Saturday, December 19, 2009

Syncretism

Syncretism - Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous. Free On Line Dictionary
Christianity in Swaziland is a mix of traditional religions (primarily ancestor worship) and the fundamental principles or concepts of Christianity. According to the CIA World Fact Book, the Religions in Swaziland are: Zionist 40% (a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship), Roman Catholic 20%, Muslim 10%, other (includes Anglican, Bahai, Methodist, Mormon, Jewish) 30%. What these "official" statistics fail to show is that large percentages of the non-Zionist sects are still influenced greatly by ancestor worship: maybe not at an official level, but by a large number of the adherents in each of the other groupings. We have come across many people in working here that will consult a sangoma, go to the hospital, and also have a Christian pastor pray for them. It's called covering all your bases. A sangoma is different from an inyanga. An inyanga is primarily an herbalist: using medicines made from plants, herbs and animals. A sangoma relies on (ancestral) spirits to guide them in finding a cure. A Swazi pastor we respect greatly has told us he refuses to consult an inyanga because he is unsure where the spiritist and the herbalist draw the line (he is also in line to be a chief but has totally turned his back on his family line because of the ancestor worship and spiritual aspects of becoming a traditional chief).
So why this discourse?
I sat in a meeting yesterday where a very educated Swazi woman told her story of becoming a sangoma. It was interesting and she has every right to make those choices. However, the one thing that I found astounding was her proclamation that she was also a born-again Christian and saw no conflict between the two: a follower of the risen Jesus Christ, son of the Living God and listening to spirits of dead ancestors who guide her. Syncretism. Her defense was a reference to John the Baptist and that we still read what he said in the Bible 2000 years later(?). (I don't think most of us made the connection.)
From the beginning, Judaism had to battle the pressure of the "chosen people of God" to remain faithful and separate from the pagan religious practices of the nations that surrounded them. Ultimately the vast majority of them failed: thereby the judgment from God and the destruction of their temple and deportation to various other kingdoms. Christianity, whether Western or Swazi faces the same pressures: being faithful and separate from the practices of the surrounding pagan or Godless culture or trying to syncretize the two. The synctretization of Christianity and traditional Swazi ancestor worship flies in the face of Biblical truth. We have met very few Swazi's who are still not influenced by it at a high level and many less who will denounce it outright.
But, even as westerners, we probably do the same thing with different inflences, only more subtly. We need to be on our guard to protect the truth the Bible teaches without selectively ignoring or diluting it to match our selfish preferences!
I would ask that you pray for the nation and king of Swaziland. There are many examples in Kings and Chronicles of kings who chose righteousness and a break from the pagan practices that preceded them and the blessings that flowed because of it. 'nough said
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