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James Ault: Clarifies a fine article on African Christianity

To the editor:

I want to thank Sandra Dias for her fine, informative article on my documentary film series on African Christianity. I would, however, like to clarify two things. Citing me, that “Africans believe in and communicate with a ‘multiplicity’ of spirits,” she describes this as “a concept that is uniquely African.” However, such realities are recognized by many, if not most, cultures outside the West. Here in the United States they include Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos. I think of the Latino woman we interviewed recently in an Episcopal church in southern California who was still grieving the loss of her husband six months before, but told us with joyful assurance that she talks to him every night. “And, I talk to Our Lady of Guadalupe every night!” she added smiling tearfully (that is, the spirit of Jesus’ mother Mary who appeared to a Mexican peasant in 1513). “I tell her, ‘You’re close to him; give him a hug for me!’”

My second point of clarification is regarding scenes where ministers of “charismatic churches conduct dramatic ‘deliverance’ ceremonies, driving out evil spirits” from members suffering from various problems. The main scenes of such “spiritual warfare” in our Ghana film, however, are in a Presbyterian church, not a charismatic one. This demonstrates the fact that virtually all missionary planted churches in sub-Saharan Africa—Congregational, Catholic, Methodist, etc.—move away from western models to address spiritual realities recognized in local cultures. That this is a result of differences in culture and worldview rather than a lack of education, as many assume, is evident in the fact that this Presbyterian we portray was started by highly educated science teachers in the local high school! These clarifications aside, I am grateful to Ms. Dias for covering this challenging subject so thoroughly and accurately.

James Ault


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