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Census and Sensibility

By Mitiku Adisu
Ethiopian intellectuals have a history of wishing to have their cake and eat it too. They want to do away with religion or grant recognition only to Orthodox Christianity. They are relentless in wanting to deny space to Protestant Christians while decrying democratic and human rights are not being respected in Ethiopia. They equate Protestantism [which is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and testimony of scripture] with an alien disuniting force to simply overlook the diversity and relative unity one witnessed in the country. Not infrequently, the argument turns to separation of church and state but invariably seeks to usurp the sacred to advance a secular, ethnic or ideological agenda.
One reason for such a confused stance is that many refuse to make intellectual commitment to Christ or do not quite understand the essence of Christianity [be it Orthodox or Protestant] beyond unsubstantiated word of mouth. In other words, Ethiopian intellectuals generally tend to be ignorant of the basics of the faith and its practice and how faith related to reason. They lack experience in the inner workings of the faith they so readily criticize. They are often blinded by unexamined displeasure or by a misdirected and unproductive sense of nationalism.

One consequence of an impaired judgment is that it ends up fueling existing misconceptions. The fact that Ethiopian Protestantism [barring few of its excesses] is distinctly different from those in the rest of the world and that it actually grew out of Orthodoxy is obfuscated. Those who adhere to a "protestant" or "evangelical" confession do have Orthodox parents, friends, and relatives and are part and parcel of the larger community. Interestingly, this distinction is more often cited by expatriates and the general public than by the educated elite. Another consequence is that when push comes to shove groups are forced to look inwards to their immediate community [often ethnic] to withstand the strain and to salvage what remains of their identity.

Concerns raised over the most recent census report in regard to demographic growth in the evangelical community are worth our attention [see Addis Journal, December 8, 2008]. Spreading resentment is not going to help matters. Reasons for the Orthodox Church losing members could not be found in castigating others within the same family of faith.
Unfulfilled expectations should nudge one out of institutional torpor to penitence and soul searching. The new generation is after meaning and is seeking it everywhere but the church because the church is not reformed enough to meet its spiritual needs. Only in opening up one’s heart to Christ will one begin to grasp purpose in life. That should be the direction of our discussion. [Read an earlier post here.]