- Africa, sub-Saharan
- Brought to sub-Saharan Africa largely as a by-product of British imperialism, Protestantism today counts more than 170 million followers. A huge variety of Protestant churches together account for half the Christian population of the continent.Protestant missionary work began as early as 1737 in South Africa with George Schmidt (1709-85) of the Moravian Church. A century earlier (1652), Dutch settlers had brought the Netherlands Reformed Church with them and prohibited the establishment of any other faith, including rival forms of Christianity, but the church operated almost exclusively among the European settlers who saw no need to convert the local population. Schmidt found the Dutch treatment of blacks shocking. They in turn looked down upon his attempt to work with them, and they expelled him in 1743, when he converted and baptized six blacks. The Moravians were allowed back in 1792.A Congregationalist missionary, John Theodore vanderkemp, arrived in South Africa in 1799 as an agent of the London Missionary Society. However, the opening of the Cape to a wide range of Protestant missionaries only came after the British takeover in 1806, as the Dutch (now called Afrikaners) moved inland. Through the first half of the 19th century, a variety of organizations sent missionaries, including the Methodist Church, the Glasgow Missionary Society, the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign MissiONS.By the 1830s, Anglicans as well had begun missionary activity directed toward the non-European population.The most important figure in the early 19th century was undoubtedly Robert Moffat (1795-1883), who arrived in Africa in 1817 and worked there for the next half century. His first accomplishment was the translation of the New Testament into Tswana, a language used across southern Africa. Back home for a visit in 1840, one of his speeches deeply affected a young David Livingstone, who would five years later marry Moffat's daughter. Livingstone used the area pioneered by Moffat as a base for two decades of exploring the interior of Africa; he was the first European to see many of its more interesting features, and he provided the knowledge used by later missionaries. Among the most important of these was George Grenfell (1849-1906), who in 1877 launched explorations of the Congo River that would lead both to widespread missionary endeavors and the establishment of Belgium as a colonial power in the region.Meanwhile, the expanding slave trade along the West African coast (largely controlled by the Portuguese) provided the impetus for a second Protestant thrust. In the 1780s, British abolitionists purchased a plot of land, which they named Freetown, as a place to settle repatriated slaves. The first settlers arrived in 1787, followed five years later by a group of former American slaves who had been transported by the British to Nova Scotia after the American Revolution. Unused to the cold, they welcomed the opportunity to move to Freetown, where they established the first Methodist and Baptist congregations in all of Africa.From Sierra Leone, British missionaries extended Protestantism along the coast toward Nigeria. Prominent in that endeavor was Thomas Birch Freeman (1809-90). Born in England to a freed African slave (hence his name), he converted to Methodism and was sent to Ghana (then called the Gold Coast) in 1838. Unlike most of his colleagues, he survived quite well in the climate. He began to evangelize the coast region and to train some of his converts as preachers. His efforts led to the continuing Methodist presence in Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin.Protestant access to much of West Africa expanded along with British control. Because of its alignment with the government, the Church of England had a distinct advantage. Its Church Missionary Society (CMS) emerged to prominence in Freetown in the 1820s with the founding of Fourah Bay College. Both the CMS and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts established work across West Africa. As the French began to move into West Africa, the Paris Mission sent Reformed ministers to French-controlled territory, but they were in a distinct minority relative to their Roman Catholic competitors.The CMS pioneered work in East Africa, focusing on Kenya. As early as 1844, a CMS-sponsored German missionary, John Ludwig Krapf (1810-81) settled in Mombasa. He had actually arrived in the region seven years earlier to begin work in Ethiopia but had been expelled following complaints by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He was the first to envision a chain of linked missions across Africa, an idea that later influenced a number of missionary efforts.The pattern of missionary activity in Africa, and especially in East Africa, was altered by the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, where (with later supplemental agreements), 14 European nations agreed to partition African territory for colonization. New German territories (lost after World War i) gave scope to Lutheran missionaries, while France conquered large blocks of the western sahara and the territory immediately south. British hegemony in Uganda and Kenya led to a major push inland. By the end of the second decade of the 20th century, the overall pattern of Protestant development across Africa was set.Within the Protestant area, the denominational breakup began to change, in ways that would become especially evident toward the end of the century. Pentecostalism was introduced to the continent by 1908, when John G. Lake (1870-1935) and Thomas Hezmalhalch (18481934) arrived in Cape Town. Their visit led to the founding of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa, an independent African-based denomination, in 1913. Pentecostalism soon spread to every area of the continent where it was not officially denied access. Besides being the basic teaching of a set of churches, it is now the religious experience of many members of other churches not otherwise in the Pentecostal camp.The spread of Pentecostalism is intimately connected with the other significant movement in Africa, the emergence of numerous independent African Initiated Churches (AICs). Beginning among the Methodists in Freetown early in the 19th century, Christian Africans often broke from the European and American missionaries who had originally brought the gospel message to them, and founded black-led churches. The rejection of white leadership was exacerbated by the slowness of the missionary churches in developing African ministerial leadership.However, additional factors have clearly encouraged the emergence of the new churches. Most important has been the unique religious experience of mission church founders and members, a factor that even in Europe often led to new Protestant communities. Such experiences often included elements of traditional African religions. The AICs can be seen as existing along a spectrum from those who most closely resemble the European mission churches to those that include significant elements of the older African faiths. The end of colonialism in the decades following World War II stimulated the appearance of still more AICs.As the 21st century began, Christianity had become the largest religion of Africa, though only slightly ahead of Islam. Of the 360 million Christians, approximately 173 million were affiliated with the thousands of Protestant and Free Church denominations. Protestantism is strongest in the former British colonies and weakest in those countries where the religious and political authorities are Muslim. Protestantism did emerge in North Africa in the 20th century during the days of French rule, but with the end of colonialism, not only did the great majority of Protestants (who were European) leave, but postcolonial governments have shown a distinct hostility to foreign missionaries and have reinstituted laws against the conversion of Muslims to other faiths. The total Protestant community in North Africa (the great majority of whom reside in Sudan) constituted less than 2 percent of the population.See also Angola; Congo; Gambia; Ivory Coast; Kenya; Liberia; Nigeria; Senegal; Sierra Leone; South Africa; Uganda; Zimbabwe.Further reading:■ Gerald H. Anderson, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1998)■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World, 21st Century Edition (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster, 2001)■ J. Herbert Kane, A Global View of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971)■ J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, eds., Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLio, 2002)■ A. Scott Moreau, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2000).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.