, who grew up in Kenya while it was still a British colony, talks about the tension she felt between her grandmother’s idea of god and the god she was educated about at Christian Sunday school. She comments on the caring, nurturing nature of the god who lived on Mount Kenya and created ten daughters versus the austere Christian god who sent people to hell.
Mukami McCrum went on to work with the World Council of Churches to argue for Christian commitment to non-violence as a way of combating racial and sexual violence, and to find ways to redefine the church after its colonial history.
How important do you think it is for feminists to win recognition and to work within organised religions?
Can religion be a force for political change?
For me it was a bit of a challenge as a child because when I went to Sunday school, we used to call them Sunday school in the church, the teaching about hell and people who are not Christians, not going to heaven, used to really worry me because of my grandmother ‘cos I used to worry about her going to hell, as a child. And at the same time I found it difficult to understand how God would send this wonderful woman, who was my grandmother, to hell because she never did anything wrong, in fact she taught everything I know about nature, about the trees, the sacred trees we should not cut in my tribe, the, looking after the soil, the land, the animals. And that is because that’s what our creator, God, ‘cos she believed in God, what she did not believe in is what was the white man’s God, you know, the Christian [laughs] god. ‘Cos it’s, the story of our creation is that God lived on Mount Kenya and he created nine daughters and our clans come from those nine daughters. Was it nine or ten? Ten. And so that is what she believed in. She taught us all about that. And looking back as an adult, the cutting down of trees, deforestation and damaging of the environment is what my people, I reckon my grandmother was trying to stop. All the old trees were cut down and now fortunately people like Wangari Maathai who was the first African woman to get a Nobel Prize, she started a campaign to encourage women to plant trees. Because apart from anything else and apart from the environment, toward degradation of cutting down trees, was women used trees for firewood and it was when the land is bare there’s nothing, so she started what was called a green belt movement. And that was, it’s really good for me because it’s like planting the trees my grandmother used to say we should protect. So that part of my recollection of early years of being a Christian were not easy ones ‘cos I had all these contradictions in my life of being told about hell and being good and it was really difficult being good as a child, you know, the... and I think that the way we teach children about religion now is quite different. We try to link it to life, to the relationship we have with other people, it’s not just about heaven and hell, which seemed to have been the main… it’s not just about the devil. And it is something that drives me insane now, that everybody who wants to make an excuse of doing something bad blames it on the devil. You know, the devil, and I keep asking them, ‘Are you telling me that God is less powerful – the devil is more powerful than God?’ because it’s really weird that it’s, it’s easy to blame an entity like the devil, easy to access as an entity, rather than to look at our own actions and our relationship with other human beings.