The Impact Of Persistent Violence On The Church In Northern Nigeria

Paper Presented by Bishop Bagobiri at UN –

Dear Friends,

Greetings from New York. Please Find below, text of my intervention at the UN HQRS last Thursday at a global Congress co-sponsored by the Holy See and “Citizen Go” (a Madrid based NGO), aimed at defending religious freedom and stopping atrocities on Christians and other believers, by ISIS & its affiliates, and other terror groups like them. Yesterday we formally presented 400,000 signatures petitioning the UN to follow in the footsteps of the European Parliament and USA Government in declaring the activities of ISIS and its affiliates as genocidal. The slides presentation of my text is also attached here. I will in due course post the concluding message of the Congress, the text of our petition, the intervention of the Holy See, and other vital aspects of the proceedings.

Best regards, with assurance of prayers….

+JBagobiri

“THE IMPACT OF PERSISTENT VIOLENCE ON THE CHURCH IN NORTHERN NIGERIA”:

A PRESENTATION BASED ON A CASE STUDY ON THE STATE OF CHRISTIANITY IN NORTHERN NIGERIA UNDER THREAT OF OBLITERATION; AT THE 2016 – WE ARE NAZARENs – CONFERENCE ON: DEFENDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS; STOPPING MASS ATROCITIES AGAINST CHRISTIANS AND OTHER BELIEVERS, UNITED NATIONS HQRS, NEW YORK, USA, APRIL 27TH– 30TH 2016, BY +MOST REV. JOSEPH D. BAGOBIRI, BISHOP OF KAFANCHAN, NIGERIA.  

PREAMBLE:

We commend “CITIZEN GO” and their collaborators, the organizers and sponsors of this programme, which represents a meaningful illustration of global Christianity today and a significant expression of universal Christian solidarity which exceeds ‘denominational’ or ‘confessional’ boundaries

My task in this presentation is to draw the attention of this August assembly and through it, the International Community to the endangered situation of Christians in Northern Nigeria as a result of the impact of persistent violence and other various heinous forms of persecution meted to them by Boko Haram and nomadic Fulani herdsmen – both of them are Islamist-organization of the deadliest type, bent on establishing caliphate Islamic governance in Nigeria.

The ideas in this presentation are not personal. They are the fruits of a scientific study carried out by a team of experts headed by Arne Mulders in collaboration with a wide spectrum of Nigerians, sponsored by the OPEN DOOR RESEARCH DEPARTMENT, With the strong backing, encouragement of the Nigeria Church under the auspices of the Christian Association of Nigeria (C.A.N). The researched was further submitted by CAN to a special team of experts to review its claims and the veracity of its assertions and submissions especially on the plight of the Church and Christians in Northern Nigeria, following many years of persistent violence by Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen in Northern Nigeria.

 —  A WORD ABOUT NIGERIA:

—  The Most populous Black Nation on earth

—  Nigeria is a country covering a total area of 356,667 square miles. Today it has a vibrant estimated population of about 180 million; it is the seventh-most populous country in the world. Divided into 36 States and a Federal Capital Territory in Abuja. It has a balanced Population of Christians and Muslims. Kaduna State, where I come from is a miniature of Nigeria with a balanced population also of Muslims and Christians.

—   A Plural Society with over 500 ethnic Nationalities living side by side one another. It Practices democracy (at least theoretically) and has had 6 demorcratically elected Presidents B/w 1960-2016, namely: Tafawa Balewa, Shehu Shagari, Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’adua, and Goodluck Jonathan and now Mohamadu Buhari. The Country has also been governed by 8 Military dictators: Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida,Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar

 —  Faced with the challege of BOKO HARAM and nomadic Fulani Herdsmen Mauranders, both of them being Islamist terrorist organizations: They kill, maim, destroy properties through bombings, guerrilla like attacks and practice all forms of discrimination and marginalization against non muslims. The difference between these two groups of killers, who are equally brutal, is that while Boko Haram today kills both Muslims nd Christians, the Fulani herdsmen target only the indigenous communities of the “Middle belt region”, who are mainly and predominatly Christian communities.

—  Nigeria is a Country well blessed with many Natural resources such as oil, gas, Bitumen, coal, and good arable land for agriculture, but has not been able harness these to transform the fortunes of its citizens.

