Pentecostal Theology As A Discursive Site For The Weight Of Blackness In Nigeria

Pentecostal Theology As A Discursive Site For The Weight Of Blackness In Nigeria

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Pentecostal Theology as a Discursive Site for the Weight of Blackness in Nigeria

Nimi Wariboko

Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts


Blackness has become the discursive site for assessing, negotiating, and appropriating the meaning of spirituality as socioeconomic dislocations of Nigeria mingle with an increasing awareness of the “lowly lot of black humanity.” The discourse began with disciplining the body but quickly moved on to the normalization of a nation chosen by God to spearhead the final evangelization of the world and to lead the black race into global technological and economic supremacy. Here I want to trace a line from the ways the body is disciplined to the protocols of race and discourse of sovereignty. In other words, I want to map the movement of pentecostal thought from spirituality that focuses on the purity of the body to spirituality that focuses on the purity of the body politic. Unlike the Duke School, I place the belief in chosenness that permeates the Abrahamic religions at the core of the emerging pentecostal “racial theology.”


weight of blackness – divine chosenness – race – technique of the self on the self – normalization – discipline – sovereignty – Nigeria – counter-racist theology


Blackness has become a major discursive site for assessing, negotiating, and appropriating the meaning of spirituality as socioeconomic dislocations of Nigeria mingle with an increasing awareness of the “lowly lot of black human- ity.” The discourse began with disciplining the body, but quickly moved on to the normalization of a nation chosen by God to spearhead the final evangeliza-

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2014 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03603045




tion of the world and to lead the black race into global technological and eco- nomic supremacy. This turn to divine chosenness on the part of Nigerian Pen- tecostals helps us to illumine the connections between body, self, sovereignty, and race in pentecostal political theology.

In this essay I want to trace a line from the ways the body is disciplined to the protocols of race and discourse of sovereignty. I want, in other words, to tentatively map the movement of pentecostal thought from spirituality that focuses on the purity of the body and the techniques of the self on the self to spirituality that focuses on the purity of the body politic (or social body). I will also highlight the significance of this plotline for the sovereignty debate in ways that are similar to the way in which Michel Foucault coupled the discourse of sovereignty and race (The Jewish Question in Europe) or as theologian Kameron Carter did. But unlike Carter and the Duke School, I place the belief in chosenness that permeates the Abrahamic religions at the core of the emerging pentecostal race-oriented or counter-racist theology. For instance, Carter argues that western racial theology is rooted in the denial of the Jewish roots of Jesus Christ, supersessionism, and the denial of Jews as an integral part of the western societies in which they lived.1 What he fails to theorize adequately is that these three factors supervene on one issue: the chosenness of the Jews—Jews as the chosen people of God and the Christians’ determination to replace them as the new chosen people of God. Chosenness is imbricated with racial or counter-racist theology, and it needs special focus if we are to advance the arguments of the Duke School. Thus, focusing on chosenness one can with Occam-razor simplicity delineate the contours of what approximates “white theology” in other contexts. So in this essay we will be arguing with and against the School.

Avi Baker in his book The Chosen argues that no one can pretend to under- stand Christian theology if the claims and counterclaims of chosenness are ignored.2 Rivalry for chosenness is what intervenes in the heart of western the- ology. This rivalry has also become an important lens through which to view pentecostal spirituality in Nigeria.

The concept of chosenness is a key part of the Abrahamic religions. It is at the heart of Judaism; Christians and Muslims also claim to have been chosen by God. Nonetheless, it is a concept open to constant reinvention, encouraging

1 J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). 2 Avi Beker, The Chosen: The History of an Idea, and the Anatomy of an Obsession (New York:

Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). See also Cain Hope Felder, Troubling Biblical Waters: Race, Class,

and Family(Maryknoll, ny: Orbis Books, 1989), 43–46.

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new sects or wings of these religions to reinterpret it in new ways in new contexts, to weave it afresh from the very fabric of faith. Nigerian Pentecostals are claiming that their nation has been specially chosen by God to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ and to draw the black race into economic development. Their understanding of chosenness is not just limited to the view that God has cut a special deal with them to establish God’s kingdom in the foreseeable future; rather, it also includes the view that he has opened the structure of hope and expectation of the future to the black race as a whole.

