By Celucien L. Joseph
Unfortunately, since Haiti became a republic on January 1, 1804, most Haitian institutions and organizations, both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora, have failed to embrace the rich anti-colonial thought and decolonial legacy of the Haitian revolution.
They have also failed to actualize in practical terms as narrated in the poetic lines of Haiti’s National anthem: “We shall always be as brothers, Oh God of the valiant!/Take our rights and our life Our past cries out to us: Have a disciplined soul!”
One of the major Haitian institutions in the Diaspora that has miserably failed the Haitian people to live up to Haiti’s revolutionary ideals and transcend nationalistic values is the Haitian-American church.
Unlike the writings of the Hebrew Prophets and the liberative teachings of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and founder of Christianity, Haitian churches and ministers are disengaged with American culture and society.
The Haitian-American church in the 21st century American culture is still a “colonized institution” that is unintentionally pursuing the decolonization process in the footsteps of its brave ancestors, the protagonists of God-given human liberty, and the antagonists of human oppression and suffering in colonial Saint-Domingue.
Even contemporary Christian churches in Haiti are still trapped in a colonial mindset and neocolonial habits. These Christian congregations of various denominational expressions—such as Baptist, Methodist, Church of God in Christ, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, among many others —inherited a foreign theology that undermines the dignity and worth of the Haitian people, and an alien theological language that encourages the suffering and resignation of Haiti’s Christian communities.
This imported theological narrative does not engage the messy lives of the Haitian poor and the predicament of the general masses in Haiti. It is a theology without passion and zeal for the Haitian people; it is an uncharitable and soulless theology.
Similarly, Haitian Christians inherited the neocolonial God of American and Western capitalism and globalization. This God is a bourgeois deity wrapped in the rainbow of American and Western NGOs coupled with the sustaining support and grace of imperial Christianity. This particular Haitian theology of God promotes a troubling narrative of economic dependence, human isolation, an abhorrence for anything Haitian and African, and the white-Savior ideology. Interestingly, the Haitian diasporic church in the United States is the very product and continuity of such destructive theologies and ecclesiastical praxis.
In order for the Haitian-American church to develop a prophetic vision of Christian life, communicated through rigorous theological confessions, social outreach and caring programs, and social justice ministries, Haitian ministers and churches need to reject unconstructive foreign theology. It needs to embrace a more biblical theology of human life and pastoral care for the poor, the weak, and the needy in their city.
They need to challenge current theological discourses and habits that preach only spiritual salvation, but neglect the existential dire needs and abject poverty of the people in the city.
The Haitian clergy needs to reject neocolonial traditions in Haitian-American churches and religious habitus that hinder the freedom of the conscience, progressive thinking, and the freedom of action.
In order to promote greater Christian piety and spiritual growth, there needs to be a development of decolonial theological thinking and ecclesiastical practices that will serve as powerful weapons, while simultaneously creating an institution that fosters the conscientization of Haitian American Christians.
The Haitian-American church must reclaim the tradition of the Bible that has radically shaped the ethics and teachings of Jesus, and the preaching and missionary endeavors of Apostle Paul.
Celucien L. Joseph (PhD, University of Texas at Dallas; PhD, University of Pretoria) is Professor of English at Indian River State College. His recent book, Between Two Worlds: Jean Price-Mars, Haiti, and Africa (2018), was published by Lexington Books.