Showing posts with label Imperial Christianity in Haiti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Imperial Christianity in Haiti. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Colonized Church: Jacques Roumain, and The Failure of the Christian Church in the Era of the American Occupation in Haiti (Part 4)

 The Colonized Church: Jacques Roumain,  and The Failure of the Christian  Church in the Era of the American Occupation in Haiti (Part  4) [1]

                                                                 by Celucien L. Joseph  

The Haitian Church was a "colonized faith" in the era of the American Occupation. The Church has been fully colonized--from its culture, theology,  message of grace, practices, and its outreach ministries to the Haitian masses. During the period of the American occupation of Haiti, Jacques Roumain became a regular columnist for Le Petit Impartial, Journal de la Masse, through which he expressed  his frustrations and righteous anger and criticisms toward the Christian Church in Haiti. The leftist radical George J. Petit founded the newspaper in December 5, 1927 as an engine to express social commentaries, cultural criticisms, and public opinions on the affairs of the country, as well as to facilitate the voice of the general masses. Roumain’s role of using this venue for sharp public intellectualism and cultural criticism is of paramount importance. In the 1920s, Le Petit Impartial has become his primary vehicle to express his frustrations toward the American Occupation and the “cooperating Church” that has played a vital role in upholding the country in foreign bondage. Carolyn Fowler, Roumain’s biographer, suggests that Roumain’s writings in the newspaper clearly demonstrate his “search of more specific, practical, or immediate avenues of liberation.”[2] She explains further:
From the beginning, the newspaper sought to appeal to all Haitians and took an uncompromisingly anti-Borno anticollaborationist position. Many issues carried notices urging boycott of certain businesses which treated Haitians improperly or insulted the Haitian flag.  There were many articles reviving the glories of the War of Independence and of Toussaint Louverture…The sensitive of French culture was opposed to the vulgar utilitarianism of American culture and the latter was rejected while the former was lauded. The Petit Impartial, though of manifestly political orientation, recognized that it had common goals with the literary efforts of the group of the Revue indigene.[3]


The Church of the Occupation has become corrupt, and turned away from its “concerns of justice and care for people in need”[4]—a cardinal virtue in Catholic moral theology and social ethics.  The Catholic Church in Haiti has also turned away from the moral and anthropological aspects of Marxism and capitalism and undermined the importance of structura and institutional systems and the critical issues of goods and wealth, the preferential option for the poor, and the principles of justice—especially concerning the distribution of wealth.”[5]  The Church became the enemy of the Haitian poor and the underclass peasants, and abandoned its sacred call to sacrificially serve and be in solidarity with the poor in their suffering.
The Catholic Church, which was dominated by Western clergy, was regarded by many Haitian thinkers as “the principal weapon employed by the Francophile mulatto elite for maintaining predominance of western culture in Haiti and for defending their own superior position.”[6] Roumain and other left-ring intellectuals believed that the “French clergy was a reactionary group which must be dissolved if progress were to take place”[7] in the Haitian society. They also put forth the idea that national development implied national sovereignty, which might lead to the self-management of the country’s production and economic resources.  In response to the crisis, Roumain forged bonds of solidarity with the Haitian masses and mustered a relational anthropology that valorized the dignity of the poor and the oppressed. 
Roumain was very attentive to the general will and dream of the people, and their power of collective determination to determine their own future without any external interferences or foreign forces and tutelage. For example, in an article entitled “Le Peuple et l’Elite,” he published in February 22, 1928, Roumain, playing his traditional function as public intellectual and the consciousness of the nation, attempts to muster every Haitian of all social classes to political activism and national consciousness, but also to unite in order to resist the Occupation and the apostate church. So, he declares:
We are today facing the American as our ancestors faced the armies of the First Consul.And was there, at the Crete-a-Pierrot, at the Ravine-a-Couleuvres, an “elite” and a “rabble”? No. there were men determined to die rather than live as slaves. Men who knew that bind death strikes down indifferently rich and poor, literate and illiterate….

All of us are suffering. Misery has equalized us. Harshly. Above all petty quarrels. There is the injured fatherland to be saved. Therefore see this peasant. Put your hand in his hand, rough calloused and fine from touching, from laboring each day in the Blessed Earth.

