No fire without smoke the texture of colonial Christianity as the backdrop to Ethiopianism

Certain forces from the home bases of missionaries combined with the emergent modes ofAfrican appropriation to reshape the face ofAfrican Christianity in the period from 1885 to the First World War. The Berlin Conferences of 1884-5 that initiated the partition of Africa by the European powers had an enormous effect on the relationship between the white missionaries and the Africans. The impact of colonial rule brought the gospel down to the grassroots and gave missionaries new opportunities to attempt to domesticate their values in African cultural terrains. Africans responded by weaving Christian strands of their own. Similarly, the World Missionary Conference of 1910 endeavoured to reformulate a new vision of the missionary enterprise even though it had no powers of enforcement. The dominant note of ecumenical consolidation of the vision kept the missionary spirit alive in the midst of growing institutionalisation, rivalry within the enterprise, the resilience of primal cultures, and the rising powers of the colonial state.

Partition introduced virulent forms of European nationalism into the continent. The mission churches embellished this spirit with denominational stripes. The Berlin Conference's demand for physical presence rather than mere declarations of areas of influence opened the African interior to missionary gaze. It was a moot point whether colonies were acquired in a fit of official absent-mindedness or by the machinations of the men-on-the-spot; the character of the cross-cultural process changed. European self-confidence replaced the initial respect for African chiefs as colonial weaponry was now at the behest of gospelbearers. The scale of missionary activities was enormously enlarged, making analysis complex; competition among missionaries became rife: broadly, Catholics squared off against Protestants but there were intramural competitions among the Catholic orders and Protestant denominations

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