Myth is powerful and every people needs tales to picture what could have been or what might be.
Yet there are also true events that are so important, so powerful, so symbolic of deep truth, that they take on a mythic quality. March 1 near a place called Adwa the facts are so inspiring they became legendary: a myth that is true history.
Racist colonizers were whipped by an unconquered African Empire in the Name of Christ.
The Christians were surrounded by colonial powers that sneered at their centuries of civilization. They had been part of a high Christian civilization when the Europeans had been barbarian hordes hell bent on destroying civilization and now this deeply Christian people saw their sages ignored and their accomplishments belittled. The great powers had handed their independence to a minor European state, content that any army of white men would easily defeat the “savages.”
This was a mistake born in depravity.
The Emperor of Ethiopia, Menilek, knew he could not fight forever. He received some weapons from France, but he could not sustain a modern army in the field for long. His troops could be worn down, but he also knew his foes. Racism meant that they would not just wear him down, they were sure to win if they attacked.
How could an African trained army motivated by faith and patriotism possibly defeat a modern well-trained European army and its colonial auxiliaries? Even the idea allowed to grow might undermine the entire colonial African project! Menilek baited his foes by putting a professional army on the field and daring his oppponents to attack. This was insufferable to the colonials.
Racism urged an ill conceived attack to restore White honor. The African Christian army was kneeling in prayer when they were attacked by the colonial forces. They left the Divine Liturgy and destroyed the European army. Menilek did not just win, he forced the Italian government and the Great Powers to concede Ethiopian independence.Menilek and his men won a European style battle against a European army. Racists scrambled as they did when Japan whipped Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Were the Ethiopians really white? Surely, they were not like “those” Africans.
The diverse people groups that made up Menilek’s army ignored the racists orc talk. They had won and nothing could make them what they were not.
Like any great myth that is true (one thinks of the life of Jesus), there is much to learn in this great victory. Let me point to one abiding truth: false ideologies die by their own lies, but global Christianity endures. Christians are always losing, but over time to someone new!
The colonialists failed, but eventually the fascists would make Ethiopia one of the first victims of their terror. Unlike many states in Europe, however, the Ethiopians could not be governed when conquered. The fascists were traumatized by endless and courageous resistance in the nation that could not be colonized and would not be a supine victim. The fascists found themselves driven out when the Christian Emperor returned.
The Allies were shocked when he refused to become their pawn and restored his nation’s independence! Whether it is racism, fascism, the alt-Right, or the anti-Fa left, Christianity endures. Ethiopian Christianity has beaten racism, colonialism, and endured the dark night of Marxist tyranny.
When you look to the Faith, look globally. No nation, time, or people will incarnate God’s revelation perfectly. Test what you believe by what has been believed in Ethiopia, Armenia, China, Britain, and Texas. Do not find yourself in a little corner whether that is the racist heresy of the 1890’s Europeans or the loss of Christian morals in the 21st century West.
Thank God for the global Church. May the soul of our brother in Christ, the brave Menilek, Rest In Peace.
*A good quick read on Ethiopian history is Ethiopia: A History by Harold G. Marcus.