By Leo Igwe
The apology issued by the Church of Scotland for its role in capturing and torturing alleged witches in early modern Europe is an example and an initiative that churches in Africa must emulate. In a historic gesture of mea culpa, the Church of Scotland has, at its General Assembly, in May, acknowledged their role in the persecution and execution of thousands of people, mainly women, accused of witchcraft between the 16th and 18th centuries. The church regretted the terrible harm that it caused the accused. It was sorry for the miscarriage of justice, which it orchestrated centuries ago.
The witch hunts in Scotland were a clear case of moral failure. So it was encouraging to see this Christian establishment rise to the occasion and acknowledge their misdeeds. So the witch apology by the Church of Scotland is a welcome development and a powerful message of remorse. The issue is not only in tendering this apology which many in Scotland deem unnecessary because the Scottish witch hunts ended centuries ago. The real tragedy is that the persecution of alleged witches is an ongoing campaign in many parts of the world, especially in Africa. Centuries after these horrific abuses ended in Europe, persecution of suspected witches has not stopped in the region. Unfortunately, churches in Christian Africa are the main drivers and enablers of witchcraft accusations and witch persecutions. African pastors are among the key perpetrators of this miscarriage of justice. Violent exorcism of witchcraft is an everyday activity in many churches. These churches, including the Liberty Gospel Church, Mountain of Fire and Ministry, and Living Faith Church, engage in witch finding, identification, and exorcism as part of everyday evangelism.
The main question is: When will African churches apologize for their wrongs and misdeeds? When will African clerics regret the harm which they have inflicted on thousands and tens of thousands of alleged witches across the region? When will African churches repent of their role in accusing and persecuting innocent persons in the name of witchcraft?
But some have argued that before African churches could repent and apologize, as the Church of Scotland has done, they need to first acknowledge that witch persecution is wrong. African pastors need to accept that witchcraft accusation is incompatible with Christian faith and practice in this 21st century. And at the moment, this is not case. African churches are actively engaged in witch-hunting and persecution. They have not realized this error and mistake.
And this situation makes the witch apology by the Church of Scotland resourceful and helpful. Apart from helping the church and people of Scotland achieve some closure to what was a dark and horrific episode in their history, the witch apology must be deployed to provide moral leadership to the global campaign against witch hunting in Christian Africa.
The witch apology must be used to get African churches to end horrific abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs. Many churches in Africa are branches and affiliates of the Church of Scotland. Scottish missionaries helped found churches in the region. The Church of Scotland has continued to provide financial support and training to its African counterparts. Thus the Church of Scotland is in the position to influence the activities of its partner churches. The Scottish witch apology will be incomplete if the Church of Scotland does not deploy it to stem the raging tide of witch persecution and killing in Christian Africa. The witch apology should be used to restrain and call to order African church affiliates that are actively involved in witchcraft accusations and witch persecutions. The Church of Scotland should mainstream the witch apology in its relationship with all christian faith organisations. The witch apology should become a pillar of the Faith in Action programs in the region.
In addition, African churches, that are not affiliated with the Church of Scotland must come on board and join the vanguard of churches against witchcraft accusations and witch persecution. Many pastors have been reluctant to advocate against witch persecution due to their fundamentalist interpretation and understanding of christianity. Many churches have opposed the campaign against witch hunting because they are of the notion that the belief in witchcraft or the practice of witch finding is basic to the Christian faith. With the apology by the Church of Scotland, this misunderstanding has been clarified. A clear message has been sent to African churches and their leaders-that they are mistaken and must change course. The Church of Scotland has reiterated that witch persecution is a fatal religious error. That witch hunting is inconsistent with the Christian faith. African churches must embrace this message, apologize, repent and regret their role in this dark and destructive campaign.
Leo Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, which aims to end witch persecution in Africa