrated, not a vice that is denounced. Doubting is a hallmark of enlightenment, not 'a mark of the beast', not a sign of end times. At the Ex-Christians of Africa, the deconverted and the deconverting would rediscover a new sense of family, fellowship and community that is driven by rationality and compassion. People are united in their doubts and disbeliefs. Those who are questioning their Christian faith will be encouraged to apply their doubts to the logical conclusions. Surely, this project will eventually become a forum for engagement and encouragement amongst and with Africans who have left religion, Africans who are seeking the truth about their religion and those contemplating a life without a God, a life without Christ or Christianity.

Columnist: Igwe, Leo