Let us be brothers united. Without that, a death more cruel than physical death awaits us.
Let us break the barriers. Let us close ranks![8]

Frequently, in his short essays in Le Petit Impartial, Roumain would denounce the undemocratic activities of the American occupants and the American Christian missionaries who supported the invasion. The rhetorical language of his outrageous complaints is indicative of his anti-American imperialist and anti-French Clergy domination. The Catholic Church, during the historical period of the Occupation, served as an effective instrument of American imperialism and Western neocolonization in Haiti. For Roumain, both institutional forces—the church and the Occupation—had contributed to what he had termed le mal social, a reference to the various ways these two entities collaborated to destabilize the Haitian state and civil society, as well as to bring dissension among the Haitian people. The goal of this section in the chapter is to highlight Roumain’s candid criticisms and rejection of both the organized Church and the Occupation.  Second, in this part of the chapter, we also explore Roumain’s judgment of the “supposedly” social function of the Church within the context of the Haitian reality.
Laennec Hurbon in Religions et Lien Social asserts that the Haitian population knew exactly the attitude of the Church toward the American occupation. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was only one Haitian Catholic priest in the Clergy in the entire country. The Catholic Clergy in Haiti was predominantly of priests of French Bretagne origin, and the Western clergy in Haiti did not confront nor oppose the interventionist force. Rather, the European priests allied themselves with the American power, at least in the first ten years of the Occupation.[9] Hurbon comments on this politic-ecclesial relation in this manner:
To enter the theological and political issues of the attitude adopted by the Church facing the American occupation, it is appropriate at the same time to question the type of the Government set up by the US government, and the true intentions of this occupation…..The Church is successfully headed by a French clergy, and has no difficulty to discover its interest in Haiti are the same as those of the American occupatio.[10]

The Church was ambitiously concerned about its expansion as an institution and imperial power-structure in Haiti; both the Church and the Occupation were, however, not concerned about engaging in the work of social development and the project of peace-making in the Caribbean nation. Even in its evangelistic zeal, the church was unsuccessful in its project of eradicating Haitian Vodou, ineffective in converting Vodouizan, and ultimately failed to “civilize” Haitian savages and barbarians, as they called them. The attitude of the Church and its ally—the American occupation— was clearly expressed in its anti-black racist practices and anti-Vodou phobic rhetoric.[11]
Hurbon informs us that both the church and Occupation pretended to be on a civilization project “oeuvre civilisatrice.” Without delay, the Church became the voice (“La porte-parole”) of the Occupation to the Catholic faithful in order to pacify them to submit to the chosen government by the American power.[12]  Hurbon reasons that
It is still poorly understood the nature of anti-black racism, especially its foundation in the vision of Christianity put at the center of civilization whose white Americans, descendants of Europeans, believe the collaboration of the Catholic Church is required by the American occupation.[13]

 To complement Hurbon’s claim, in the paragraph below, Pamphile succinctly summarizes the bewildering undertakings of the Church in the Haitian society:
The church is equally involved in national politics…The preponderance of the Catholic Church is not only manifest in circles of power, but also on the cultural and educational level. The Church is the guardian of religion and purveyor of French culture. The Congregationalist schools are training centers of our elite who remain essentially imbued with the French culture. The influence of the ecclesiastical hierarchy fully extended to the religious framework to manifest itself politically and socially.[14]