—  CHIEFE AMONG THE CAUSES OF VIOLENCE ARE: THE INEVITABLE CONFLICTS RESULTING FROM THE PRACTICE OF DUAL IDEOLOGY NAMELY: DEMORCARY AND SHARIA, which by their nature are incompatible forms of Governance that are forced to coexist. It is this unhealthy fusion that has given birth to more AGGRESSIVE ISLAMIC Extremists groups like Boko Haram who are seeking the EXPANSION of Islam by the use of force and violence. 

 INTRODUCTION:

The statistics of persecution and violence against Christians world-wide has become unprecedented in recent times. According to World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), 80% of all persecutions in the world are directed against Believers in Christ. In many places in the world, “followers of the Way” have become an endangered specie. These persecutions take different shapes and forms: from the less violent such as: stealth/enticements with worldly goods, discrimination and marginalization, forced migration etc, to more violent once ones such as mass murder, slashing of throats, suicide bombing and being thrown as prey to wild carnivorous animals. Discrimination, persecution and martyrdom constitute a painful challenge that all Churches and Ecclesial Communities face today somewhere in the world. Christians of different traditions experience various forms of hostility from governments, organized groups and individuals merely as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ. They are driven out from their villages and towns while their houses and possessions are confiscated, their places of worship are destroyed, and the symbols of their Christian affiliation are removed from public view. They are kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered only because they bear the name of Christians.

Christians in the Middle East; Western, Central and Southern Asia; North and East Africa have had their own share. But worst of them all, it is the current phenomenon of persistent violence and persecution of Christians in Northern Nigeria. The year 2014 witnessed the worst of these genocidal atrocities. An Electronic Christian Magazine, Prophecy NewsWatch estimated that out of every 100 Christians killed around the world in 2014, 64 of them were Nigerians and mainly from Northern Nigeria. In this same year, Armnesty International submitted that Boko Haram was the worst and deadliest terror group in the entire world. For the avoidance of doubt, she further clarified that Boko Haram is more deadly than ISIS. Despite the fact that Christians make up roughly a third of the world’s population, there are still large pockets of the planet where they are targeted and hunted down simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ.(www.christianpost.com 2013).

We are afraid that if serious measures are not taken to protect the gains of evangelization in Northern Nigeria, she could suffer the same fate of Churches in the Middle East and North Africa, in Turkey and Asia Minor. Recently, both Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church have come to the painful realization of this ugly onslaught on the Church, and forcefully decried this in their first joint statement in over 1000 years. They spoke with pains  about one time flourishing churches that have literally been driven to extinction by Islamists, with the world doing almost little or nothing to stop such carnage and threat of obliteration. The two Religious Leaders said:

 Our gaze (the the two Prelates say) must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

 We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action.

 We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1Pet4:12–13).

Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1Cor14:33).

(Joint statement of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Cuba, 12/2/16):

JOINT DECLARATION of Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos.

“World opinion cannot ignore the colossal humanitarian crisis created by the spread of violence and armed conflict, the persecution and displacement of religious and ethnic minorities, and the uprooting of families from their homes, in violation of their human dignity and their fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The tragedy of forced migration and displacement affects millions, and is fundamentally a crisis of humanity, calling for a response of solidarity, compassion, generosity and an immediate practical commitment of resources. 

From Lesvos, we appeal to the international community to respond with courage in facing this massive humanitarian crisis and its underlying causes, through diplomatic, political and charitable initiatives, and through cooperative efforts, both in the Middle East and in Europe”.

“As leaders of our respective Churches, we are one in our desire for peace and in our readiness to promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue and reconciliation. While acknowledging the efforts already being made to provide help and care to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, we call upon all political leaders to employ every means to ensure that individuals and communities, including Christians, remain in their homelands and enjoy the fundamental right to live in peace and security.

A broader international consensus and an assistance programme are urgently needed to uphold the rule of law, to defend fundamental human rights in this unsustainable situation, to protect minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling, to eliminate unsafe routes, such as those through the Aegean and the entire Mediterranean, and to develop safe resettlement procedures”.

