Overview of Rastafarianism

By: D.A Horton (Article Originally Posted on dahorton.com on Sept. 27, 2015)

The Founder: In Rastafarianism no one person is championed as the founder. The movement is seen as the fulfillment of a prophecy of Marcus Garvey. Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887 and was the leading advocate for the Back to African movement.[1] Garvey encouraged both Jamaicans and African-Americans to not be ashamed of the African heritage and return to Africa. Garvey is credited with publicly declaring/prophesying a king rising out of Africa that will be the redeemer for those of African descent living in the west.[2]

On November 2, 1930 Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor Halie Selassie I of Ethopia, an event that would lead Leonard P. Howell to declare Selassie as the “great Black Messiah”, the Second Coming of Jesus, before declaring himself as Selassie’s representative in Jamaica.[3]Howell view heavily influenced by his time with Marcus Garvey in addition to the work of Reverend Fritz Balintine Pettersburgh.[4] Howell returned to Jamaica in 1933 and began a faith healing ministry that he would use to gain a platform in preaching his beliefs regarding Selassie being God incarnate. Howell was soon charged with preaching doctrines that were deemed to be anti-church, was arrested and sentenced to prison. When he was released in 1940 he founded the first Rastafarian village in Jamaica that sat on 400 acres at Sligoville, St. Catherine.[5]

On April 21, 1966 Emperor Haile Selassie visited Jamaica and was welcomed by the largest crowd every gathered at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.[6] During his visit, Selassie, encouraged the Jamaicans to not depart from their land and immigrate to Ethiopia but rather remain and work to liberate their own countrymen.[7] Selassie endured much turbulence during his reign in Ethiopia and was eventually forced out of office in 1974 when revolutionaries performed a successful overthrow. Selassie’s death a year later would be interpreted by Rastafarians as everything from a lie to inconsequential as he was deity and death could not be a reality for him.

The Followers: Estimates range between 200,000 and 2 million people that are identified by Rastafarian faith and or lifestyle. Adherents.com identifies the current number as 600,000[8] with sizable groups in such US cities as; Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.[9]Perhaps the Rastafarian faith’s most public and known adherent was the Reggae artist Bob Marley.

The Focus: The suppression of Black in Babylon (Jamaica) will come to an end and a migration to Zion (Ethiopia) will become a reality.

The Faith: Much of the Rastafarian belief systems is taken from the Bible alongside the interpretation of Howell’s writing, The Promised Key.

The Friction: Since there is no official organized and recognized leader of the Rastafarian movement, the beliefs of each congregation differ from each other. There are however some similar teachings that are embraced by many Rastafarians. Howell identified the foundational beliefs of Rastafarian doctrine as; Anglo-Saxons are inferior while the Black race is superior[10], Ras Tafari is God Incarnate who provides salvation for his oppressed Black people[11], the Pope is the Devil who uses the hypocritical religious system called the Church to keep people ignorant, and heaven being a place in the afterlife is a lie that has prevented the Black man from enjoying this life and pursuing earthly riches[12].

Since Howell’s contributions there have been other theological expansions in Rastafarian doctrine that include; Jeremiah 8:21 serving as a proof text of Selassie being God incarnate, further development of Selassie being from the lineage of the Queen of Sheep and King Solomon’s union[13], Marijuana being seen as the holy herb to be used as a form of sacrament that can be ingested through smoking or drinking in tea[14], dreadlocks are seen as physical evidence of communal unity with Rastas worldwide and is often supported by citing no biblical passage describing Jesus ever cutting his hair.[15]


D.A. HORTON currently is preparing to relocate his family to Los Angeles to plant a church. During this season of preparation he will be serving on staff at Summit Churchwhile continuing his speaking and writing ministries. Prior to his current role he served as; the National Coordinator for Urban Student Missions at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the Executive Director of ReachLife Ministries, the non-profit ministry of Reach Records and as an urban church planter, pastor and Lead Teaching Elder in Kansas City, MO for close to 6 years. For over 16 years D.A. also used the medium of Rap music as a tool to help educate the people of God on the precepts of Scripture as well as how to evangelize to the lost by presenting them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. D.A. also has served as an Adjunct Professor at Calvary Bible College teaching systematic and contemporary theology courses in addition to the seven urban-focused courses he wrote for the Urban Studies major. D.A. earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies at Calvary Bible College and his Master’s Degree in Christian Studies from Calvary Theological Seminary. D.A. is currently working towards his PhD in Applied Theology with a North American Missions emphasis at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

With a heart to provide local churches with quality Bible-centered tools and resources for evangelism and discipleship, D.A. wrote two books; G.O.S.P.E.L. and DNA: Foundations of the Faith both published through Moody Publishers. His third book, Bound to Be Free: Escaping Performance to be Captured by Grace, will be released through NavPress in spring 2016. He and his wife of 12 years Elicia have two daughters, Izabelle and Lola and one son, D.A. Jr. (aka Duce). If you would like to book DA for an event, please contact his manager Elicia by email at e.horton82@gmail.com