In general, Roumain was doubtful about the effectiveness of any “organized religion” in Haiti or anywhere else in the world—be it Catholicism, Protestantism, or Vodou—in the process of state building and social transformation. Nonetheless, as discussed in Chapter one, he was interested in the liberative aspects of the religio-philosophical systems of Buddhism and Hinduism to affect social change. His emphasis was on human solidarity and collaboration. He denounced the Haitian Clergy for cooperating with the American Occupation to exploit the Haitian people and the working class. Consequently, he could declare, “le clergé séculier français qui fait alliance avec le gouvernment de Borno l’Iscariote et qui soutient la politique d’oppression nord-américaine[15] (“The secular French clergy who made a covenant with the government of Borno Iscariot and supports the North American political oppression.”)
Roumain employs a number of confrontational terms in reference to the French clergy including “colonialists” and anti-Haitian. Given the historical context of the alliance between the Church and the American occupation, Roumain is correct to infer that Christianity played the active role of a “colonized religion.” He interprets the political function of the French Catholic hierarchy in Haiti as a form of neocolonial subjection.[16] In the same way Judas Iscariot betrayed his Lord Jesus Christ, President Louis Borno betrayed his native land, Roumain declared to the Haitian public. For Roumain, the trinity of the Haitian repression was arguably the French clergy, the Borno administration, and the American occupation.  As Hans Schmidt has remarked about Borno’s reaction to the Occupation:
Borno was temperamentally and ideologically sympathetic to the purposes and methods of the occupation. As an avowed admirer of Mussolini, he welcomed the suppression of political dissent in Haiti and defended the occupation as a period of great progress; the people of Haiti, who were “illiterate, ignorant and poor,” were “incapable of exercising the right to vote” and had to be governed by progressive, authoritarian leaders…Borno cooperated closely with High Commissioner Russell in an arrangement which Financial Adviser Millspaugh termed a “Joint Dictatorship,” and was retained as client-president until the strikes and riots of 1929.[17]

We need to attest here that it was the conservative Haitian elite and the Catholic Church that first saluted the American intervention in the name of political stability and economic development; yet, “they were soon disillusioned by American racism,”[18] and the church’s inability to bring political peace in the nation.  To put matters in their rightful historical context, “The Catholic Church had enjoyed official status since 1860, when the Haitian government signed a Concordat with the Holy See in Rome. Although there were Haitians in the clergy, the upper ranks were regularly filled by French priests. The Haitian clergy was thus white, with a few blacks at the bottom.”[19]
Since the Concordat, Catholicism has become the adopted and official religion of the Haitian state, and the Church as a power-institution was protected by the State. 

Nonetheless, many critics of the Church consented that since the time of slavery the Catholic Church in Haiti had failed to address Haiti’s problems. In addition Roumain’s argument of the moral failure and leadership miscarriage of the Catholic Church, Price-Mars, like Roumain, exposes the moral incompetence of the Christian Church—both Protestant and Catholic—to contribute to adequate social change and alleviate poverty in the Haitian society in the difficult times of the American Occupation in Haiti. First of all, he posits that the Church as the country’s largest if not its only organized social movement has not succeeded to effect moral unity through the cohesion of the various disparate and opposing forces in the Haitian society.[20] Price-Mars declares, “I find no trace at all of the influence of young French catholic writers in the philosophy of our young intellectuals. I came to this conclusion after conducting surveys among Haitian intellectuals of writers and their works, particularly among our young elite.”[21] Secondly, he admonishes the corresponding church for its deficiencies to be a shining example of Christian charity and grace, as well as its historical shortcomings to decry the rigors of neocolonial occupation and imperial injustice and oppression in the Caribbean nation. 

Traditionally, the colonial church (both the Catholic and Protestant branches during the period of the American Occupation) failed to exercise moral authority to the cause of liberty for the Haitian people.[22] Thirdly, Price-Mars urges the established church to be indigenous: “If in the current crisis, the Church is to be asked to play a role, it must become national by adopting the Haitian cause and making Haitian suffering its own.”[23] Yet, the Church has not succeeded in accomplishing the goal of social development and economic betterment, as Roumain would argue later.
The abolitionist David Walker, in his 1829 influential text Appeal, contended that the Christian Church had not contributed to Haiti’s national development, and “denounced the Catholic Church in Haiti as ‘the scourge of nations.’”[24]  In The Black Jacobins, James describes the lifestyle and conduct of the colonial clergy of Saint-Domingue as degenerates and uncontrollable. As collaborators to the colonists, they also contributed to the mistreatment and dehumanization of enslaved African and the working class framers in the island of Saint-Domingue:
The regular clergy of San Domingo instead of begin a moderating influence were notorious for their irreverence and degeneracy. In the early years they consisted chiefly of unfrocked monks. Later came a better class of priests, but in that turgid, overheated society few were able to withstand the temptations of easy money, easy living, and easy women; many of them lived openly with their concubines. Their greed for money led them to exploit the Negroes with the same ruthlessness as the rest of white San Domingo. About the middle of the eighteen century one of them used to baptize the same Negroes seven or eight times, for the ceremony amused the slaves and they were willing to pay a small sum for each baptism.[25]