The belief in chosenness amid increasing race consciousness and national poverty is driving Nigerian Pentecostals to redefine what it means to be black and how blacks should bear the weight of blackness in a world of historical disregard for black people.3 It is the aim of this essay to investigate and analyze these claims and the thinking behind them, in their depths and complexity, through a focused study of concrete spiritual practices. It will explore how Nigerian Pentecostals are reinventing the ancient concept and tradition of chosenness in new contexts. We will eventually bring all this into conversation with the Duke School.

Disciplining the Body

Divine chosenness was not always prominent in Nigerian Pentecostalism. At the beginning of the movement, as with many other new sectarian religious movements the interest was on preparing souls for the other world by disci- plining bodies and rigorously managing desires. Early Nigerian Pentecostals engaged in embodied practices to sustain and make productive their desire for God. Following Foucault, we can call their embodied practicestechniques of the self on the self. Pentecostals enacted particular mechanisms of prayers, night vigils, fasting, asceticism, Bible studies, and regular church attendance so that their vision of the good life would become part of the fabric of their disposition. In the early phases of Nigerian Pentecostalism—that is, from the beginning of the twentieth century to the mid-1990s—bodies were heavily invested in

3 The way Nigerian Pentecostals think about blackness, national identity, and the fulfillment of

racial destiny in a future glorious age is akin to African-American millennialism (“millennial

Ethiopianism”) at the turn of the twentieth century. See Timothy E. Fulop, “The Future

Golden Day of the Race: Millennialism and Black Americans in the Nadir, 1877–1901,”Harvard

Theological Review84, no.1 (1991): 75–99.

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spiritual lives; they were always watched, monitored, and disciplined, so as not to betray spiritual goals. But there was also a consciousness that the particular bodies that were caught up in the spiritual quest were not regarded as generic, universal bodies, but as black bodies.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, in their book Commonwealth, make two very interesting points about religious fundamentalisms—Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. Their insights help us further to understand the complex ways bodies are imbricated in Nigerian pentecostal spiritualities. According to them, fundamentalists pay excessive attention to human bodies, “making all their surfaces along with their intake and output, their habits and practices the object of intense scrutiny and evaluation.”4 Without implying that all Nigerian Pentecostals are fundamentalists, I will agree with them on this point. In its early and very conservative days, Nigerian Pentecostalism greatly focused on the human body, its intake and output, and its coverings (especially feminine articles of clothing) as “signs of transcendent forms or essences that stand above them” and as indices for “gauging identitarian belonging.”5

Second, Hardt and Negri argue that such obsessive attention and vigilance ultimately make bodies to “disappear” into heaven or a similar transcendent realm. “The body is all important and, at the same time, vanishes.”6 The point is that the extraordinary importance given to the bodies results in “ultimate dissolution of the bodies into the transcendent realm.”7 Fundamentalism, they add, “does not allow for the productivity of bodies that is central to biopoli- tics: the construction of being from below, through bodies in action.”8 As we shall see below, this view is not exactly correct when it comes to Nigerian Pen- tecostalism. The recent slight shift of attention to race-oriented (or counter- racist) theology is not only moving Pentecostals and their bodies into action and the reconstruction of what it means to be black, but is also constructing human bodies and collectives via disciplines, regulations, and normalization that are central to sovereignty (altersovereignty) as a biopolitical project. In Nigerian Pentecostalism, the black body is all-important and, at the same time, it refuses to disappear or be eclipsed by a generic body of the children of God. The black pentecostal body, long deprived, degraded, neglected, and aware of

4 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri,Commonwealth(Cambridge, ma: Harvard University Press,

2009), 32.

5 Ibid., 32, 31.

6 Ibid., 34.

7 Ibid., 33.

8 Ibid., 32.

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the discourse of prosperity gospel does not easily equate the affirmation of the body in its stark materiality with its metaphysical fungibility, indifferentiation, or “annihilation.”

