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When Will African Churches Apologize for Witch Persecutions?

DR Congo witchcraft practitioners

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

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Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe (born July 26, 1970) is a Nigerian human rights advocate and humanist. Igwe is a former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and has specialized in campaigning against and documenting the impacts of child witchcraft accusations. He holds a Ph.D from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Igwe's human rights advocacy has brought him into conflict with high-profile witchcraft believers, such as Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, because of his criticism of what he describes as their role in the violence and child abandonment that sometimes result from accusations of witchcraft. His human rights fieldwork has led to his arrest on several occasions in Nigeria. Igwe has held leadership roles in the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Atheist Alliance International, and the Center For Inquiry—Nigeria. In 2012, Igwe was appointed as a Research Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation, where he continues working toward the goal of responding to what he sees as the deleterious effects of superstition, advancing skepticism throughout Africa and around the world. In 2014, Igwe was chosen as a laureate of the International Academy of Humanism and in 2017 received the Distinguished Services to Humanism Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Igwe was raised in southeastern Nigeria, and describes his household as being strictly Catholic in the midst of a "highly superstitious community," according to an interview in the Gold Coast Bulletin.[1] At age twelve, Igwe entered the seminary, beginning to study for the Catholic priesthood, but later was confused by conflicting beliefs between Christian theology and the beliefs in witches and wizards that are "entrenched in Nigerian society."[1] After a period of research and internal conflict due to doubts about the "odd blend of tribalism and fundamentalist Christianity he believes is stunting African development," a 24-year-old Igwe resigned from the seminary and relocated to Ibadan, Nigeria

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