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The Taming of the Prophet Harris

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

We have looked at illustrations from a process going from a culture gap in inter-personal contacts, to rapidly scrawled notes—sometimes in a French transcription of heard English, edited in a filled-out synthesis in French, then translated and edited in English, then re-edited and published as a 'full account.' At every stage of the process, one may observe mutations, governed no doubt in large part by the major preoccupation of legitimation of the Wesleyan mission, in all good faith. And it produced the dominant interpretation of the Prophet Harris. The reconstructed message did greatly profit Methodist developments, even though many Harrists could not accept the Wesleyan claim to Harris's authorization of their mission. More important, the Methodists did not stand up as his spokesperson for 'Ethiopian' ways of conjugality ; on the contrary, they used his legitimation to sanction a monogamous discipline. An inherent contradiction was present in that a ministry which they could accept but not fully approve, was used to validate their own. But even more, the Wesleyan Mission clearly did not become a spokesperson for Harris's warnings to the colonial authorities, nor did they wish to seek legitimate authorization for Harris's return ministry in the French colony.37 The consequences of these differences were to have all kinds of implications for the future relationships between Methodists and the Harrists, for whom even today the name and reputation of the white 'Pasteur Benoit' have become ignominious. But in the process, important information was also recorded to permit us to enter into a better understanding of the phenomenal prophet on his own terms, and recognizing—in his own language—that 'God moves in mysterious ways... and uses the foolish things in the world to confound the wise.'38

Affiliations: 1: (Sturgis, Michigan


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