In the next section, we will see that the concern with the black body is expanded to intersect with the destiny of Nigeria as a collective of black bodies. National development is increasingly seen as an actualization of potentials of the black race to fulfill a key divine assignment. In Nigerian Pentecostalism we are beginning to see identity struggles engaging with a project of divine chosenness and national liberation. This engagement is under the aegis of a spiritual-materialist teleology: there is a belief in God’s invisible hands pulling the history and progress of Nigeria forward along with a recognition of the capability of Pentecostals’ faithfulness, desires, and struggles to push it forward as well.

Production of Chosenness: A Pathway to Pentecostal Biopolitics

In this section I want to explore the process of invention of chosenness as a way of dealing with the place and destiny of the black race in the world. But before embarking on this task I need to clarify how Nigerian Pentecostals are using the term black race. They use the term black race to refer to persons who are of sub-Saharan African ancestry. This terms rolls into one set indicators of skin color (principally black with varied pigmentations) and ethnic origins (trace- able to sub-Saharan African groups and their diaspora population). The term pivots around a belief in an underlying essence of the race. They have not really taken into account the academic debates about the difficulties of essentializ- ing race or defining it as an ontological category. Yet, it is not out of place to say that many Nigerian Pentecostals understand race as a sociopolitical construct or harbor some sense of race as a combination of essence and social construct working to classify them as blacks, inferior and poor, in the global arena. As they have come increasingly to recognize the weight of socially imposed sufferings on all dark-skinned peoples all over the world their conception of blackness is expanding.

Many pentecostal preachers are inventing the tradition of chosenness in order to inculcate certain behaviors, standards of holiness, and practices they hope will usher Nigerians and the whole of the black race into spiritual and technological superiority or at least world respectability. In order to give the impression that this tradition is ancient and that what they are doing is only establishing continuity with the past, they reach back to events in the Old and New Testaments to argue that the chosenness of the Nigerians has all along

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been a back-story of the Bible. But what the invention of chosenness is all about is actually a novel response to the weight of blackness in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and an attempt to forge a collective identity to facilitate the bearing of this load. They have managed to transform the weight of suffering and racism into the weight of God-given destiny. Nonetheless, it is still a weight and it calls for a different response, and we will examine below how chosenness is implicated in this new responsibility.

I will start the story of the invention by presenting portions of two sermons. Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the leader of the largest pentecostal denomination in the country, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, delivered a very moving narrative sermon on September 30, 2011, at Floyd (Dallas), Texas that borders on race and faith. In the narrative he gave a prominent place to his own sensitivity toward race issues:

There was a time after I became a Christian, particularly after I have been to Kenneth Hagin’s camp meeting [Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States in the late 1970s], I saw him laying hands on people and people were falling under the power of the Holy Spirit. I said, “God, I want this one too.” I, in fact, challenged God on my way back home: “If you don’t do what I saw you do in America, when I get back to Nigeria I am going to say you are racist.” […]

So when I got home I told my father in the Lord—first Sunday after that one—“please give me an opportunity, I want to lay hands on the sick.” (You know we weren’t doing that in the Redeemed before. Everybody was encouraged to pray on his own.) “Let me lay hands now—it is in the Bible.” He said: “Okay.” (You know I am his favorite boy, so he gave me some concessions.) So that Sunday people lined up and I began to lay hands upon them. Believe it or not, they began to fall. Oh, glory be to God. “And God you are not a racist.”

The second sermon—“Nigeria: A Nation Chosen by God”9—was delivered by Evangelist Elishama Ideh at This Present Church, Lekki, Victoria Island, Lagos, in 2010, months before Nigeria’s fiftieth independence anniversary. Ideh is the pastor-in-charge of Ever Present Ministries. She attended Bowie State College, Maryland, United States, where she studied mass communication. She often dresses in Nigeria’s national colors of green, white, and green, and also

9 For a study of “chosenness” in the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and

Islam see Beker,The Chosen.

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decorates her forums for speeches and sermons in the same colors. Her sermon shows one of the creative ways Nigerian Pentecostals are mining the Bible to interpret the burden of blackness.

