Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Evangelicals and Vodouisants in Haiti

Recently mailing lists and blogs have been abuzz with commentary concerning the Evangelical attack on a Vodou ceremony in Cité Soleil.  Many Pagans see this as yet another attack on alternative religions by the Evil Christian Empire: many Afrocentric thinkers consider it yet another incident of cultural genocide. The truth, as is frequently the case, is considerably more complicated.

In the best of times Cité Soleil is a lawless place. These are far from the best of times. People are seeking desperately to make sense of the tragedy that has taken place. Some Evangelicals have decided that God has punished Haiti for its tolerance of Vodou and so decided to take matters into their own hands. Other Haitian Evangelicals have offered a more nuanced response. From the article referenced above:
One Evangelical priest in the middle-class Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville claimed Wednesday that more than 200 people came to his church to convert after the January 12 quake. "They say that God struck the country," said Sainvoyus Raymond of the First Baptist Church of Petionville, adding that some of those who converted were previously voodooists.
Raymond, however, condemned the attack in Cite Soleil, saying violence should not be condoned and anyone was free to worship in whatever way they chose.
Rejecting claims that voodoo practices in the country were to blame for the killer quake, Raymond said instead that the disaster was God's response to all evil in Haiti, including violence and kidnapping.
Many Pagans would like to turn the Cité Soleil Vodouisants into fellow victims of the New Burning Times and the Evil American Fundamentalist Establishment. But Pat Robertson's ignorant and offensive comments about Haiti were hardly the impetus for this attack.  This was a bunch of poor and frightened people acting out in response to a horrible tragedy. (And it's not just Evangelicals who are scared: Haitian friends of mine have described "Lougawou killings" which sound uncomfortably like African witch-hunts and which owe more to Vodou and Haitian folk religion than to any form of Protestant or Catholic Christianity).

This is not to minimize or justify attacks on Vodouisants or any other kind of mob violence which takes place in the wake of the Haiti quake. But I think it is important to view this in the proper context, and to refrain from using it as a chance to engage in knee-jerk Christian-bashing.