Rastafari And The Ethiopian Orthodox Church
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest organized churches (If not the oldest) in the world and dates back to biblical times (Read Acts 8:27-39 to learn more). Even though the church has made many statements on “heresy of Emperor worship” and “herbal sorcery” in regards to the Rastafarian, they also have been brought to the forefront by the Rastafari and have used it to branch outside of Ethiopia. The church in Jamaica was commissioned by Emperor Haile Selassie.
There are major differences between the sect and the church. The first being the worship of Emperor Haile Selassie as the Messiah/Savior. The church has stated many times that their commission from Emperor Haile Selassie was to lead Rastafarians away from worshiping him and turn to the worshipping of the God he worshipped. It is said that upon his return to Ethiopia from Jamaica, the Emperor spoke to Abuna Yesehaq, the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and declared “There is a problem in Jamaica…. Please, help these people. They are misunderstanding, they do not understand our culture…. They need a church to be established and you are chosen to go.”
Initially many in the Rastafarian community welcomed the church however when it became clear that to be baptized in the church, a Rastafarian had to renounce the divinity of Haile Selassie, the problems started. The church today has continued to maintain the stance that it would only baptize in the name of Jesus Christ and not Haile Selassie.
The other big dispute is the Rastafarians way of taking a tradition, in this case the Ethiopian Solomonic Kings and the National Epic, the ” Kebra Negast ” and applying it to the Rastafarian cause. The “Kebra Negast” which literally translates to “Glory of the Kings” in Amharic, the Ethiopian national language, is the National Epic of the Ethiopia State. It is viewed by the church as historic record rather than Prohectic record which is the view held by Rastafarians.
Bob Marley’s Baptism in Ethiopian Orthodox Church
The incident that probaly caused the major divide between many in the Rastafarian community and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the baptism of Bob Marley into the church before he died. He was baptized by the Head of the church Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq. What was most upsetting to the Rastafarian community was when this became public knowlegde and the statements (see media interviews) made by the church in regards to an “Orthodox conversion” by Bob Marley. His close friend, Tommy Cowan, has also has stated that Bob Marley converted to Christianity before he died.
No one really knows what this baptism meant but is has caused some controversy as both Rastafarian and Christians claim Bob Marley as their “own”.
The Jamaican Church
Many of the early founders of Rastafari were from elders & preachers in the church, however there is distrust between Rastafarians and the church. The main opposition, which many would deem credible, is that the church today has strayed away from the teaching of Christ, which is to care for and be the voice of the downtrodden and oppressed. Rastafarians, through their music and life style, try to speak for and to the downtrodden, poor and oppressed.
Adding to the tension in the earlier 2000’s are songs by Capelton & Sizzla condemning what many perceive as the Jamaican church to burn with ‘fire’. There are some signs of reconciliation, as the upswing in spiritual reggae music has become a small bridge to this process.
Image source: African Studies WWW