A seminary student told me a story that had been circulating in his church: A member of his congregation sold his wife's life, so she died in an automobile accident. The church member remarried, but kept a room in his house where he allowed nobody, including his new wife. One day, he forgot to lock the door. His new wife snuck in and discovered the first wife's corpse spitting new Nigerian money on the floor.

Elisha Telena, a Neo-Pentecostal pastor in Jos, told me another story about witchcraft. He said he had discovered witches in his congregation. One member had come to him because her husband lay ill. According to Telena, she and her son pretended to be concerned about the man's illness and wanted him "delivered." But Telena told his congregation that while he was trying to deliver the sick man, God revealed to him that the woman and her son were the culprits. They had used witchcraft to bind him in the spirit world.

The fear of evil spiritual forces hovers like a cloud over African Christianity. Dealing with (and in) witchcraft isn't foreign to the church. In fact, the Yoruba people of southwest Nigeria say, "Olorun ko ko aafo," i.e., "God is not opposed to native remedies." In times of crisis, even Christians may consult medicine men.

But when Pope Benedict brought it up during his African pilgrimage, he was addressing not just syncretistic practices, but also the belief in them. "Who can go to [Angolans] to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers?" he asked.

Fear of sorcery

The problem is old, and it has gotten worse.

Western missionary Christianity had thought that with time Christianity would uproot the witchcraft and sorcery which have long been part of traditional Africa.

Opoky Onyinah, ...

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Who's Afraid of Witches?
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