This Report is a specific confirmation of this global phenomenon against Christians in Northern Nigeria. Furthermore, it is also a documentation of a field research on the impact of persistent violence on Christians in Northern Nigeria. The research work presents the facts that show grave and gross violation of human rights and religious freedom of Christians in Northern Nigeria, which have over the years failed to catch and attract the sympathy and attention of the International community. It appears as if the International community has turned a blind eye on the plight and the predicament of Christians in Northern Nigeria. In fact, the International community has believed somewhat the lies of the propagandists who have the monopoly of Mass Media that, “it is the Christians in Northern Nigeria that are persecuting the Muslims and the Fulani”. To the extent that Western Media has often accused Christians of persecuting Muslims by denying them rights and equality. The purpose of this presentation based on this field research is to debunked such false propaganda. For this reason, the International community is hereby called upon to take a serious study of this Report and do something about the current state and persistent violence on Christians in Northern Nigeria.  The false propaganda against the status of the minority Christians in Northern Nigeria has to be corrected and addressed.

The International community needs accurate facts and not propaganda. Christians in Northern Nigeria are over 30 million (31.25%) and form a substantial minority. It is on account of this social and religious fact of being a minority that they suffer terribly from targeted violence. The following are quite evident: the politically motivated communal clashes following the 2011 post-electoral crisis; the Islamic Boko Haram insurgency in their quest to establish a Caliphate in the North Eastern Region of Nigeria, and the Islamist Nomadic Fulani herdsmen invasions aimed at forcefully dislodging and occupying the ancestral lands belonging to the aborigenes and natives of the Middle Belt region of Nigeria, who are predominantly a Christian population; all these are clear examples of premeditated and targeted attacks, marginalization and discrimination on Christians.

This research has revealed three main ways that Christians in Northern Nigeria have been victims of a well calculated and targeted violence: (1) the systematic marginalization and discrimination of Christians in the twelve States in Northern Nigeria that have adopted Sharia; (2)  violence, killings and destruction of Christian communities and churches by the Islamic Boko Haram insurgency; and (3) the Muslim Fulani herdsmen invasion and attacks on Christian and non-Muslim communities in the Middle Belt areas of Northern Nigeria. The actors (perpetrators) of this persistent violence on Christians in Northern Nigeria have been identified by the research findings as:  (1) the northern Muslim political and religious elites; (2) radical Islamic groups; and (3) Muslim Fulani herdsmen. These very actors have perpetrated their wicked and genocidal acts within the framework of a culture of political and religious violence, dominance and impunity. Furthermore, these perpetrators are motivated and driven by these social factors: (1) protection of northern Muslim political and economic interests; (2) protection of Muslim social and cultural identity; (3) protection of Islam’s dominant religious position; (4) the historical roots of ethno-religious riots and crises, where it is in the ethos of these actors, that land and property belonging to others, especially the vulnerable and un-assuming persons, can be acquired by Muslims from non Muslims through the use of force and violence and not necessarily through legitimate means like ancestral inheritance and purchase; and (5) the dual and conflicting ideology of democracy and theocracy as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.

These attacks in the main are targeted on Christians directly and not randomly carried out, with Christians being only un-intended victims. The leader of the Boko Haram sect (Abubakar Shekau), made this point clear when he said: …this war (waged by Boko Haram) is not political. It is religious. It is between Muslims and unbelievers (arna). It will stop when Islamic religion is the determinant in governance in Nigeria or in the alternative, when all fighters are eliminated/annihilated and no one is left to continue the fight. I warn all Muslims at this juncture that any Muslim who assists an unbeliever in this war should consider himself dead.(from one of the video clips posted by Shekau).

Nevertheless, these social, cultural, religious, economic, political and constitutional factors cannot be placed above human rights, religious freedom and democracy in Nigeria. The historical humanity and freedom of the Christians and the minority in Northern Nigeria cannot be trampled upon by any reason or cause. Perpetrators of violence against Christians and others suffering like them, should be held accountable for violating their rights to life, human dignity, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right either alone or in community with others, in public or private, to manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance (art 18, Declaration Universal Human Rights).

