Kwanzaa?? Um, I think not...

I led worship at the United Methodist Church (UMC) as usual today, and I enjoyed the service quite a bit, but I was disturbed to see a Kwanzaa table complete with Kinorah, set up on the altar area of the church. Apparently this has been the custom at the UMC for a number of years. I am not sure if I just missed it previously, or was just oblivious to it. In either case, I was prompted to do a little research to put forth to the leadership at the UMC  regarding this unacceptable situation.
I would like you to please take a few minutes to read the information that follows, and after you have read it, ask yourself whether this 'holiday' should be celebrated in the house of, or by the people of the Living God. I have gathered some information for you, with citations underneath from the websites that I got it from. Hopefully you will do your due diligence and research as well.


Who is its founder? Who made it up?

It seems the founder of Kwanzaa, at the same time folk were glorifying the new holiday, was sitting in a California prison for torturing two black women who were members of the United Slaves, a black nationalist cult he had founded.
The cult leader Ron N. Everett went by the name Karenga and in the 60's took upon himself the title "maulana," which means "master teacher" in Swahili. He was born on a poultry farm in Maryland, the fourteenth child of a Baptist minister.

On May 9, 1970 he initiated the torture session that led to his imprisonment. The torture session was described in the L.A. Times on May 14, 1971. "The victims said they were living at Karenga's home when Karenga accused them of trying to kill him by placing crystals in his food and water and in various areas of his house. When they denied it, allegedly they were beaten with an electrical cord and a hot soldering iron was put in Miss Davis' mouth and against her face.

Police were told that one of Miss Jones' toes was placed in a small vise, which then was tightened by the men and one woman. The following day Karenga told the women that 'Vietnamese torture is nothing compared to what I know." Miss Tamao put detergent in their mouths; Smith turned a water hose full force on their faces, and Karenga, holding a gun, threatened to shoot both of them. The victims Deborah Jones and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothing."

Karenga was convicted of two counts of felonious assault and one count of false imprisonment.
More information can be found here: http://www.nathanielturner.com/karenga2.htm
At Karenga's trial, the question of his sanity arose. A psychiatrist's report stated the following: "This man now represents a picture which can be considered both paranoid and schizophrenic with hallucinations and illusions, inappropriate affect, disorganization, and impaired contact with the environment." The psychiatrist reportedly observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and imaginary persons, and believed he'd been attacked by dive-bombers. - http://en.wikipedia.org

Coincidentally, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are the very same seven principles of the Symbionese Liberation Army. In 1974, Patricia Hearst, kidnap victim-cum-SLA revolutionary, posed next to the banner of her alleged captors, a seven-headed cobra. Each snake head stood for one of the SLA's revolutionary principles: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani — the same seven "principles" of Kwanzaa.

For those of you who do not know or remember the SLA or its history:
http://en.wikipedia.org


What is it, how and why did he put it together?
On December 25th 1965, three months after the founding of the Us (United slaves) organization, Samuel Carr-Damu, one of the original members visited Karenga's home to present his daughter with a black doll for Christmas. Karenga rejected the gift, stating that Us members should not celebrate Christmas. Since the entire rank-and-file recognized some form of Christianity and were life-long celebrants of Christmas, the potential elimination of the holiday posed a serious problem for the organization, especially those with young children….. Karenga spent much of the following year researching African cultural practices, trying to find a suitable alternative for Christmas 1966….. Excerpted From:
The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era by Peniel E. Joseph (2006) Pages 342-343
You can read it in more detail here: http://books.google.com/

The word "Kwanzaa" itself is man made. It is derived from the swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means first fruits. Karenga's history has it that the extra "a" was added to represent the seven children that were a part of his organization, (US Organization) as each child wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. (Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, pg. 108.)

The Kwanzaa celebration consists of seven days to celebrate seven principles (the Nguzo Saba), with emphasis on one principle a day. The seventh day culminates in a feast, patterned much like the first-fruits celebrations of ancient Africa. There are activities such as the pouring the libation for ancestors, lighting of candles, raising names of ancestors (also referred to by many as "ancestor worship" - discussed more in detail later), and gift-giving.
http://www.believersweb.org

What is the purpose of it?


Dr. Karenga, 1977: "... it was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." pg. 21, Kwanzaa: Origin, Concepts, Practice

Why is this a problem for Christians?
Maybe because Kwanzaa is a RELIGION!
"Kwanzaa has definite principles, practices and symbols which are geared to the social and spiritual needs of Afro-America." - p 14, Kwanzaa: origin, concepts, practice, 1977.
The Nguzo Saba are seven principles clearly set apart for the Black American and not for others. It is also an attempt by Dr. Karenga to introduce humanistic principles for improving life without God. Kwanzaa is not just a cultural celebration, but an attempt to establish a way of life with man as the center of worship and reverence.
If anything, many are accepting these principles as SPIRITUAL principles and a guide for their lives. A disturbing fact for the Christian who believes that all spiritual principles begin with the Bible and not with man.
Frequently, spirituality is mentioned and the Nguzo Saba is said to be a standard by which to live for moral guidance and instruction within the community. The Nguzo Saba (seven principles) is given so much emphasis in character development that it is also said in Dr. Karenga's book, to make one a "new man, woman and child." (The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa, p44.) Very similar to what is said in the Bible regarding the newness of man:

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)
So here we have a celebration that emphasizes a code of ethics (the Nguzo Saba) for moral instruction to bring about a spiritually developed character. Thus far, Kwanzaa has a few things in common with Christianity and other religions. Moral instruction, spirituality and a purpose -- becoming a new person!