Today I’m going to share from a message I’ve have been passing around called “Nigeria: A Nation Chosen by God.” How many people know that God has chosen Nigeria for a peculiar purpose? […]

Nigeria has been chosen as the nation that will introduce Jesus Christ to the world in his second coming … Just like in the days of the Israel, the Israelites were the one that introduced the name of God to the world … but in this time Nigeria has been chosen as a nation that will be in the forefront to usher in our king in his second coming.10

What do these two sermon fragments have in common? It appears that asking God race-based questions is not strange to Nigerian Pentecostals. Adeboye and Ideh are both putting forth knowledge, revelation received from the invisible God as they deal with the weight of blackness, consciously carrying the burden of blackness into their spirituality. What they also have in common is that they both use race as a lens to interpret their experiences, to examine the work of the Holy Spirit, or to examine the burden of their skin pigmentation within the context of pentecostal hermeneutics.

I want also to highlight a key difference between the two preachers, sep- arated in age by twenty years and in evolution of ideas by over thirty years. Adeboye, who was sixty-nine in 2011, asked God as long ago as the late 1970s why white preachers were more anointed than black preachers in Nigeria. Ideh, who was forty-eight in 2010, saw the ongoing pentecostal revival as providen- tial and her nation as chosen. By this assertion she echoed the sentiments of Nigerian Pentecostals who were keen to differentiate themselves from other Pentecostals in Africa and elsewhere and also in consolidating their own identi- ties. The respective positions of Adeboye and Ideh symbolize the genesis of the race consciousness and its transformation into the tradition of chosenness. The trajectory of consciousness here provides us with a rough guide to the inven- tion of chosenness in Nigerian Pentecostalism. What are some of the forces that made this invention necessary?

In Nigeria there is a certain heaviness born of the sufferings, misfortunes, poverty, and misery of African blacks. Nigerian Pentecostals have to acknowl-

10 The sermon was transcribed by Bele Wariboko of Westwood, Massachusetts, on October

12, 2011.

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edge it, bear and shoulder it, discuss it, entreat God about it, and resist it. There is a sense of closed boundary, sense of weightedness of race, made palpable by the intensification of surplus suffering imposed by the external forces of racial- ized power and by corrupt local leaders. Black is heavy.

The weight that Africans, and particularly Nigerian Pentecostals, bear is constantly shifting from site to site; the weight of race and racism is contin- ually shifting. If yesterday it was slavery and colonialism, today it is different. The racially weighted world is felt acutely as the burden of poor economies and racism that feeds on levels of gross national product (gnp). Africans not only directly bear the brunt of low levels of economic development, but they also endure the devaluation and degradation of their racial identity as the world increasingly links racial respect to performance of national or regional economies.

There is a wicked theory of gnp afoot in the world; and it is in the face of Africans. Low levels of economic development in Africa have come to be interpreted as black persons’ greater vulnerability to death and shame, and have indeed marked them as surplus population, unworthy lives, those to be excluded from the global centers of power. The logic of this hermeneutics of gnp is part of the axiomatics of the current global formation, which, before any engagement and dialogue, determine which race or people is to be taken seriously beyond the pale of politically correct tolerance in world economic- political affairs. Today, the connection between gnp and racism is an important and particular site of the destructive weight of the world on Africans.

Weight of Blackness and Duke School: Historical Intelligibility and Theological Finesse

As a central materialist component in constructing Nigerian pentecostal iden- tity, the weight and quest for dignified recognition in the world are nurtured within the discourse of spirituality. What we are seeing is the mutual encoding of the theological and the racial to birth a new way of thinking—a pneumati- cally powered imagination and hermeneutics—that reads against the existing social order. This is the way Pentecostals are making sense of their lives as blacks and responding to the burden and realities of their skin.

The Bible is the lens through which race is socially imagined and racial con- sciousness is helped to emerge within Nigerian Pentecostalism. This trajectory of imagination stands both to help and to compromise faithful Christian iden- tity. On the one hand, it plays into the intersection of race and theology that has come to define “white theology” (to use the language of J. Kameron Carter

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and Willie James Jennings).11 On the other hand, it promotes racial pride on the basis of equality of all peoples before God and accentuates a sense of priv- ileged divine purpose. Carter would say that all this might be Christianly but not necessarily pentecostal.