The Federal Government of Nigeria and those of the States in Northern Nigeria have never taken a strong, constitutional and political stand that guarantees the safety, security, rights and freedom of Christians everywhere in Northern Nigeria. To buttress this fact, the research shows that between 2006 and 2014 an estimated 11,500 Christians have been killed, over 1.3 million Christians have been displaced and 13,000 churches have been destroyed or abandoned. The most affected Christian communities are in northern Adamawa, Borno, Kano and Yobe states. Christians in these states have had to relocate mainly to the predominant Christian states in the Middle Belt areas: Plateau, Nassarawa, Benue, Taraba and Southern part of Kaduna state. Furthermore, Christian communities in the predominant Christian states in the Middle Belt areas are the most affected by the Muslim Fulani herdsmen forceful invasions and attacks. This is a blatant foreign invasion of the ancestral lands of the Christian and minority communities. And the most affected Christian communities are in Benue, Kaduna, Nassarawa, Plateau and Taraba states. In these middle belt states, the Fulani herdsmen have incessantly terrorized many communities, wiping out some from existence, and in places like Agatu in Benue State and Gwantu and Manchok in Kaduna State, these attacks assumed genocidal character, as between 150 – 300 vulnerable persons were killed overnight. Attacks like these are persistent and serial in nature. In the environment where I live in the southern part of Kaduna State, a total of over 55 such attacks have occurred between 1981-2014. Whereas the Islamic militant groups (Boko Haram) are pounding upon the minority Christian communities in the Muslim dominated States, the Muslim Fulani herdsmen, on the other hand, are invading, attacking, killing and displacing people from their ancestral lands and forcefully settling themselves among them. This actually is taking place in the predominant Christian and minority areas in the Middle Belt. In view of these gross violation of the rights of Christians and minorities, both the Nigerian Federal Government and those of the affected states, have not done enough to stop this form of impugnity. From where will help come for the Christians and the minorities in Northern Nigeria?

Northern Nigeria can be divided into two broad regions: the Far North which is predominantly Muslim comprising the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri ethnic groups and the Middle Belt in the South comprising about 300 ethnic groups with their well demarcated ancestral lands and chiefdoms with distinct languages, customs and religions. Islamization and Hausanisation have seriously affected these smaller minority ethnic groups in terms of their ethnicity, languages and socio-cultural and religious life. The marauding Muslim Fulani herdsmen do leave their ancestral lands in the predominantly Muslim Far North and move into the ancestral lands of the non-Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri minority ethnic groups of the Middle Belt areas by way of foreign military invasion and incessant attacks. They want to forcefully take-over the ancestral lands and settle down among these unwilling minority ethnic groups under the pretext of the search for grazing lands for their cattle. They come with sophisticated modern weapons and pounce upon these helpless and defenseless Christians and minority ethnic groups. Whereas in predominantly Muslim Far North, Christian minority ethnic groups are being chased out of their indigenous ancestral lands with the view of Muslim take-over of their ancestral lands as it is the case in Southern Borno, Southern Yobe, some parts of Kano, Adamawa and Bauchi. The International community does not know these social facts as the propagandists for the Muslim North do deliberately hide these facts. This is the significance of this presentation based on research Report as it draws attention to the devastating impact of persistent violence on Christians in Northern Nigeria. The Mass Media use of the terms terrorism or insurgency are deliberately chosen politically so as to hide Islamic Jihadic agenda against Christians and the minorities in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram, among others, on account of its self-proclamation and atrocities is indeed an avowed Islamic Jihadic Movement. Muslim dominance and violence have been perpetrated by the effective use of (1) religion and politics; (2) Islamist insurgencies and terrorism; and (3) Muslim Fulani herdsmen forceful invasions and attacks. As a result, Christians have suffered terribly. There is a preponderance of persistence violence, overburdening of the minority ethnic groups and the denial of human rights and freedom of religion to Christians and Christian communities in Northern Nigeria.

In the light of the above atrocities suffered by minority Christians in Northern Nigeria, what role is the international community to play to stop these systemic and persistent violence, persecution, discrimination and marginalization of Christians in Northern Nigeria, for if these violations of human rights and dignity are left unchecked and halted, this could lead to the extinction of Christianity and Christian communities in Northern Nigeria, as the world is witnessing in North Africa, Middle East, Western, Central and Southern Asia.

Firstly the International community should employ effective advocacy measures that would pressurize the Nigeria Government to do more to guarantee and ensure total freedom for Christians and minorities in Northern Nigeria. These freedoms include: (1) the denial of freedom and rights of Christians and minorities under Sharia in 12 Northern States; (2) halting forceful invasions, attacks and take-over of the ancestral lands of the indigenous Christians and minorities in the middle belt region of Nigeria; (3) addressing pervasive cases of persecution, violence, discrimination and marginalization; (4) enshrine democracy and rule of law; and (5) removal of dual conflicting ideologies of democracy and theocracy in the Nigerian Constitution.

