Chad Table of Contents

Christianity arrived in Chad in the twentieth century, shortly after the colonial conquest. Contrary to the dominant pattern in some other parts of Africa, however, where the colonial powers encouraged the spread of the faith, the earliest French officials in Chad advised against it. This recommendation, however, probably reflected European paternalism and favoritism toward Islam rather than a display of liberalism. In any case, the French military administration followed such counsel for the first two decades of the century, the time it took to conquer the new colony and establish control over its people. Following World War I, however, official opposition to Christianity softened, and the government tolerated but did not sponsor missionaries.

Since World War II, Chadian Christians have had a far greater influence on Chadian life than their limited numbers suggest. The missions spread the ideology of Westernization--the notion that progress depended on following European models of development. Even more specifically, Roman Catholic mission education spread the French language. Ironically, even though Islam spread more quickly and more widely than Christianity, Christians controlled the government that inherited power from the French. These leaders imparted a Western orientation that continued to dominate in the 1980s.

Protestantism in Chad

The Protestants came to southern Chad in the 1920s. American Baptists were the first, but missionaries of other denominations and nationalities soon followed. Many of the American missions were northern offshoots of missionary networks founded farther south in the Ubangi-Chari colony (now Central African Republic) of French Equatorial Africa (Afrique Equatoriale Française). The organizational ties between the missions in southern Chad and Ubangi-Chari were strengthened by France's decision in 1925 to transfer Logone Occidental, Tandjilé, Logone Oriental, and Moyen-Chari prefectures to Ubangi-Chari, where they remained until another administrative shuffle restored them to Chad in 1932.

These early Protestant establishments looked to their own churches for material resources and to their own countries for diplomatic support. Such independence allowed them to maintain a distance from the French colonial administration. In addition, the missionaries arrived with their wives and children, and they often spent their entire lives in the region. This family-based expansion of the missionary networks was not peculiar to Chad in the 1920s. Some of the missionaries who arrived at that time had grown up with missionary parents in missions founded earlier in the French colonies to the south. Some missionary children from this era later founded missions of their own. Many remained after independence, leaving only in the early and or mid-1970s when Tombalbaye's authenticité movement forced their departure.

The puritanical message preached by many Protestant missionaries undermined the appeal of the faith. Rather than allowing a local Christian tradition to develop, the missionaries preached a fundamentalist doctrine native to parts of the United States. They inveighed against dancing, alcohol, and local customs, which they considered "superstitions." New converts found it almost impossible to observe Protestant teachings and remain within their communities. In the early years, Chadian Protestants often left their villages and settled around the missions. But abandoning village and family was a sacrifice that most people were reluctant to make.

Although language and doctrine probably discouraged conversion, the educational and medical projects of the Protestant missions probably attracted people. The missionaries set up schools, clinics, and hospitals long before the colonial administration did. In fact, the mission schools produced the first Western-educated Chadians in the 1940s and 1950s. In general, the Protestant missionary effort in southern Chad has enjoyed some success. In 1980, after a half-century of evangelization, Protestants in southern Chad numbered about 80,000.

From bases in the south, Protestants founded missions in other parts of Chad. For the most part, they avoided settling among Muslims, who were not responsive to their message. In the colonial capital of Fort-Lamy (present-day's N'Djamena), the missions attracted followers among resident southerners. The missionaries also proselytized among the non-Muslim populations of Guéra, Ouaddaï, and Biltine prefectures. Although Christianity appealed to some in the capital (there were estimated to be 18,000 Christians in N'Djamena in 1980), efforts in other parts of the Sahel were relatively unsuccessful.

In the late 1980s, the future of the Protestant missions in Chad remained unclear. As noted, many Protestant missionaries were forced to leave the country during the cultural revolution in the early and mid-1970s. Outside the south, other missions have been caught in the cross fire of warring factions. Rebel forces have pillaged mission stations, and the government has accused the missionaries of complicity with the opposition.

Roman Catholicism in Chad

The Roman Catholic missions came to Chad later than their Protestant counterparts. Isolated efforts began as early as 1929 when The Holy Ghost Fathers from Bangui founded a mission at Kou, near Moundou in Logone Occidental Prefecture. In 1934, in the midst of the sleeping sickness epidemic, they abandoned Kou for Doba in Logone Oriental Prefecture. Other priests from Ubangi-Chari and Cameroon opened missions in Kélo and Sarh in 1935 and 1939, respectively.

In 1946 these autonomous missions gave way to an institutionalized Roman Catholic presence. This late date had more to do with European politics than with events in Chad. Earlier in the century, the Vatican had designated the Chad region to be part of the Italian vicarate of Khartoum. Rather than risk the implantation of Italian missionaries during the era of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the French administration discouraged all Roman Catholic missionary activity. For its part, the Vatican adopted the same tactic, not wishing to upset the Italian regime by transferring jurisdiction of the Chad region to the French. As a consequence of their defeat in World War II, however, the Italians lost their African colonies. This loss cleared the way for a French Roman Catholic presence in Chad, which a decree from Rome formalized on March 22, 1946.

This decree set up three religious jurisdictions that eventually became four bishoprics. The first, administered by the Jesuits, had its seat in N'Djamena. Although its jurisdiction included the eight prefectures in the northern and eastern parts of the country, almost all the Roman Catholics in sahelian and Saharan Chad lived in the capital. The diocese of N'Djamena also served as the archdiocese of all Chad. The second bishopric, at Sarh, also was delegated to the Jesuits. Its region included Salamat and Moyen-Chari prefectures. The third and fourth jurisdictions had their headquarters in Pala and Moundou and were delegated to the Oblats de Marie and Capuchin orders. The Pala bishopric served Mayo-Kebbi Prefecture, while the bishopric of Moundou was responsible for missions in Logone Occidental and Logone Oriental prefectures. By far the most important jurisdiction in 1970, Pala included 116,000 of Chad's 160,000 Catholics.

The relatively slow progress of the Roman Catholic Church in Chad has several causes. Although Roman Catholicism has been much more open to local cultures than Protestantism, the doctrine of celibacy probably has deterred candidates for the priesthood. Insistence on monogamy also has undoubtedly made the faith less attractive to some potential converts, particularly wealthy older men able to afford more than one wife.

The social works of the Roman Catholic Church have made it an important institution in Chad. Like their Protestant counterparts, the Roman Catholic missions have a history of social service. In the 1970s, along with priests, the staffs of most establishments included brothers and nuns who worked in the areas of health, education, and development. Many of the nuns were trained medical professionals who served on the staffs of government hospitals and clinics. It was estimated that 20,000 Chadians attended Roman Catholic schools in 1980. Adult literacy classes also reached beyond the traditional school-aged population. In the area of development, as early as the 1950s Roman Catholic missions in southern Chad set up rural development centers whose clientele included non-Christians as well as Christians.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress