Persecution has long constituted part of the spiritual repertoire of evangelical Christians in Ethiopia. Ever since its introduction by Western missionaries, the new Christian faith has provided an alternative model to the one that pre-existed it in the form of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (eoc). The new dimension of Christianity that is anchored in the doctrine of personal salvation and sanctification provided a somewhat different template of what it means to be a Christian by choice rather than belonging to a preset culture. This was antithetical to the conventional mode of culturally and historically situated Christianity, which strongly lays emphasis on adherence to certain prescribed rituals like fasting, the observances of saintly days, and devotions to saints. Its introduction by foreigners is often contrasted with an indigenous faith tradition which is considered to have a long history dating back to the apostolic times. The tendency of evangelical Christians to disassociate themselves from the local culture, as emblematic of holiness and separation from the world, viewed from the other optic, lent it the label mete, literally “imported” or “of foreign extraction”. The state support the established church had garnered for a long time, plus its massive influences, also accorded the eoc a privileged position to exercise a dominant role in the social, political, and cultural life of the country.
This article explores the theme of persecution of Evangelical Christians in light of the above framework. It crucially examines the persecution of Pentecostals prior to the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974 and afterwards. Two reasons justify my choice. First, it lends the article a clear focus and secondly, Pentecostalism has been one of the potent vehicles for the expansion of evangelical Christianity in Ethiopia. I argue that the pre-revolutionary persecution stems from the fact that the Pentecostals presented some kind of spiritual shock waves to the familiar terrains of Christianity and that the main reason for their persecutions during the revolution was the fact that they countered hegemonic narratives that presented themselves in the form of Marxism, which became the doctrine of the state under the banner of “scientific socialism.”
EsheteTibebe (2015). “Marxism and Religion: The Paradox of Church Growth in Ethiopia.” In Hans AageGravaasChristofSauerTormodEngelsviken and KnudJørgensen eds. Freedom of Belief and Christian Mission. Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series 28. Oxford: Regnum Books.
RickardSandra (1967). “The Ethiopian Student and Ethiopia’s Transition into the Twentieth Century.”A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Student Project for Amity among the Nations (SPAN). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.