Secondly, effective strategies should be evolved to salvage this disturbing menace affecting Christians and other minority groups in Northern Nigeria. In plural society like Nigeria, what is required is to solve the problem of religious extremism is not primarily the promotion of inter-faith dialogue, but Government’s firm resolve to deal decisively with cases of abuse of fundamental human rights of its citizens according to the provision of the rule of law, i.e., dia-praxis.

Thirdly, the international community must act now to address the humanitarian crisis of Christians living in the North-East and some Middle Belt areas of Nigeria, by establishing a global fund to help in the meaningful rehabilitation of victims of these injustices.

Fourthly, we are shocked and saddened to hear that the properties and lands of fleeing Christians are being bought, confiscated or simply occupied by the marauding and invading perpetrators of violence against Christian believers. The international community must take up this issue with the Government of Nigeria to ensure that both land and property of Christians and other vulnerable minorities are returned to them unfailingly.

Fifthly, SECURITY: The International Community to monitor and advocate that the security of every Nigerian is guaranteed by the Federal, State, Local governments and the Nigerian communities. This should be done in accordance with the following statutes: The Nigerian Constitution, Section 14 (2) (b) which states that

The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of the government” and the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people – Article 1, states “Indigenous people have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International human rights law.

In view of the above statutes, the international community should impress on the Federal Government of Nigeria to rise up to her responsibility to ensure the comprehensive enforcement of these statutes.

Government seems helpless and overwhelmed with the challenges of security, and is un-able to rise to her Constitutional responsibility to citizens in this regard.

Sixthly, ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM & NEED FOR GOVERNMENT NEUTRALITY: Given the rather very densely plural nature and composition of the Nigerian society, the International Community should impress Government of the Nation to strive as much as possible to be religiously neutral. In view of this, Section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution which states clearly that, “The Government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion”. And Section 38(1) which also states that, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and the public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance…. Should be strengthen as a way of promoting true democratic culture in a country with intense diversities on ethnic and religious dimensions, the need to emphasize Government’s neutrality on religious matters becomes paramount. Government should not expressly or by conduct through its practices, policies and conduct tacitly adopt or appear to adopt any religion as state religion either at the Local, State or National level. Its constitutional responsibility shall be to provide the “a level playing ground” or enabling environment by creating a regulatory framework for the actualization of the Constitutional right of every person to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Furthermore, every religion in Nigeria shall to the exclusion of Government, be at liberty to set up and manage its religious institutions such as Sharia and Ecclesiastical Courts, Pilgrimages etc; and other religious practices, within the national legal regulatory framework.

–The Federal government should ensure that no militant religious group picks up arms against any citizen of the nation. The church needs to strengthen the welfare and security of its communities in the face of persecution.

OUR RESPONSE TO TERRORIST ACTIVITIES IN THE LIGHT OF GOVERNMENT FAILURE, INERTIA, INCAPACITY IN MEETING UP WITH HER CONSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBILITY WITH REGARDS TO WELFAR AND SECURITY:

How then are we as believers to respond to the current spade of terrorism directed against us as Christians. The responses of Christian leaders since the advent of this current blood letting terrorism, has been anything but unanimity. Initially there was silence. And when we started reacting to this menace our responses were diverse in nature and lacking in Unity of purpose. Some of the responses tended to be absolutely pacifistic in nature. This is, those who believe that the only Christian response to terrorist activities against her, should be fasting, praying and repentance. A researcher into Christian persecution in the world said recently that Some of the communities that have this kind of pacifist response alone no longer exist as Christian today” (cf. Durie). The cases of Asia Minor, Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East are good examples. Other responses border on direct reprisal attacks, while others, though not advocating violence as a way of advancing the Gospel as Islamists do, yet they support the use of proportionate force as a deterrent measure to protect Christians from becoming victims of mass murder of genocide (what in ecclesiastical parlance is described as the legitimate use of self defense. This third response could be described as moderately pacifist. It combines spiritual variables such as fasting, praying, repentance, but in addition, the readiness to employ the use of reasonable and proportionate force as a way of self defense, self protection and an art of deterrence to the occurrence of greater and un-imaginable evil that could take the character of genocide.

CAN CHURCHES DIE OR WIPE OUT BY JIHADIST AND PERSISTENT PERSECUTION?

