In 2001, I went on a Christian mission’s trip to Cap-Haitian, Haiti. Every year my alma mater, Azusa Pacific University, sends hundreds of faculty, staff and students around the world to spread the Gospel of Christ.
In preparation for this trip, as part of our cultural education about the country we were traveling to, educators from my school told me that Haitians worshiped the devil. They told us that Haitians had dedicated their island to the devil and that the island was cursed because of this.
These words came from a white professor of Nursing at the school and other missionaries that had traveled to Haiti years before. The Nursing professor was our team leader, she grew up and lived in Haiti the majority of her life. She is what we call an MK (Missionary Kid).
Some may question why would you want to go to a country full of devil worshipers and bring them medical supplies and other resources? Because in their eyes this is what Christ would do.
I remember one time being in church hearing my pastor explain that there were different types of love. In Greek there are several words for love: eros, this is an love that a man has for a woman and visa versa, philos, a friendly type of love that friends share, and agape, an unconditional love that God has for his children. I have come to learn, that just as there are different types of love, likewise, there are different types of hatred and different types of racism.
I knew that my team leaders were racist against the Haitians. But it is not the same kind of racism that we are used to seeing characterized. I don’t have a name for this type of racism, I can only describe its characteristics and traits:
It has a genuine care and concern for the helpless and hurting
It will sacrifice, for people in need and work hard to give them what they think in their hearts is best for them
It will leave home, sacrifice money, safety and the comforts of an American lifestyle to help the poor
It will learn to speak the language and commune with the culture of those impoverished, in order to adapt
It will allow one to hug a smelly homeless person and sleep on the street on skid row, even when they have a nice comfortable bed at home
It will live in impoverished conditions in developing nations when they have a middle class home and bedroom in the United States
But it will only do this if it can remain in a position of superiority.
It will allow and promote the helpless and hurting to a position of leadership as long as they properly imitate the rules and philosophy of the superior
It will do this in order to give the helpless and hurting what they believe in their hearts to be the best gift of all: eternal salvation
They don’t see themselves as racists
They see themselves as hero’s
When Pat Robertson made his comments about Haiti and their deal with the devil, some news pundits saw it as a contradiction that he then prayed for the nation and pledged to help support relief efforts. I can understand this contradiction, although I do not like it or agree with it, I have come across it many times.
First we have to understand that many Christians view the majority of religions that originate in Africa to have demonic implications. This view is not limited to white Christians, it is also held by many in the black church, especially in Pentecostal churches. Along with the church, Hollywood has also depicted Afro-centric religions to be evil and demonic. Has anyone seen The Princess and the Frog?
I asked some of my professors and friends why they would call Vodou demonic, and not call religions like Islam or Buddhism demonic. Answers ranged from, I don’t know, to Vodou conjures evil spirits. One professor of religion gave me the most thought out perspective and it was this: He said that in religions like Vodou and Santeria, the practitioner does not submit to the supreme deity and seek guidance, but instead uses the lesser deity to manipulate a particular outcome in their own life. He said that in Christianity we are taught to submit to the will of God as opposed to using God to achieve our own personal desires. First of all, I know way more Christian’s then I know people who practice Vodou so I will speak from that perspective. In the church I have heard this rhetoric called “Name it and Claim it!” Preachers have insisted that we can name our desires, a new house, a car, a husband, etc, quote a scripture and declare that it is done in Jesus name and it will come true. Isn’t this using or manipulating, God and the Bible to achieve our personal desires?
I do not know everything about Vodou, or all other world religions, so if it is demonic, please enlighten me as to why and how. Until then, it is my humble opinion that most religions are neutral, and people use them either for good or bad purposes. However some religions still have a bad reputation. Ask yourself, if someone told you they practiced Christianity, how would you respond? If that same person told you they practiced Vodou, what would you think of them?
I think most Americans who may not even be deeply religious would associate Vodou with spells and curses and the evil spirit world. So how much more would an evangelical Christian feel? When I arrived in Haiti and went to the church service I was surprised to see that there were no drums. Now call it a stereotype if you want to, but I knew I wasn’t in a black country where they didn’t believe in rhythm during their worship service. I later found out that it was the white missionaries that banned the drums from the church service. Why? The missionaries felt the drums reminded the Haitians of the Vodou ceremonies which the missionaries viewed as demonic.
I took it upon myself to do my own research. During our breaks and downtime I always found one of our translators and just started asking questions about Haiti and their culture. One of my new friends explained to me, that many of the Haitian Christian’s still practiced Vodou, but the missionaries didn’t know it. He told me they wouldn’t understand. He told me that in Vodou there is no concept of the devil and he didn’t know where the missionaries came up with the idea that their religion is demonic. They believe in a supreme deity just like Christians. He told me that although he was a Christian, Vodou was a part of his heritage that he couldn’t give up. He asked me if I heard the drums playing late at night and people singing. I said yes, he said that was a Vodou ceremony. It’s all over the island, he said. Up until that point the only imagery I had of Vodou, was one woman sitting in a booth waiting for customers to come and ask for advise or a spell to be broken. I never had an image of groups of people gathering to participate in a religious ceremony.
This “deal with the devil” as Pat Robertson calls it, is a racist interpretation of a Vodou ceremony that took place prior to the Haitian Revolution at Bois Caïman. People of African decent turning away from a Catholic religion that enslaved them and turning to their native deities to give them freedom, must be interpreted as a “deal with the devil.”
Even if it was “the devil,” that the Haitians made a deal with, can you imagine how bad slavery must have been that they would turn to “the devil” for help. But I won’t continue down that road because I do not believe Vodou to be demonic.
One thing I don’t like about some parts of the church is the absence of a logical thought process. Many times Christians look at things without the historical context in mind. Who could blame anyone for rejecting Christianity when it was the Catholics who stole them from their native land, whipped and enslaved them, and when they lost the war, forced them to pay reparations to France in order to be recognized as a free nation. I believe that this is the reason Haiti has remained one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. They were economically crippled from the beginning of their freedom. But instead of looking at historical facts to point to Haiti’s poverty, they look to one religious ceremony that wasn’t dedicated to Jesus as the sole cause of Haiti’s condition. This view is not only ignorant, but it is incredibly racist. This view has come into the light because of the recent earthquake in Haiti, however it is not a new POV. Also it is not exclusive to Haiti. It is a widespread view that Christian’s, both white and black hold towards Afro-centric religions. I’m sure many people heard Christian’s blaming Hurricane Katrina on the practice of Voodoo in Louisiana.
My plea to the Christian church is to open both your hearts and minds, and see more than what you have allowed yourself to see in the past. You are a powerful group that goes to great lengths to help people, but you often don’t realize that you hurt just as much as you help.
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