What makes the racial turn on hermeneutic un-pentecostal? Without min- imizing the heartfelt pains of those who have turned to the Bible to redefine their identity, it is still appropriate to aver that they have not worked out their “theology” pentecostally. To follow Carter, they have not done it “from within the distinctively Jewish-Christian horizon of the miracle of speech, the over- turning of nationalism, the theological refounding of identity within the person of Jesus of Nazareth.”12 The analysis of racism and racial burden being under- taken by Nigerian Pentecostals, though well intended and sincere, does not necessarily disrupt “the linguistics of cultural and political nationalism, includ- ing the nationalism at work in how identity is conceived and performed.” To be in Christ, as Carter argues, is to have an orientation to disrupt the “faulty performance of language and therefore of identity.” Christ through his life has drawn creation into a re-performance of language and identity. Drawing the world into this re-performance or true performance of the linguistics of cul- tural and political nationalism is what Carter calls “the ‘pentecostalization’ of the world, its being drawn into his incarnate or ‘passionate’ way of existence into a new mode of speech and identity.”13

How so that Carter is basing his theological assessment of performance of linguistics of cultural and political nationalism via the platform of the incarna- tion and the passion—the Jewish identity of Jesus?

Christ’s life, which culminates in the “hour” of his passion, is the pneuma- tological foil of Genesis 11, the foil that reverses creation’s self-enclosure, first and ultimately, against God, and, second and no less important, within itself. Being instrumental in effecting this reversal is and remains the destiny of Israel. Its election, in this respect, is to mediate creation’s re-creation. Through Christ, the seed of Abraham, the world in its entirety is conscripted into Israel’s destiny, which turns out to be the world’s des- tiny. From this it becomes clear that Israel’s destiny is not solipsistic; its election is to be itself precisely by being more than itself: that is, by being for the world. It is to be a nonnationalistic nation, a different kind of

11 See Carter, Race, and Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the

Origins of Race(New Haven, ct: Yale University Press, 2010).

12 Carter, Race, 311.

13 Ibid., 309. This and the earlier quotations are from this page.

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people—the people of yhwh. This nonsolipsistic destiny is brought to fruition in Christ, who is at once child of Israel and Son of God/Son of man. He is most truly the former as he is the latter …14

If we turn to Brian Bantum’s book Redeeming Mulatto (2010), we may be able to expand Carter’s perspective on what it means to speak pentecostally about race. From his perspective, acting pentecostally or even broadly Christianly would not only be about hearing, speaking, or not jettisoning the Jewishness of Jesus of Nazareth, or avoiding supersessionist thinking alone. It must surely involve joining in a new reality of kinship.15 Or in Jennings’s perspective, it involves creating a genuine communion among disparate groups and nations that gives some place to identity calibrated through possession by, not posses- sion of, specific land.16

Nigerian Pentecostals’ analysis of racial burden and destiny that accents blood and land and uses supersessionist language is undoubtedly problematic; any critique of it as we have done raises its own problem. The question that immediately arises is this: Does the universalism of Pentecostalism dissolve all particularities? Is it not possible to see new possibilities of existence, the belief in the not-yet flourishing of a people, as pentecostal in the sense of the capacity of beginning something new? Is it not conceivable that the turn to racialized theology is an attempt (even if a desperate one) to carve a new space of equality for a new reality of kinship? Does Carter’s concern with “faulty performance of language and therefore of identity” and “the pentecostalization of the world” render stillborn or useless the emerging racialized (counter-racist) theology of Nigerian Pentecostals? How will Carter respond to them? There is even something more.

