The clash of identities: Reconciling my Christianity with my Afrikanist and feminist identities

I was brought up by Christian parents. We always prayed before meals and went to church every Sunday – we still do. There was never a need to debate about it, it just was. I also attended academic institutions that nurtured my belief in Christ. In fact, for a long time Christian practices were all I was exposed to until the African Leadership Academy (ALA) where there was intentional support for the coexistence of diverse religious practices. I can’t trace exactly when I became a Feminist, but I did feminist things like getting angered by female circumcision and high school dropout rates in my community and finding ways to do something about it. But, I think the conscious accepting of it as a term happened at ALA as I studied Feminist theory in my African Philosophy Class. I would say the same for being an Afrikanist. I was always aware of my state of being as a Maasai Kalenjin Kenyan African but I only began to engage with the identity and resonate with the ideas of pan-Africanism and afro-optimism while at the academy. I explored this in this  post on embracing my names. I hold onto each of these identities passionately. I think they have been and continue to be fundamental to my experience as an Afrikan Womxn. I also have a deep feeling that the three identities are inextricably linked to the purpose for which I exist.

The evolution of my Christianity

In as much as these identities form my core, they are also organic. The more I watch, read,  listen, learn and live, the more they change. I think these processes combined by the fact that the identities tend to exist in silos is what produces the clash. In as much as there are ways in which my feminism clash with my Africanism; the worst clashes have stemmed from my Christianity hence the title and content of this post. I will start by giving context through reflecting on the ways my Christianity has evolved. As I said, the education institutions were a significant part of influencing the way I practised my Christianity. In primary school I was always preaching and leading services. In high school I held various leadership positions from being in the Praise and worship team to Christian Union Chairlady to church treasurer. Looking back my relationship with God flowed more easily then. Now, the relationship is marked with less religious practices and more faith based interrogation as I realise that some church principles are not compatible with my core beliefs. Much to the terror of my younger self, I have considered doing away with Christianity altogether. But something keeps pulling me back.. Maybe it is that God and I have a beautiful history highlighted by answered prayers,  glorious miracles and transformed lives. Or maybe it is the attachment to community that comes with Christianity that may be more difficult to have through other belief systems. Regardless, what has remained constant is that without God, I feel like Sisyphus eternally rolling that boulder. God gives my life purpose and this belief has tramped the possibility that all this might as well be an illusion. 

Christianity & my feminism

I think God and my mere mortal self are on stale mate of sorts when it comes to feminism and the Bible. Through Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) I have gained greater understanding of the contexts in which the Bible was written. But even with that understanding there are still some principles that yhuuuu, ah ah! Is still a no. The first one has got to be submission of wife to husband. I have had this explained in so many ways but it still does not sit right. I think also the men who so readily bring it up when justifying their dominion over women make matters worse. The other thing is the law of inheritance. I find that most might have stemmed from the Jewish culture but aiii God, why were the sons the only ones inheriting ? Why was it mostly  males representing those lineages? My other thing is representation – 66 books, 35 or so authors and hardly any by a woman? Maybe I would have gotten more gems (in addition to Esther’s) on how to deal with this patriarchy, I also take issue with the bible’s wording that further centre male experiences, which leads me to my questioning on why God is male. Sometimes in our arguments I convince myself that maybe the patriarchal cultures of those days influenced the way people wrote and interpreted God’s instructions but 1 Tim 3:16 maintains that ALL scripture is God breathed so how to even? Another thing is that story for modesty and how that has somehow translated to the demonization of female sensuality and sexuality. Men seem to have the right to their own bodies while women do not. I am also speaking from working through the trauma of the church’s purity culture on my sexuality. Gender roles and the hierarchy of married women in the church bother me too. I understand that most of these arise more from people’s interpretation of the Bible, but I think at the heart of it I am saddened by the way the Bible seems to make it so easy for its readers to oppress women (Handmaid’s tales vibes).

Christianity & my allyship to the LGBTQIA+ community

As an extension of my feminism; my pursuit of intersectional feminism held a mirror to the hypocrisy of standing for the end of sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression (Bell Hooks definition of feminism) but still promoting or being a bystander to  homophobia (using this term to also refer to heterosexism and genderism). In an effort to rectify that, I am committed to actively pursuing avenues to support the LGBTQIA+ community. Now, I am not oblivious to the Bible verses that explicitly state that homosexuality is sin. It is exactly this awareness that cultivated my homophobia and later my hesitant support varying from “Fine, I will try to be like Christ who accepted the prostitute or the Samaritan woman without judgement” to “It is really none of my concern who someone else loves” . But in my learning and unlearning I realised that the root cause of my homophobia came from the thought that equated queerness with sins such as idolatry, adultery and debauchery. Refuting this thought was the first step toward allyship for me.  Now this act might mean fire and brimstone which is a truly scary thought but lowkey banking on the chance that maybe we will get to present our cases before banishment. I don’t know.

Christianity & my Afrikanism 

As an Afrikan being impacted by the far-reaching consequences of colonialism and slavery including neo-colonialism and systemic racism. I cannot ignore the role of Christianity in justifying white supremacist rule both in the past and now. It seems that the effectiveness of evangelisation and civilisation relied heavily on us hating everything that made us African. From this awareness emanates my conscious decision to work toward decolonising Christianity for myself. It is imperative that I do the work to erase the subconsciously taught image that Jesus is white and white is saviour. For me, this has taken the shape of little things like referring to God in Kiswahili and Maasai – Mungu and Enkai – an act that serves to remind me that Christ died for ALL of us. By faith my Kalenjin, Maasai, Kenyan, Afrikan self is equally God’s child too. There is no extra work ( I am thinking of our unnecessary purging and prosperity gospel combo) that needs to be done. It is finished. 

This awareness has taken the form of bigger things too. I have been feeling that religions are really different ways to the same God and I have been wondering what harm there may be in combining some of the paths.I am especially curious about the bonds we have with our ancestors as well as the role of traditional healing practices in our time. The fear of African traditional religion runs so deep that even entertaining the idea felt abominable. However, I am letting myself know that it is okay to seek the wisdom of those who came before me. Those like my great grand father who touched every life he encountered and found his purpose through Islam. I am allowing myself to honour my ancestors in the same way I do akina Abraham and David. Imagining the faith it must have taken to fight for freedoms they would not enjoy. or imagining the Joshua-like courage it must have taken to fight against colonisation. Or even just the kind of strength and grit it must have taken to make a system designed against them work for them. I think it is important to acknowledge the shoulders on which I stand and thank God for them.

In conclusion

Initially, the thought of writing this particular blog post scared me. in this instagram post I mentioned how I had internalised that to dare to interrogate God is sinful . In response, a friend shared verses from Habakkuk and Job, men who questioned God. Adulting is stressful in itself without adding the burden of trying to reconcile cognitive dissonances and existential crisis but the reminder that I was not alone in asking the questions and trying to make sense of it all was comforting. I am also encouraged by Christ’s example of love and compassion for all; which are also values that connect my identities, So I want to keep reading, researching, discussing, praying, unlearning, relearning and more and I welcome your suggestions or fellowship in that regard. I will leave you with this verse from the same friend that starkly reminded me of the fact , which I like to forget the most, that at the end of the day I am mortal. So even after doing all the aforementioned I can still not fully fathom the wonders of God. But that doesn’t mean that I should not try at all, just that full knowledge and understanding is an impossible end goal.

 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed and disclosed belong to us and to our children forever, so that we may do all of the words of this law. Deut 29:29