Proposed mix of Voodoo and Christianity causes ruckus

MONTREAL, QC—A public forum to debate a controversial new book by a young Haitian pastor raised such an uproar at a Montreal arena that the police had to be kept on standby.
Vocal interruptions from the 1,500-strong crowd gathered to hear the author defend his thesis forced the moderator to call for security on more than one occasion.

Once one of the rising stars of Montreal's Haitian Christian community, Jean Fils-Aimé is its first member to earn a PhD in theology. After he completed his undergraduate degree at Montreal's Faculté de Théologie Évangélique, Fils-Aimé's theology began to change as he pursued a master's degree at McGill University and finally finished his doctoral studies at the Université de Montreal.

In his recently released book, an excerpt from his doctoral thesis, Jean Fils-Aimé contends that Voodooism is a part of local Haitian culture to which the gospel should have been adapted, rather than the satanic religion Christian missionaries tried to eradicate.

"We were not evangelized," said the native Haitian. "We were Christianized. Christianity is a white and Western appropriation of the gospel that was imposed on our blackness."

His performance at the debate confirmed his reputation as a skilled orator. Several times when fierce audience protests to controversial comments threatened to overwhelm his speech, Fils-Aimé was able to restore order and persuade listeners to consider his point.

His opponent, Osner Févry, was flown in from Haiti for the event. The university professor with degrees in anthropology and theology is also a lawyer.

Févry had a tough time defending many of the conservative Christian positions on evangelism and missions as Fils-Aimé worked his way through the long history of ravages done to Haitians by both Protestant and Catholic slave traders.
Both men's intimate knowledge of their country's history made the debate lively and detailed.

For almost an hour the debate focused around the extent to which missionary activity altered local cultures.

While Fils-Aimé developed his thesis of syncretism not only between Christianity and Voodooism, but among all religions, Févry attempted to steer the discussion towards a more precise definition of the gospel and the theological clash between the beliefs and practices of Christianity and those of Voodoo.

Fils-Aimé has come under fire from the very conservative Haitian Christian community for the breakup of his own marriage, for his apparent endorsement of cohabitation as an acceptable aculturation of biblical principles, and for his position on Voodooism at a time when many churchgoing young Haitians in Quebec dabble in Voodoo saying it is part of their cultural identity.

Many at the debate were clearly intrigued by Fils-Aimé's claim to balance Voodoo and Christianity without conflict in his own life.
However, Févry and audience members eventually narrowed the issue to Fils-Aimé's understanding of the gospel.

The heart of the gospel of Christ is love, justice and joy," said Fils-Aimé in response to questions. "If you practice love, you fight for justice and you are sowing joy, you are a disciple of Christ. You then have no need for Christ to save you for the process of salvation has already begun."

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