One of the merits of Jenken’s research on this subject is the way it reminds us of the fact that the Eastern Churches flourished before many of the Churches came into existence in Europe. But today, most of the Churches have experienced severe decline and some have been completely extinguished. According to Jenkins “This older Christian world was destroyed so comprehensively that its memory is almost forgotten by all except academic specialists. In some places the blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church, while in other places and at other times, it has been the death of the Churches and Christian communities. In 1050 the population of Asian Minor was mainly Christian, but by 1450 Christians were only 10 -15% of the population. Also, between 1200 and 1500 the number of Asian Christians fell from 21 million to 3.4 million. In Turkey for instance, Christianity existed for about 1023 years, with Constantinople having the biggest Cathedral in the world – the Hagia Sophia. Today, Christians constitute a mere 0.02% of the population. The seven Churches Jesus spoke to in Revelation 2 & 3 (Ephesus, Smyrma, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodiciea), existed in Turkey. It was in Turkey (Antioch) too that disciples were first called Christians. Today, Turkey is a Muslim Country

According to Jenkins as late as in 1900s Christians were about 11% of the population throughout the whole of the Middle East. Jenkins concludes as follows “For practical purposes, Middle Eastern Christianity has within living memory, all but disappeared as a living force”.

What measures should the Church in Northern Nigeria take to avoid falling into extinction as the older churches in Asia Minor, Middle East and North Africa?

In chapter 4, of the report under consideration, particularly section 4.2, titled: MID AND LONG TERM STRATEGIES AND PERSPECTIVES; the research presented eight elements towards achieving what is described as a COHERENT VISION, STRATEGY AND PLANNING towards containing the negative impact of systematic discrimination, marginalization and martyrdom. They are as follows: (1). That the persecuted church should fight despair and cynism among its members,(2) promote sound Christian formation of youth, (3) promote sound civic education for Christian politicians, (4) generate good church leadership,(5) tackle laidback mentality that accepts second class status, (6) speak out prophetically and uncompromisingly on the root causes of persecution, (7) prepare church members to face persecution, and (8) promote dialogue and reconciliation. 

I fully agree with all these measures. However, I am  worried that the dimension of educating Christians to be courageous and fearless in the face of persecution, and the duty to employ the use of proportionate means to self defense, when this becomes appropriate and necessary, was glossed over in this list completely, and was given very marginal consideration in the entire report. Given the ruthless and systematic manner that this evil of persecution and martyrdom is being carried out by the actors and perpetrators of violence, if Christians are not educated to be fearless and courageous in the face of persecution, and where necessary employ legitimate and proportionate means of self defense in their various communities, then sooner or later they will become an endangered specie. As citizens of dual nationalities; heavenly and earthly cities; we can rightly say, when believers endure persecution even to the point of martyrdom, they are serving the interest of their heavenly city; and when they muster courage to defend themselves from unjust aggression, they will by such action be serving the interest of their earthly city.

Our response therefore to an evil of this grave proportion must be theologically holistic and not reductionist by nature and scopeAny true search of a Christian response to the endemic problem of organized and systematic violence on Christians in Northern Nigeria and the world at large, must take into cognizance all variables contained in the Gospel. An all round and all inclusive response that takes cognizance of the entire corpus or deposit of the Christian faith as taught and exemplified in the life of Christ, should be explored, found, adopted and implemented as antidote to the threat that terrorism holds against the Church. Such a holistic approach will include the element of Christians sometimes having to fearlessly and courageously resist evil, as a complimentary measure to the other measures advocated and enunciated on the research’s main thesis, which are acquiescent and surrendering to evil by nature. The aspect of resisting evilmust not be treated as something marginal and alien to the Gospel. It is integral to it, and this can be theologically defended as a constitutive dimension of the Gospel and so could legitimately be employed in tackling the menace of systematic abuse of the fundamental human rights of Believers in Christ.

