Another Viewpoint: 
Guest Writer:  Rev. Robert Ash

"And Jesus said unto me, 
My grace is sufficient for thee...."  (2 Cor 12:9)

Kwanzaa began in southern California in 1966, the creation of Ron McKinley Everett (aka Dr. Maulana Karenga). Originally intended to be a black nationalist substitute for Christmas, today Kwanzaa is promoted as being a cultural celebration for people of African descent (though it is still observed to a large degree by black people who are not Christians and who choose not to celebrate Christmas).

Kwanzaa is based on seven principles Everett felt were particularly important for the black community and which he felt represented African values. He called these "Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles)" and chose Swahili words to name them: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Each day of the Kwanzaa's seven days (Dec. 26 - Jan 1) is dedicated to one of those principles, in the order given. The Kwanzaa ceremony Everett specifies requires 1) setting up a dedicated place in the home for the ceremony, 2) placing in the dedicated spot a specified set of artifacts and 3) going through a prescribed ritual ceremony each day.

Kwanzaa is being promoted widely as being a way for black people to reconnect with our African roots. Many Christians of African descent have questions about Kwanzaa, and some are exploring or even celebrating Kwanzaa. Some schools are promoting it to schoolchildren and even some churches here and there are incorporating Kwanzaa into worship services.

Many people who celebrate Kwanzaa do so to identify with African culture, since Kwanzaa uses Swahili words to name its principles, instructs its practitioners to focus on African heritage and ancestry. Others do so to focus on African-American culture.

For Christians, however, although the desire to identify with African culture is understandable, Kwanzaa is neither African nor traditional African-American. Moreover, there are key issues with Kwanzaa that are not compatible with scripture.

Firstly, the Bible is the best source for learning any kinds of principles and traditions, including African traditions. Africa, its people and cultures have a major presence in the scriptures, in early church history, and in the shaping of core Christian thought, theology and tradition.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) -- for all people. Africans throughout the Motherland recognize this fact, too, and have been turning to Jesus Christ by the millions for the past century (less than 10% of Africans practice any more the ancient religions Kwanzaa focuses on, and that number is shrinking every day).

Secondly, the Bible and the black church are the foundation of black culture and tradition in North America. It is Christianity that brought us through slavery and Jim Crow segregation, provided the foundation for our near-superhuman endurance and monumental achievements. Kwanzaa ritual specifically excludes any mention or recognition of the Bible, Christianity or the African or African-American church (Everett says introducing them into the ceremonies violates his Kawaida principle named Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)).

Lastly and most importantly, Kwanzaa is in reality a non-Christian religious ceremony. It is expressly promoted as not being religious but its Seven Principles are taken from directly Everett's personal religious philosophy, which he calls Kawaida (based on Ma'at, an ancient Egyptian mystic religion that Everett, the son of a Baptist minister, left the church to adopt as a young man). Also, its key rituals and artifacts are modeled after non-Christian religious practices and ceremonies. Scripture does not allow the Christian to participate in such:

"Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise." (Deut 12:30)

Christians of African descent deeply appreciate a need to learn about and celebrate African history, tradition and ancestry. European Christians have always been able to do that, regularly celebrating St. Patrick's Day, Shakespeare Festivals, Oktoberfest and other European cultural festivals and activities. Cinco de Mayo is a joyous recent addition from Mexican tradition. Having African-based cultural events as well would be enriching.

However -- especially during Christmas season -- for Bible-believing Christians of African descent any such tradition should focus on and devote itself solely to Jesus Christ, His birth, His Bible and His church. Our exclusive focus on Jesus' birth should not end on December 25. It should continue throughout the holiday season. We should strive to make it the most glorious of all holidays throughout the holiday season, so glorious it attracts others to Christ out of their old ways just as the Gospel has done all over the world, including Africa.

During Christmas season we should place special focus on highlighting the African presence in the scriptures, which we as a people already know so precious little about and need to understand much, much better.

Before -- and after -- Christmas Day we should educate ourselves, our children and other Christians regarding the customs, traditions and history of indigenous African Christianity and its churches -- both ancient churches like the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches, and modern independent African churches, church movements and issues.

If we truly believe that Jesus' grace is sufficient for all of our needs (2 Cor 12:9) then let's treat His Birthday season that way. Let us extend Christmas season with an African focus instead of adopting something else. Black nativity scenes and African Christian celebrations and teaching events will go a lot further to connect Christians to Africa than any non-Christian ceremony created by a single man.

Let's treat the birth of Jesus as more special than ever before and focus on His Word like never before. There is more than enough richness, tradition, community, enough African and African-American community and values in the Bible, in African and African-American church and early church to keep us all busy for a lifetime -- with no exclusion of or conflict with Christianity or the holy scriptures.

Robert Ash is co-pastor and youth minister of Euphrates Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, California. 

Copyright 2001-2011 by Robert Ash.


Recommended Reading

"A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present" by Elizabeth Isichei

Discuss Kwanzaa and other topics at
Christocentric - The blog

Last update November 28, 2011

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