For the past 214 years since Haiti’s independence, Christian pastors have been grappling to explain to their flock why the Christian churches were on the losing side of the battle to liberate Haiti from slavery. At the time of the Haitian Revolution, every Christian Church supported slavery. In his gathering at the Silvio Cator stadium in Port-au-Prince in January 2018, rather than demanding an apology from the Christian churches for their immoral acts, Pastor Gregory Toussaint spun a whole new version of Haitian history that stripped our African Ancestors of their roles in securing their freedom from Napoleonic France. Instead, the pastor depicted the African people of Haiti as passive recipients of an allocation of land from God. To a cheering flock of followers, including the president of Haiti, Pastor Toussaint concocted a Haitian history devoid of human actors, casting the battle against slavery as a fight between two characters central to his Christian faith, Jesus and Satan.
The pastor said that at Bwa Kayiman, the plenary meeting of the Haitian Revolution, God, in the form of Jesus, stumped his foot to launch the Revolution having realized that the enslaved population had suffered enough. In attempting to attribute the Haitian Revolution to a Christian spirit, Pastor Gregory Toussaint further vilified his concept of God. He presented God as a young Middle Eastern man who lacked foresight and was motivated to intervene in human affairs only after much excessive suffering. Lacking foresight, Jesus did not pre-empt Africans from being enslaved in the Americas. Instead, as the pastor would have his flock believe, Jesus waited, not for one but for some 700,000 Africans to live a life of utter humiliation and premature deaths, before allegedly interfering in 1791 to end slavery. To believe the pastor is to believe that the level of suffering of Africans elsewhere in the Americas did not meet Jesus’ threshold and for that reason, slavery and discrimination persists in our world.
The pastor proposed that Jesus was the principle agent behind the success of Bwa Kayiman. However, he failed to explain why following the arrest of many of the participants, Jesus allowed them to be tortured and never showed up to their jail cells to own-up to the fact that he was the mastermind.
In presenting the Haitian Revolution as an epic war between Christ and Satan, the pastor absolved real people, real combatants, real prisoners as agents of their own actions. He bypassed France for the crimes against humanity and nullified the courage of people like Boukmann, San Sousi, Biyasou, and Tousen (Toussaint) whose valiant efforts won our freedom. Oblivious to this painful history, Pastor Gregory Toussaint delivered his message dressed in colonial France’s Red White and Blue. He argued that credit for the success of the Haitian Revolution should go to a deified spirit from Israel as told to us by the French enslavers, instead of to deified African spirits called Lwa, as passed down to us by the victims of enslavement.
His rendition of history is a self-serving effort to grow his church by any means necessary, even by falsification of history. Relying on a high school textbook written under American Occupation and approved for teaching by the US, the pastor claims that there was a thunderstorm on the evening of the Bwa Kayiman gathering. Unbeknownst to the pastor, that storm was concocted by the French writer, Civique de Gastine in 1819 to embellish the historical events. During the month of August 1791, the area was affected by a drought explaining why the plantations were so readily set ablaze.
Pastor Gregory Toussaint is in no position to lecture Sèvitè Ginen on God’s presence at Bwa Kayiman. Instead, he should study Vodou philosophy to learn the African concept of God so that he can better appreciate that God has always been intensely spirit and never a man or woman of any ethnic group. God is everywhere and not more intensely present in any given space, be it at Bwa Kayiman or in the French Parliament. God was as present with the French as with the Africans. God is one for all and does not pick sides in human affairs. This leaves the wise to know that they must organize themselves to fight their own battles to make life better here on earth. God did not set the French plantations ablaze to liberate Africans and their descendants.
Just like Europeans drew from their religious cultural heritage to enforce slavery. The African people of Haiti drew from their religious cultural heritage to undo slavery. With no Christian institution as ally, the combatants at Bwa Kayiman drew from their inspiration from Ancestors like Ogou Feray, the former Nago ruler of the Badagri region of today’s Nigeria, to take possession of machetes and firearms to confront the French. This left the Haitian proverb that when we needed a machete, the Ancestors delivered it: “Kreyòl ki mande hounbasa, lan Ginen tande”. We attributed our success to our courage and to inspiration from our Ancestors. It is rather insulting of Pastor Gregory Toussaint to want to champion foreign beliefs by removing our fond memories attributed to our own Ancestors to supplant it with adoration for a Middle Eastern person. Our respect for our own religious heritage is deep. Just like the Jews, just like European Christians, we the heirs of Ginen cannot abandon our Ancestors. They are us: Se yo, se nou.
In a scandalous claim with the potential to dissolve the UN, the pastor argued that it is God and not political players here on earth who constantly create and reshape borders. The pastor seemed unaware of the role of the former colonial powers in carving much of the borders that exists today. Once again, had he had a less colonial, and a more African based notion of God, he would know that God does not pick sides on border issues. The world is ours to make more just.
His misunderstanding of history and geography is matched only by his dishonesty in translating the Bible. To hide elements of ethnocentrism in Biblical writings, in one passage, the pastor translated Israel to mean the planet and the whole of humanity. The pastor’s video ends with an explosion of syllables carefully articulated so as not to construct any meaningful words. Had God intervened in this way at Bwa Kayiman, the intervention would surely have been useless gibberish. Fortunately, Bwa Kayiman was a useful meeting involving religious people who believed that God does not pick sides but did provide the Ancestors for inspiration. No, the Pastor cannot teach us about God. He can only echo a foreign definition of God in an attempt to devalue our own conception, while trying to vilify our Ancestors to secure worship for foreign spirits, foreign Ancestors. Fortunately, despite centuries of Christian persecution, our religious traditions have survived. We know that our religious traditions are on par with any other.