There are times that a faith-inspired resistance of evil will serve the cause of the gospel, or at least, saves and protects some life and property from death and destruction rather  than that of flight, acquiescence, self surrendering as is often promoted by those who literarily adore martyrdom. Yes, Christians should be open to persecution and martyrdom when these become absolutely necessary to bear witness to Christ, but we should not go out in search of martyrdom. Neither should we behave in a manner that creates the impression that the drivers and actors of unwarranted violence on the Church are helping the church, by their atrocities, to live the gospel. Like Jesus, there are times that believers in Christ should be acquiescent and self surrendering to evil by patiently enduring it as he did on the Cross. But there times also that they should take a posture of questioning the injustice done to them, as demonstrated when Caiaphas’ enthusiastic Guard, gave Him a dirty slap (Jn 18:22), Instead of Jesus acquiescing to this act of injustice, he responded thus: if there is something wrong in what I said, point it out, but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me? In the Bible, we saw that Jesus avoided death several times from the hands of his persecutors, before the the the decisive hour of his ultimate temptation, when he surrendered himself to be crucified on the Cross. This teaches us that our acceptance or non-acceptance of persecution should be based prayer and a true spirit of discernment. We should for instance discern, which martyrdom is pleasing, acceptable and gives glory to God and so embrace it with joy and alacrity, and which killing or murder of Christians, especially on a mass scale that is repugnant and so un-acceptable. There are many believers who unfortunately may not see any difference between legitimate use of self defense on the one hand and revenge or vendetta on the other. We however submit here, that there exists a world of difference between these two. I have explained this briefly in a critique I made on the eulogization and glorification of martyrdom, which I made as a critique on the proceedings of a recent Global Christian Forum on: Discrimination, Persecution Martyrdom: following Christ Together, at Tirana Albania. In responding to the scourge of persecution, Christians must keep to the Biblical injunctions of being both watchful and prayerful. Our response must not only be that of acquiescence and flight alone, (there are occasions that this kind of response becomes the most reasonable option), but there are other occasions that legitimate use of force under self defense, would serve the faith better. In such circumstance, self defense not revenge becomes not only an option but an imperative. The Church in Nigeria should trained herself and be prepared to employ either one  of these dual responses, which are both defensible theologically, in its quest to contain the scourge of violence meted on her. When we surrender and patiently endure suffering out of our love for Christ, this makes us co-sharers in his redemptive (Cf Col2: ). But when on the other hand resist evil as a deterrant to save our lives and others, especially those dependent on our protection, we share in the substitutional dimension of the redemptive of the redemptive work of Christ (Cf Isa 12). Both the substitutional and redemptive dimensions are constitutive elements of the paschal mystery. We should not prefer one to the other, but through prayer and discernment, accept which dimension the Holy Spirit may be directing us to embrace at any given time of our lives. This would be in imitation of our Lord Jesus, who knew when to avoid death and to embrace it as a way of giving glory and honour to the Father.

In the light of the virulent and un-relenting attacks on the Church by satan-driven neck slashing Islamic extremist organizations, Christians need to seriously re-appraise their response to this distinctive form of violence, which is not only destructive, but annihilating in nature. Such re-appraisal should include a new hermeneutic on the theology of self defense, which should not be treated as marginal to the gospel of Christ. At the heart of this new hermeneutic is the thesis that God could not have sent His only begotten son to suffer, be crucified, died and rose to establish the church, only to make this church a slaughter house for Islamic extremists organizations. On the other hand, if this thesis is rejected, then God could be accused of a conspiracy, where he established two world evangelistic religions, made one non-violent and the other prone to violence. The direct consequence of this is that God established the Church in Christ to evangelize by allowing herself to be physically destroyed. This is a contraction of a higher order. This view does not pay respect to the substitutional dimension of redemption, which cannot be wished away by glorifiers and eulogizers of martyrdom

Our fight is not against Islam and Muslims. It is against Islamists and extremist organizations in Islam. Our struggle is not against the Islam that is a religion of peace, or the suffis-orientated and contemplative Islam. It is not against the Islam that respects human dignity, sanctity and inviolability of human life. It is howefver against that brand of Islam that believes in coercion of non muslims to Islam, that institutionalizes discrimination against non muslims, it is against the Islamists that slashes throats of non Muslims and abuses their dignity and fundament rights to existence. Should Christians or people of other religions different from Muslims, resort to these forms of grave and outrageous human abuses, we shall equally denounce and discountenance such evil activities from any religion. No body has the right to abuse the fundamental rights of any human person in the name of God and religion. True religions should spread themselves through peaceful and persuasive means, and not through the use of terror and violence. As Christians, We must love people of all religions regardless of our differences, and seek higher ways of cooperating and collaborating with them for the positive advancement of the entire human race. We should seek ways to live peacefully with true Muslims and all other people of religions, not even excluding agnostics, atheist and secularists. We must love all people of good will. This is the Church’s mission in the world.

