Friday, December 6, 2013

What is a Christian University?

Uganda and Kenya are deeply Christian countries.  According to the Pew Research data on the Global Religious Landscape Kenya is 84.8% Christian (9.7% Musilim) and Uganda is 86.7% Christian (11.5% Muslim).  The same survey gives the figure of 78.3% Christian in the USA.  In the USA there are 16.4% who consider themselves “unafiliated“  and .9% Muslim.  These differences are strikingly apparent within the countries.  For a more in depth analysis of Christianity and Islam in Africa see another Pew Research project titled, “Tolerance and Tension:  Christianity and Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
This study makes it clear that although many people identify themselves with one or another religion, there is a great deal of variation in the commitment felt by individuals.  Many who call themselves Christian, also continue traditional practices, such as animal sacrifice, or wearing charms.  Nevertheless, there are great numbers of Christians who are deeply committed to their faith.  

In the three weeks I traveled in Kenya and Uganda I was surprised by how openly people spoke of their Christianity.  They frequently wished God’s blessing, and offered prayers.  Crosses and Christian slogans were common on cars, buses and buildings.  On Sunday people dressed in their finest clothes and set out walking to church.  They didn’t seem to return home until late in the afternoon.  Churches were everywhere in both Uganda and Kenya.  Although there is an important mosque in the center of Nairobi, I didn’t see a lot of people dressed as Muslims there.  In Uganda, although Muslims are a minority, I saw more mosques, islamic schools and women wearing veils than in Kenya.  I was told that the presence of so many rural mosques were the legacy of Idi Amin who wanted a mosque built every 20 km throughout the country. 

Christianity was an indigenous affair.  The priests, bishops and archbishops were Africans.  The churches were led by Africans, both men and women.  The Church takes on a role of leadership and importance in the society.  They are responsible for many of the schools.   

Each of the schools I visited identified themselves as Christian.  The Kwa Watoto School curriculum, based on the Kenya National Curriculum, includes Christian Studies as one of the six major topics of study (in addition to English, Swahili, Math, Social Studies, Science).  When I asked about this, Michael Maingi, the school director, was surprised at the question.  He felt that Christian education was the source of moral teaching, which he considered essential to education.

At Uganda Christian University, the music to which the faculty processed was, “To God be the Glory.”  They believe that their success and their strength is their commitment to God and Christian belief.  They are bold and unapologetic about this stance.   Their motto is “God the beginning and the end.”  Many of the faculty are priests, and the Chancellor of the University is the Archbishop of Uganda.  But they are also very much committed to living in the world.  Their highest number of graduates are in the Business School.  They have a school of Law, of Education, Nursing, Social Sciences, Science and Technology as well as a Divinity School.  They require students to subscribe to the Christian philosophy of the organization.  Nevertheless, there are some Muslim students.  I saw one woman wearing a veil under her mortarboard at graduation.  

The Christian leaders we met believe that Christian principles and moral values are the answer to the corruption that the country struggles with in many areas of government and commerce.  They view their mission as educating leaders for their country who are honest, just and trustworthy.

In the United States, this used to be the way people acted and believed.  Many of our premier schools were founded to train Christian leaders (e.g. Harvard University).  The question is, will the Africans continue with their Christian beliefs, or will they gradually accept the secularization which is prevalent in Europe and the United States as their societies modernize and become more affluent?  African believe that one of the best things Europeans did when they colonized Africa is bring Christianity. As we look at Africa, we must consider this question.  Knowing and interacting with Africans challenges our assumptions in many realms.  I would be remiss, not to include this topic in my reflections on my trip.
The Vice-Chancellor of Uganda Christian University is, Dr. John Senyonyi (left) who has been a charismatic evangelist in East Africa.  He is a well-educated, respected Christian leader in Uganda.
The university buildings are named for important Christian leaders.  Bishop Festo Kivengere was a Christian leader during the time of Idi Amin when many Ugandan Christians were persecuted and killed for their faith.  Kivengere had to flee to Kenya during this period.
Many faculty members are priests (Dr. Medard Rugyendo on the right is Dean of the School of Education and the Arts).
The dedication on the building of the Hamu Mukasa Library.

No comments:

Post a Comment