James also describes in the paragraph the dynamics of the social order and the development of human consciousness. Karl Marx intelligently writes in the “Preface” of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), “The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, [religious] and intellectual process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”[26] As previously mentioned, traditionally, the Catholic Church in Haiti has not worked in the best interest of the general population. Roumain accuses the foreign clergy for allying with the American forces to put the Haitian people in complete subjection to their power and will (…combattre l’occupation américaine ne comprend pas qu’un clerge etranger constitue une occupation aussi dangereuse; l ’occupation de la pensee, des sentiments et de l’ame nationale.”[27])  They infringed with the freedom of expression and thought, as well as undermined Haitian nationalism. In particular, the French clergy allies with American imperialism to crush those who exhibit patriotic devotion to national sovereignty and unrelenting commitment toward cultural renaissance. “L’attachment du Clerge français a Russell et Borno, voilà l’abcès hideux, crevé, dont le pus est l’incident de St Louis du Sud.”[28]  In another article entitled “Pour la défense de la croix, nous sommes prêts à saisir la crosse de notre pistolet!...” published in Le Petit Impartial in July 21, 1928,  Jacques Roumain’s righteous rage in public is more pronouncing:
We well knew that with the civic and mental deformation prompted in our milieu by the French priests and monks, we would have to reckon with a coalition of infamous and shady people who cannot live outside of  intrigues and orgies that which the ill-served sacristy attains for  dodgers in search of enjoyment, shamefully masquerading themselves as Christians, and even as ministers of God, when one has only to take off his/her soiled robes to discover there the grimacing antichrist sneering over the heads of the “dirty niggers,” which they say we are! But, we will squeeze our elbows “under the immortal banner, strong in the shade of the Cross.” BY ALL MEANS… if it becomes necessary,” we  are willing to defend the true morality of Christ  that these profiteers are now flouting by profit motive, resulting in the same time the ruin of our dear Fatherland![29]

In “Manifeste à la jeunesse des Ecoles,” written in October 7, 1928 and published in the same journal, Roumain accuses the French clergy as a destructive force to national peace, and neocolonialists whose goal is to vanquish the Haitian conscience and jettison Haiti’s racial pride. His rhetorical sensibility is very anticolonial and antiimperial. He informs the people the cooperating church wants to make you believe that you’re in desperate need of “white educators” to lead you to the painful road of progress.
La destruction de votre conscience et de votre mentalité comme negres et Haïtiens, la destruction de votre haine justifiée pour le blanc: la destruction de votre fierté raciale et nationale en vous faisant croire que, vous Haïtiens, vous êtes une race irrémédiablement inferieure et avez besoin d’éducateurs blancs dans votre marche pénible vers le progrès[30]

 He goes on to exclaim that “La génération qui, en 1915, se courba devant l’Américain a été formée par le clergé français et les congrégations[31] [“The generation, in 1915, that bowed down before the American forces, was created by the French clergy and the churches.”] Roumain presents both the Occupants and the French missionaries as detractors and enemies of the Haitian people and their independence. Roumain has not only repudiated the neocolonial culture and neocolonialeducation which the French clergy promotes, he also rejects its destructive method: “Ces religieux qui vous font imbécilement ânonner ‘Nos ancêtres les Gaulois,’ qui vous donnent une éducation toute française et font de vous moins des Haïtiens que caricatures de français, vous détestent, vous exploitent et vous méprisent.”[32] [These religious leaders that make you mumble stupidly Our ancestors the Gauls,” that give you entirely a French education and make you less Haitians but French caricatures, hate you, exploit you, and despise you.”]. His ultimate goal here is to orchestrate a truly postcolonial mentality and decolonial culture in Haiti. Toward this goal of decolonizing the Haitian mind, Roumain has to make sure that the Haitian people are aware of the neocolonial dilemma as a wide-spread psychological epidemic in the country. 
In the same anti-clerical essay, he accuses the Church for propagating a negrophobic discourse in the Caribbean nation.  As can be observed at this point, the authorities of the Catholic Church and the collaborating Occupants worked closely to crush any rebel who exhibits patriotic fervor by resisting the American forces. Roumain’s closing words in the article reveals simultaneously his anti-clerical, anti-imperial, and anti-Christian oppression:
Lavez l’insulte, Jeunes Gens, et criez envers et contre tous les traits:
Vive le Clergé National naissant!
A bas le Frère Henri!
A bas le Clergé français.”[33]
[Wash the insult, Young Men, and cry against all the traits:
Long live indigenous Clergy!
Down with Brother Henry!
Down with the French Clergy]

