A critical dialogue with Gabriel Molehe Setiloane: The unfinished business on the African divinity question
AbstractGabriel Molehe Setiloane engaged and challenged the Western theological discourse on the structure and function of divinity. Most of his published dialogues pushed for the importance of an African theological discourse. Some of Setiloane's sensitive, but also critical, expressions made by include statements such as, Motho ke Modimo ("a human being is God/divine"). According to Setiloane there is a need to have a comprehensive understanding of divinity in African Theology encompassing all - the living and the dead. In this regard, Setiloane attempted to develop what he called the "African Divinity discourse" encompassing areas of life such as ethics and morality in secular contexts, family life, and civil authority, "riches and poverties" and the land question, crime, leadership styles, the functioning of the corporate sector in terms of ubuntu and bio-centric ethics. For more than 30 years, Setiloane dialogued critically with the then proponents of Black Theology and Liberation Theology, holding the firm view that African Divinity derives from African culture and Black and Liberation Theology from a form of Western Christianity. His main points are that (i) for African people, African Divinity is primary to their life and death experience; and (ii) if one has to confront the fact that many African people are Christian, they bring a much more elevated and encompassing understanding of divinity to Christianity, ultimately enriching it. For Setiloane, Black and Liberation Theology - as is currently acknowledged - were contextual phenomena, necessitated by the contingent challenges of having to advance the dignity of oppressed African people on the basis of race and the struggle for political freedom in the context of an oppressive political and ideological regime. According to Gabriel Setiloane, such movements were necessary at the time, but the question of African Divinity transcends them. This article aims to re-open a dialogue with a voice that has been sidetracked by the past and current (South) African theological systems and structures. Published and unpublished works of Setiloane will be included in this dialogue as well as recorded formal interviews and informal conversations. The author was privileged to have been entrusted with unpublished articles by the late Professor Setiloane. These unpublished articles are in the process of being published under the title African Perspectives, as instructed by the late Professor Setiloane.