I am curious.
I was in the company of Oluwole Ogunrinde today and he asked why most of our friends in the diaspora, with obvious opposite doctrinal leanings from that of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, find themselves worshipping in the church abroad. His reflections got me thinking. I don’t know if I am right though.
For sometime now I have been interested in how Nigerian churches in the diaspora are a major mediating institution in helping folks navigate the stormy winds of exile and migrancy. I am quite aware that the increasing attention that anthropology pays to the role African Christianity play in shaping the lives of Africans in Diaspora points out how individual believers have been helped, somewhat, to successfully navigate the spaces of modernity and translocalities.
We know for a fact that the Nigerian Christian landscape within the last six decades has been characterised by a lot of transformations and shifting internal dynamics. The Pentecostal brand in Nigeria, for example, has been a major vehicle for, and at other times against, civic agency and socio- political consciousness, fast carving a reputation for itself as a key aspect of Nigeria’s popular culture and offering a scope for identification which goes far beyond local culture. This has major implications for numerous parameters in development initiatives, such as politics, social relations, inter-religious affairs, gender roles, and household economics. The Nigerian Pentecostal leaders wield enormous power of social engineering premised on the popular respect enjoyed from their adherents. This positions the churches and their transnational expulsions as significant players in the construction of national narratives, regional alliances or global political economies.
But what is often largely ignored is the cultural alliance and mediation built by Nigerian Pentecostal communities in the diaspora. For many of them, it is a form of soft power. Cultural diplomacy. The attempt by these Nigerian transnational churches to expose, depict and represent their cultural significations often inform a subtle “win over” of host communities to the wider social ideals and culture of Nigeria. That’s why you would find a White leading praises in Yoruba in a Nigerian Pentecostal church with palpable excitement. That’s why you might find South Africans in ankara or stupendous hats imitative of the sartorial choices of their G.O’s spouses. In the organised sense, cultural diplomacy generally seeks to promote a nation’s image and values as it seeks to understand the cultural semiotics of other nations and the people. However, cultural diplomacy is given expression and redefinition by the Nigerian Christian community in the diaspora.
I suspect that the cultural community formed by attending those churches is the major attraction for Nigerian migrants in such exilic spaces. While a conventional Nigerian Anglican or Baptist, due to his conservative biases, might find it extremely hard to attend “these new generation churches” in Nigeria, he has no qualms in identifying with these same churches dominated by the same folks abroad. They would rather do that than attend the orthodox churches of their host communities with whom they share doctrinal posturing. I don’t know if this is equally true about the Nigerian Catholic faithfuls abroad though. Maybe cultural affinity isn’t their first consideration in church membership. They love the Sunday cultural dressings. The choice of indigenous worship songs. Perhaps the sound of the talking drum could be added to the mix. Perhaps…….you can fill in the other gaps.
It thus appears to me that for church attendance/membership in the diaspora, the need for cultural ties and community trump doctrinal interests, for the purpose(s) of home mediation.
Abi wetin you abroadians think?