One day, Mathabane sees black evangelists wearing white frocks, pitching a giant tent and inviting people to come back and see them tonight. He also sees two white men with them, who Mathabane believes are policemen until his mother tells him that they’re just Christians. Mathabane wants to go see the evangelists, and his mother is already planning to take their family there. Although the family has made sacrifices to tribal gods, they’re still desperately poor, and Mathabane’s mother wants to give a new religion a try.
Mathabane’s perception of Christianity throughout his childhood is always conditioned by his current circumstances. In this instance, his and his mother’s interest in the religion is fueled by their hunger and poverty, suggesting that they hope they can gain some material benefit from it. However, the presence of two white people hints at the fact that Christianity will be presented as the white man’s religion.
Mathabane’s father doesn’t like Christianity, but understands Mathabane’s mother’s point and agrees to take the family to the night meeting. At the meeting, a black evangelist arrogantly declares that all black people should be thankful that the white missionaries brought them the Gospel, and that they must all abandon their filthy tribal religions to “board God’s glory train” so that the “horned black man” does not trap them in hell. Mathabane’s father and many men in the tent are furious, clenching their fists. The men shout at the evangelists, calling them “black traitors” and one man tries to attack the speaker, before someone else restrains him. Mathabane’s father takes his family and storms out of the tent, along with many others.
The black evangelist’s concept of Christianity is blatantly racist, demonstrating how the religion can be weaponized to spread the concept of white supremacy and black inferiority. The description of the “horned black man” is an obvious reference to the devil, suggesting that in this interpretation of Christianity, while white skin is regarded as good, black skin is regarded as the root of all evil. This demonstrates how racist beliefs may integrate into a religion—even one that claims to be pursuing righteousness.
At home, Mathabane’s mother tells his father that there must be more to Christianity; they left too early to find out. His father is still furious and forbids his family from speaking to the evangelists. However, Mathabane’s mother takes him back to the tent the next day while his father is at work, and they discuss what they know of Christianity. Mathabane sympathizes with his father, partly because he’s seen Christian paintings that depict God as a white man and the devil as a black man. His mother explains that some Christians teach that black skin was a curse from God on one of Noah’s sons, condemning black people “to be forever servants of the white man.”
Like the evangelist’s message, the Christian painting suggests that white skin is symbolic of godliness and righteousness, while black skin is the mark of evil, demonstrating how Christianity can be utilized to reinforce white supremacy and racism. For people like Mathabane’s mother, who are interested in Christianity despite its overt racism, such depictions could reasonably lead them to develop an inferior, denigrated view of their own value as black people.
Mathabane privately vows to never submit to Christianity, but realizes that he enjoys some of the stories in the Bible. He decides they must be nice folklore, like their own tribal stories, but certainly not true. When Mathabane’s father realizes that Mathabane and his mother are still discussing Christianity, he threatens to cut out their tongues, which pushes Mathabane further away from the religion.
Mathabane’s hatred of Christianity’s racist dogma, yet interest in its stories foreshadows the conflict he will have with the religion throughout his childhood, as he finds himself both repelled by it and inexplicably drawn to it.