Karenga Lists The Nguzo Saba as a Religion
Dr. Karenga even recognizes the "religion" of Kwanzaa when in his book, Kawaida Theory, p. 25, he says of the seven principles (The Nguzo Saba) as coming "from African religion" and lists it among other religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism in his section on positive functions of religion. In light of that writing, it then becomes difficult to explain his statement that "Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday," especially when the Nguzo Saba is considered the centerpiece of Kwanzaa.

"The primary conflict that the Christian should have with Kwanzaa is that it is a way of life. It is even being encouraged by many to celebrate it not just during the holiday season, but all year round! Why is that so? Because it is promised to be build character, to change one's life spiritually. This can be seen on the Melanet's Kwanzaa Information Center web site under the Goals of Kwanzaa topic. It says: "To develop self and facilitate a positive Black self-esteem by exposing individuals to 'Kwanzaa', a culturally desirable pattern of principles, to help them live their lives and to encourage the highest level of positive Black self-esteem and spiritual development. -- To establish a culturally oriented 'WAY OF LIFE."

There are several dangers that present themselves when the Christian attempts to combine their "religion" of Christianity with that of the "religion" of Kwanzaa. 1) They take upon the assumption that the Bible is not enough to spiritually feed us a a people... 2) That we MUST define ourselves in the context of culture 3) Unity is possible without Christ, by simply uniting with those of the same color, i.e. culture. Our self-worth only comes from knowing Christ as Lord and Savior, so we can't really do both."

- Carlotta Murrow, a San Diego computer technician who runs the website - http://christocentric.com/Kwanzaa/ - which is a fantastic and comprehensive website dealing with the history, contradictions, ancestral worship and other problematic issues inherent in this 'holiday'

A little more background from the Dartmouth Review:

Initially, Kwanzaa proceeded from Karenga's hostility toward Western religion, which, he wrote in his 1980 book, Kawaida Theory, 'denies and diminishes human worth, capacity, potential and achievement. In Christian and Jewish mythology, humans are born in sin, cursed with mythical ancestors who've sinned and brought the wrath of an angry God on every generation's head.' He similarly opposed belief in God and other 'spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn over our destiny and daily lives.'

Thus, Karenga explained in his 1977 Kwanzaa: Origin, Concepts, Practice, 'Kwanzaa is not an imitation, but an alternative, in fact, an oppositional alternative to the spookism, mysticism and non-earth based practices which plague us as a people and encourage our withdrawal from social life rather than our bold confrontation with it.' The holiday 'was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.'
Since then, the holiday has gained mainstream adherents, and Karenga has altered its justification so as not to alienate practicing Christians: 'Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday,' he writes in Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, published in 1997.
http://dartreview.com


So dear reader,
Having all of the information at your disposal now, can the celebration, even the acknowledgment of Kwanzaa in the house of God, or by the people of God be justified, except to condemn it? I daresay not.
God is possessive of the worship and service that belong to Him. It is a sin (as God points out in Exodus 20:4-5) to worship or serve anything other than Him. God is jealous for what belongs to Him; worship and service belong to Him alone, and are to be given to Him alone. As 1 Samuel 5 clearly examples, YHWH does not 'play well' with other 'gods'... That said, clearly, at its root, Kwanzaa was designed and presented as an alternative to Christianity. This is of course, a violation of the first commandment.
Please note that I am anxious to hear/share/discuss your thoughts/opinions, etc, as they relate to this issue, and look forward to hearing from you
Blessings to all
Pastor CTJ

Comments

Anonymous said…
Thanks for this blog. The first things I think about are issues like COINTELPRO as a response to the allegations against Karenga. I am not familiar with his arrest history, but many, including MLK experienced symptoms of COINTELPRO during the time and beyond. So, I'd have to look further into the history you have presented on this blog...

Outside of that information, I see that all things good come from Christ. So, if there are principles that are Biblical and can help a people involved in a particular culture know Christ within a particular context, than what's the problem? (Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting universalism) Kwanzaa is a tool to recognize certain principles of conduct aimed at restoring areas of identity that have been battered because of slavery and it's long term affects. I think that Christians can celebrate these things in a Christ centered way. This doesn't exclude people outside of African-American culture, but can welcome them in to understand African-American cutlure. Kwanzaa is a celebration of heritage and culture. Christian responsibility is not to shun culture but to be "all things to all people" being a living reflection of Christ (who became the culture and life of the people he came to...)

Let us see and find the areas where God is already at work and work within that...

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