I was raised in a Christian sect that was founded in the late 19th Century in the USA. It managed to find its way to the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1920’s. Though I was raised in what the great humanitarian, Bishop Desmond Tutu, enthusiastically called a “Rainbow Country,” I was taught to see my Trinbagonian society in black and white terms.
This was exactly the way the white American male founders of the sect did. There was us, their saved Caribbean sheep, part of the One True Church and there was everyone else outside the religion, devilish and doomed.
These included all my fellow Trinidadians who were Hindus, Muslims, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Buddhists, Orishas, Rastafarians and any competing Christian religious sect. Luckily for me, the indoctrination didn’t work, primarily because I was too soft-hearted for such a sociopathic outlook on humankind.
At Naps, the girls who would become my lifelong sisters were from all religious backgrounds. By the end of Form 1—after many impassioned, obnoxious but unsuccessful attempts at preaching to them to try to save their souls from destruction by a deity whom I believed to be jealous and angry—I came to see their humanity and prioritize it above religious affiliation.
They were not evil and worthy of destruction, simply because they did not want to join my parents’ faith. Some of them were kinder, smarter and better in every way than many of the people in my religion. Some came from far happier and more functional domestic situations than my supposedly righteous Christian family.
Back then, I could not put it into the clear terms I manage to today. Within my parents’ faith, I could see the goodness and sincerity of fellow worshippers where such qualities existed but I also rapidly became aware at a very early age that human beings are not perfect or always reliable nor should they be followed unquestioningly just because they assume a position of authority.
Today, it is very obvious to me that I—and many other Trinbagonians—was and still am being groomed to be religious supremacists, in direct opposition to the ethos of this country, one of whose watchwords is Tolerance.
Not only were we being indoctrinated to put the advancement of an American-born faith/corporation ahead of our own fellow Trinbagonians but also to reject our island’s culture. I was taught that my Trinbagonian culture—steelband, soca, calypso, chutney, limbo, mas, Divali, Hosay—were not of God and to be taken for granted, thrown away, rejected in favour of American evangelical culture; consumerism, Dominionism and constant viral expansion of the religious institution’s reach, influence and profit margins.
Individual expression and creativity informed by any influence other than the white, male evangelical outlook from the USA headquarters was not allowed.
The expression of my authentic self, in my own skin as a black, Trinbagonian woman with West African and Carib roots, was not allowed. I had to assimilate into a global Evangelical borg—looking, sounding, dressing the same as everyone else and speaking the same way too. As for fighting for labour rights, social justice and environmental issues, those were not important! The end of the world was coming soon!
I was taught to just focus on converting others to the religion. That was the most important mission of all. Of course, the conversion efforts fed into an entire tithing system, which all led right back to headquarters in the US of A. As the indomitable, transparency and anti-corruption legal eagle Margaret Rose says, “Follow the money!” It always reveals the truth.
Throughout history, religion has always been one of the primary tools of imperialism and one of the main financial beneficiaries of it. One cannot conquer a people unless one squashes or assimilates their culture. While no culture is perfect, each has valid wisdoms and beneficial technological advancements dictated by its unique environment and resulting human story to share with the wider human family. Yes, even European culture!
If shared in a spirit of brotherhood, cultures can productively exchange ideas, distill and evolve to greater hybrids of themselves. If a culture is suppressed and oppressed by another, it can get a people to believe their culture is irredeemably inferior. This loss of self-esteem makes it easier for them to submit to what they think is a superior culture, even as their oppressors steal golden nuggets from their indigenous values and re-brand them as their original ideas.
In the Caribbean region, this started with the Roman Catholic Spanish, who decimated the original indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean, and forced conversions through barbarism while simultaneously coveting and appropriating their beauty, crops, food and useful technology.
The “Doctrine of Discovery,” which humans like Pope Alexander VI helped to formulate, basically stated that if any new territory was discovered by Europeans and was inhabited by non-Christians, it automatically did not belong to those inhabitants but to the Empire. Japan was one of the few places to resist this intrusion. While the RC Church has made a great show of repenting for these past crimes, at the same time it recently bestowed sainthood on one of its greatest butchers of indigenous people, Junípero Serra.
This kind of ideology would continue with the Anglican British Empire and their suppression of Afro and Indo indigenous cultural expression. This included banning the beating of African drums among other attempts to establish cultural hegemony with white Christianity as the ideal.
Their former colony, the USA, would continue the same thing, with white Evangelical Americans’ Manifest Destiny and their gumption to interfere globally in the affairs of sovereign nations, either through direct military intervention or invasion of economic/cultural/religious supremacist ideology.
Make no mistake, Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of CARICOM, Latin and South America are not truly sovereign nations. We are vassals of the US Empire and, if you ever doubted it, just look at what happens when we attempt any government reform that threatens the USA’s economic or geopolitical interests. Reference Cuba in the late 1950’s and Grenada in the early 1980’s.
In her book The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism and Religious Diversity in America (Orbis, 2017), Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Ph.D. examines the long history of these practices and attitudes. What many people in the Caribbean ignore is that many “End Times” American Evangelical sects were informed by modern dispensationalist traditions rooted solidly in white superiority. These sects were segregated and preaching the inferiority of all non-white people long after Roman Catholic, Anglican and other mainstream faiths had become anti-slavery and racially integrated and were promoting non-white clergy to leadership positions.
In fact, many white American racists, disheartened by mainstream churches’ joining abolitionist and Civil Rights causes, would leave and join these newer, more white supremacist faiths. Jim Wallis, author of America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, said it best, “Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.” If I were to try to post all of the past racist doctrines, practices and publications associated with several of these American Evangelical Christian sects, from Southern Baptists, to Seventh Day Adventists to Jehovah’s Witnesses to Mormons and Pentecostals, that would require several articles. Therefore, I will just provide a few links:
What makes these American-born faiths different is that they do not allow the kind of syncretism (combining indigenous identity, spirituality and culture with Christianity) that the older Christian religions did. They don’t produce La Divina Pastora or Shouter Baptist hybrids.
They don’t join in the callaloo as a new flavour. They throw away the callaloo and replace it with their American steak and potatoes. Co-existence is not their intention. These newer American Christian sects want complete obliteration of all indigenous culture. They always fall on the militaristic, fascist, capitalist, environmentally destructive, Dominionist and white supremacist, America-supremacist side of all issues.
Trust me, if you are rejoicing over the film Black Panther, you can be sure they are calling it evil because the spirituality featured in it (informed by aspects of indigenous West African spirituality) is not part of their religious ideology.
The Internet is currently awash with op-eds, from Christians and non-Christians alike who are surprised and disheartened by the blatant racism, gun-worship and lack of Christ-like qualities or regard for the environment in the white Evangelical community, post-Trump. However, for any woke person, this is no surprise.
In Part Two of this series, we will explore what the power ascension of the Religious Right and Dominionism in the USA under Trump means for us, a vassal of the US Empire. We will look at what it means for the young, educated and patriotic activists in Trinidad and Tobago who are increasingly asserting themselves in attempts to enact the gender equality, environmental sustainability and evidence-based policies and laws that fully honour the universal human rights of every person in this country, no matter their status.
We will also take a look at the very different Liberation Theological Christianity of people like Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, the pacifist and progressive Quakers, Desmond Tutu and Rev Dr William Barber, who founded the Moral March.
We will explore why their brand of Christianity is a much better cultural fit for the development and advancement of our multicultural society and protection of our precious environment than the Christianity of the Bob Jones, Jerry Falwells, Jim Bakkers and their local “Pastor Stewart” manifestations here in Trinidad and Tobago.