It is undoubtedly Roumain was crusading to replace the French-European clergy with a Haitian clergy that could relate to the Haitian people and sympathize with them. Roumain’s dream of a Clergé National would be realized under the Duvalier administration. In 1966, Francois Duvalier established strictly an indigenous clergy, which he said was the realization of his long-term dream and the restoration of Haitian sovereignty: “The struggles which I have undertaken for the constitution of the church hierarchy were for me the reflection of the struggles of the nation for its independence and sovereignty.”[34]
            In the next essay, we will make further observations about Roumain’s response to the Church and its failure to promote good and democracy in the Haitian society during the era of the American Occupation in Haiti.

[1]  I have written a more detailed article on Roumain’s ideas about religion and Christianity; to read it online, click on the link: Faith, Secular Humanism, and Development: A Reading of Jacques Roumain’s Religious Sensibility and Marxist Rhetoric,” Journal of Postcolonial Networks, Volume 3 ( May 2013):1-50.
[2] Fowler, A Knot in the Thread, 48.
[3] Ibid., 43-44.
[4]  Curran, Catholic Social Teaching, 3.
[5] Ibid., 198.
[6] Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier, 172.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Qtd in Fowler, A Knot in the Thread, 271-2.
[9] Hurbon, Religions et Lien Social, 194. Also, for a carefully analysis about the function of the church during the period of the American Occupation, see, Pamphile, La Croix et le Glaive, 1990.
[10] Hurbon, Religions et Lien Social, 194.
[11] For the development of an anti-Vodouphobic tradition in Haitian thought, especially in the writings of the Haitian intellectual Dantes Bellegarde, Joseph, “The Problem of and Impossibility of Vodou in the Writings of Dantes Bellegarde,” 1-24.
[12] Hurbon, Religions et Lien Social, 196.
[13] Ibid., 201, 203.
[14] Pamphile, La Crois et le Glaive, 34-6.
[15] Roumain, “Une Article tendancieux du Matin,” 477. For an insightful analysis of the role of Christianity—both Protestant and Catholic—during the period of the American Occupation, see Nerestant, Religions et Politique en Haiti, 121-167; Hurbon, Religions et Lien Social, 1915-1934.
[16] Roumain, “Notre Bulletin Incrimine,” 490. Roumain writes angrily and hesitantly: “Si les colonies du clergé français anti-haïtien, si les esclaves de l’or américain, si les valets du traitre Borno sont prêts, nous les somme aussi!”
[17]  Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, 128.
[18]  Pamphile, Haitians and African Americans, 108. Pamphile writes, “For instance, Americans segregated themselves by closing their social clubs to Haitians, and Jim Crow standards were set up in hotels catering to them. Americans directed their resentment primarily toward the elite, viewing them as agitators who were ‘living off the people.’”
[19] Fowler, A Knot in the Thread, 51.
[20] Ibid., 23.
[21] Ibid., 24.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Pamphile, Haitians and African Americans, 75.
[25] James, The Black Jacobins, 32.
[26] Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader, 3.
[27] Roumain, “Le Nouvelliste Inconscient,” 479.
[28] Roumain, “Un Prêtre a le droit d’être un soldat quand sa patrie est en danger,” 480.
[29] Roumain, “Pour la Défense de la Croix, 488.
[30] Roumain, “ Manifeste à la jeunesse des Ecoles,” 502.
[31]  Ibid.
[32] Ibid., 502-3.
[33] Ibid., 503.
[34] Qtd in Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier, 225-6.