The turn to racial understanding is, in a sense, a turn to philosophical and historical discourse (an attempt to forge or determine the “basic elements of historical intelligibility”).17 Nigerian Pentecostalism, history, and philosophy are asking the same question—and this is fundamentally new. Nigerian Pen- tecostalism is asking a question that arises from its interior, inside its African worldview, a question that history and philosophy have always asked. The ques- tion, according to Foucault, is: “What is it, in the present, that is the agent of the

14 Ibid.

15 Brian Bantum, Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (Waco, tx:

Baylor University Press, 2010).

16 Jennings,Christian Imagination, 58, 59, 63, 64, 289–290.

17 Michel Foucault,Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College of France 1975–1976(New

York: Picador, 1997), 237.

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universal? What is it, in the present, that is the truth of the universal?”18 The answer of Nigerian Pentecostals is that the agent of the universal is the evange- lizing black race and the truth the black race bears is the vigor and commitment to Pentecostalism, to the Pentecostal Principle, which is considered the truth of the universal.19

Spirituality and Race: An Inverted Foucauldian Perspective

In the first section of this essay, we examined pentecostal spirituality through various protocols of the body politic, ways of performing existence through “technology of the self.” Here we want to trace a line from the ways the body is disciplined (techniques of the self on the self) to the protocols of race and discourse of sovereignty. I want to do it in ways that connect body, sovereignty, and race, a triumvirate of concerns that animates the Duke School.

Foucault’s analysis of sovereignty shows that historically political power is predominantlyconstitutedinthreeways:absolutist(feudal)state,nation-state, biopower, or biopolitics.20 The first form in his taxonomy is characterized by autocratic rule, which was consolidated in the king or potentate; and political power was conceived as finally rooted in the body of the potentate. He was the locusofunity,theunitarycenterofthemultiplicityofpowersinagivendomain. In him resided the unity of the people, territory, and the law. The people were his subjects. He was the sovereign. In the nation-state model, power was con- solidated in the state bureaucracies and apparatuses. The unitary center was reimagined as located in the state and its bureaucracies. So both the king and the people were subjects of the state, and sovereignty operated between the poles of the state and the subjects. The people, now consolidated as a nation, ruled themselves via the medium of the state. The third form in his taxonomy of the incarnation (mutation) of political sovereignty was biopower or biopol- itics. Subjects were controlled by the state through normalization, the control of the population (rather than individual subjects) by a combination of the techniques of discipline and technologies of regulation. Power was completely invested in real and effective practices, relating directly and immediately to its target and field of application.21

18 Ibid.

19 NimiWariboko,ThePentecostalPrinciple:EthicalMethodologyinNewSpirit(GrandRapids,

mi: Eerdmans, 2012).

20 Foucault,Society Must Be Defended.

21 Ibid., 28, 29.

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Unlike the first two conceptions of sovereignty, which reduces political power to unity of the sovereign or central controlling authority, the terminal conception of sovereignty focuses on the social body (its production and repro- duction) as the locus of sovereignty. This new understanding of power “applies primarily to bodies and what they do” without the mediation of sovereignty.22

Following and adapting Foucault’s taxonomy of the forms of modern polit- ical power and mutations of sovereignty, but turning it on its head, I want to develop a taxonomy of forms of protocols of the body politic in Nigerian Pente- costalism. This exercise will highlight the convergence of the plotlines of body, sovereignty, and race. I conceive of this convergence as taking place around the dynamics and meaning of spirituality.

The first form of spirituality of Nigerian Pentecostalism—at least as we have examinedit—isthedisciplinarymode.Itisfocusedonthebody,thetechnology of the self, the disciplinary order of the body. The emphasis is on the individual disciplining or mortifying her body (so as to make the soul prosper) so she can make it to heaven and also enjoy prosperity and good health here on earth.

The second mode is the regulatory one. Pentecostal spirituality is a power- knowledge that is applied to the whole population, the black race. The “race” sermons are the beginning process of the technology of regulation for the race (population) to fashion events that occur in the group (population). The body needs to be disciplined and the function and destiny of the race, the popula- tion (or at least the national citizenry), needs to be regularized. In this regard certain norms and virtues are emerging and being forged to normalize believ- ers.23 Pentecostal spirituality “took over” possession of the body and now it is taking care of the life (destiny) of the population (race). Pentecostal spirituality is now being articulated at the intersection of body and population, individual and race, the organism and the species. It is now concerned not only with “bod- ies and what bodies do,” but also with the land and the gross collective product and fortune of the land (social body).

The next disciplinary mode is that of sovereignty. This third mutation of the body protocols is the point at which political sovereignty emerges, the next mechanism of power or normalization. But this will not be the type of sovereignty that will root pentecostal communities in the body of a potentate or in a single locus of unity. This third disciplinary mode will not reduce polit- ical power to the unity of one potentate or a central controlling authority in Nigerian Pentecostalism, even if it aids the founding of a political community. It

22 Ibid., 35–36.

23 Wariboko, Nigerian Pentecostalism, chapter 7.

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willcreateitsowntypeofdivisionand hierarch,ifwearetofollowthereasoning of Foucault. Sovereignty as the mechanism of power will be a way to fragment the field of the body and population (race, citizenry, life) that the movement is normalizing. It will be a way of establishing a spiritual-type caesura and hierarchicalization within the group or movement that now appears to be an accumulation of multiplicity of power.24

This third mechanism will allow power to treat the social body, the citizenry, the population as a mixture of lives or, to be more accurate, to subdivide the population into laborers, workers, and actors25 based on virtues as defined by differences of degrees of commitment to Christ or to the Pentecost event. Simply, virtues as a normalization is the precondition that makes sovereignty acceptable under the rubric of controlling the aleatory events that threaten the destiny of the nation or God’s mandate for the black race to prepare the earth for Jesus Christ’s second coming. This very emergence of the third form of sovereignty, which is an inversion of Foucault’s schema, does not promise to save Pentecostalism from the problems of troublesome old-style sovereignty and the connections to the kind of theology Carter rejects as “white theology.”

Let us imagine this possibility. If pentecostal spirituality and its virtue- normalization wished to exercise the old sovereign power of authority (the juridical model of sovereignty), it must not only become biopolitical but must also develop a positive relation between race consciousness and fulfillment of God’s mandate, crafting a privileged, biological-type relationship between sal- vation and race. Or it must become a social-racism (not ethnic or biological racism). It is a “differentialist racism, racism without race.”26 Exclusion in this kind of racism operates by differential inclusion.27

Old-style sovereignty and Pentecostalism intersect when pentecostal spiri- tuality functions in the biopower mode and seeks the purity of racial destiny. They intersect when members are willing to be exposed to the “absolute and universal threat of death” in the pursuit of what is understood as the divine mandate of the race.28 “Risking one’s life, being exposed to total destruction,

24 Foucault,Society Must Be Defended, 254–255, inspired this insight.

25 See Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958). I

have used Arendt’s categories to name the kind of hierarchy that is emerging in discussing

the different kinds of Pentecostals and their commitment to the movement. See Wariboko,

Nigerian Pentecostalism, chapter 9, n. 77 for details.

26 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, ma: Harvard University Press,

2000), 192.

27 Ibid., 194.

28 Foucault,Society Must Be Defended, 259.

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[is] one of the principles inscribed in the basic duties of the obedient [Pen- tecostal who wants to be a sort of master in the Hegel-type master-servant struggle], and it [is] one of the essential objectives of [Nigerian Pentecostalism’s life in the Spirit].”29 This commitment may be summoned by and controlled by those who believe themselves to be actors in the movement and capable of driving the power mechanisms of the various technologies of discipline and regulation to their paroxysmal point. “Once it is a matter of coming to terms with the thought of one-to-one encounter with the adversary [the ‘neighbor,’ ‘enemy’ who must be converted or be met with ‘spiritual death’ in his God- forsaken religion], and with the need to fight him physically [that is, the good fight of faith], to risk one’s own life and to try to [convert] him, there is need for [social] racism.”30 With an intense focus on quickly achieving the racial des- tiny of evangelizing the world and lifting the fortunes of the black race, it is quite conceivable to see a threat to and subversion of destiny as coming from some fifth column or enemies from within. The social body must purify itself of the pollution of some internal elements. When the passage of time becomes so filled with significance and the danger of slipping from God’s mandate, there is often a call for sacrifice, for draconian measures. I need to state right away that there is nothing inevitable about this trend—the old form of sovereignty is not necessarily bound up with Pentecostalism or with its technology of power. And yet we need the reminder that the emergence of blackness as a discursive site for negotiating the meaning of the spiritual harbors potentials of the kind of theology the Duke School rejects.

Summary and Conclusion

The thrust of the essay is to show how the concern with racial identity and divine purpose inform key theological questions in the Nigerian pentecostal movement that emphasizes the techniques of the self on the self and as it shifts the focus of self-governance from disciplinary techniques to normalization and regulation of the black race/national citizenry. We have used perspectives from the Duke School to interrogate the ideas of the national divine purpose of Nigerian Pentecostals and have also disrupted the self-assured constructive stance of the School. One way we did this is to show that questions of race, body, and sovereignty are embedded in everyday forms of spirituality as against

29 Ibid., 259–260. 30 Ibid., 262.

PNEUMA 36 (2014) 417–431


pentecostal theology as a discursive site


academic theology. This approach is more appropriate to the context of the Nigerian Pentecostals who have no long history of academic texts to permit the kind of textual analysis that proponents of the Duke School are wont to do. Nigerian Pentecostals have “stumbled” onto the vexing issues of race, chosenness, disciplinary mode, and sovereignty through spirituality.

Their story and experience enable us to understand how the notion of chosenness can transform the disciplinary mode into modes of sovereignty (regulation of race/national citizenry) and eventually to a social body that must purify itself of the pollution of some elements. Just as the Jews or African Americans emerged in “white theology” as not integral to the societies in which they lived, the pentecostal disciplinary mode, if allowed its full rein, may also produce some black bodies or nonbelievers as fifth column or enemies from within as it seeks purity of racial destiny (not purity of racial blood or identity).

PNEUMA 36 (2014) 417–431



  • Reply February 5, 2024


    now how about that Dale M. Coulter J.D. King Tony Richie

  • Reply February 5, 2024


    Thank you, Troy Day. Although I have not been to Nigeria, I have been to Africa four times and visited several countries, including Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya. I’ve preached and taught in these countries, mostly among the Church of God, but also other Pentecostals. One thing my sisters and brothers in Africa who are black have taught me is that it is a mistake to transpose the racial context of the United States to Africa. It just isn’t the same. In many places in Africa there are blacks oppressing blacks. On religion, other religions are oppressing Christians. The history of apartheid in South Africa aside, which admittedly is a huge aside, the issues in continental Africa are more often about religion and economics and political power than race, per se.

    • Reply February 5, 2024


      well gospel writer educator Neil Steven Lawrence may have been in Nigeria as well I think he definitely was in Kenya @ one time Isara Mo Wangure’s Reflections Roshell Spear Rasiah Thomas have all shared reformed reconstructionism is the worst theological movement Africa has ever seen

  • Reply February 5, 2024


    Definition: discursive.
    1. moving from topic to topic without order : RAMBLING
    2. proceeding coherently from topic to topic
    3. of or relating to discourse

    Using this word in the title was very confusing.

    Overall, my critique is that the black race has to find their identity in Christ just as the brown or white race does.

    Second, to use economic progress as a measure of value or identity is also fraught with questionable metrics. Any nation has to have the fundamentals of a strong economy established for it to succeed. When corruption and an anemic work ethic hamstring efforts to establish the fundamentals, it will never work, no matter whether it is a white brown or black economy.

    Third, Africans in general have a depressed sense of identity which provides a negative background to their worldview. Aside from the things I’ve already mentioned above they must be able to taste several generations of success in order to rise above that depression. This will help them form a more hopeful identity, not based on race. In someways, success is the best antidote for failure.

    It’s important to keep in mind that only four generations ago, the majority of Africa was in the Stone Age and it has risen quicker than Europe ever did. They’ve come a long way, and I believe the foundation of Christianity is what has provided the light and the hope required to go where God is taking them. 

  • Reply February 14, 2024

    Troy Day

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