But decisive action must be taken against terrorists organizations like ISIS, Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsmen and Mauranders who have been poisoned by extremists ideologies of hate particularly towards Church and other minorities in their midst. All stake holders for peaceful and harmonious coexistence of the entire human family, irrespective of religious and ethnic differences, must wake up from their slumber, and stand together in not only condemning the unprovoked aggression that had been waged against vulnerable and innocent people, but concerted effort must be made by all people of good will to resist, degrade and conquer terrorism in the world. Enough of the inertia and lethargic attitudes in communities and governments who have the constitutional responsibility to provide for the security and welfare of citizenry.  We must never allow this aggression to continue in our world.

The Magisterium on legitimacy of self defense:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as an act of love toward one self, and in defense of God’s gift of life. The theological authorities of the Church are emphatic: Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omits the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.” The Magisterium is further explicit on this subject matter when it teaches that: “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. CCC, 2264 – 2266, p. 482). It must be stated clearly hear in the light of the above official Church statement, that the exercise of self defense does not amount to un-forgiveness, nor is it to be seen as an act of vengeance or vendetta. On the contrary, it is the responsible exercise of “common sense” flowing from natural justice in the protection of life given to us by God in custody. Christians must do everything within their power to protect their lives from being snuff-off by Satanist driven Islamic organizations like Boko Haram and ISIS.

What then are we to say in the light of these troubling moments in our Nation’s history? We must avoid any form of reductionism in the interpretation of Jesus’s teaching on how to respond to evil. We should take the teaching of Christ in its totality as a single Corpus. That does not mean individual Christians cannot take to absolute pacifism. But this cannot become normative for all. In the same vein, we can say Christianity has some elements of Pacifism, but it is not an absolutely Pacifist Religion. Christian communities and Governments reserve the right to employ legitimate and proportionate use of force not only as a deterrent, but as a legitimate way to ward off unjust aggression. In the light of current challenges and threats to obliterate entire Christian communities, concerted effort must be made to teach our communities the whole truth of the Gospel on how to respond to evil. We cannot keep running before evil. This menace must be confronted head-on by all stakeholders. We must drop all cowardice and timidity in the fight against this menace of terrorism. Our Struggle is not against Islam but against Islamists.

We must pray fervently invoking God’s intervention and protection of our lives from unjust aggressors. We shall do this as if all is depended on him. But we must resist evil with force as if everything is depended on us. As the Psalmist prayed:How long, O God, is the enemy to scoff? Is the foe to insult your name for ever? Why O lord, do you hold back your hand? Why do you keep your right hand hidden? Yet you have been our king from the past, the giver of help through all the land….Remember this Lord, and see the enemy scoffing, a senseless people insults your name. Do not give Israel your dove to the hawk. Nor forget the lives of the poor ones for ever….Do not let the oppressed return disappointed. Let the poor and needy bless your name. Arise O God and defend your cause. Remember how the senseless revile you all the day. Do not forget the clamour of your foes. The daily increasing uproar of your foes (Psalm 73/74).

BOKO HARAM, ISIS AND THEIR SISTER ORGANIZATIONS ARE OUTRIGHTLY CRIMINAL ORGANIZATIONS THAT ARE TO BE RESISTED AND NOT BE GIVEN ANOTHER CHIK FOR THEM TO HIT.

There is nothing religious in employing violence and unleashing same on innocent people in the name of God. Religious extremism as expressed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and Isis in Iraq and Syria, are to me sheer acts of criminality that must be condemned by all people of good will. ..As Pope St. John Paul 11 said: “Religion is not and must not become a pretext for conflict (or this kind of senseless blood-letting) …….. the only religion worthy of the name, is the religion that leads to peace and that true religion is mocked when it is tied to conflict and violence”. True religion is concerned primarily with the worship of God which includes adoration, praise, thanksgiving, love and making of supplications. To love God this way must necessarily include love of neighbour. Anyone who says ” I love God but hates his neighbour is a liar. Since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God whom he has never seen (Jn4:20).

A religion that is true to its name must be on the side of peace and must publicly – in words and actions – repudiate violence. As John Paul II again said: it is a profanation of religion to declare oneself a terrorist in the name of God, to do violence to others in his name. Terrorist violence is a contradiction of faith in God…It is incompatible with the authentic spirit of Religion.

Addressing Religious and Spiritual leaders at the “Millennium World Peace Summit, the U.N. Secretary General, Mr. KofiAnnan made this point more clearly: Religion is frequently equated with light, but we all know that the practice of Religion can have its dark side too. Religious extremism has too often oppressed or discriminated against Women and Minorities. Religion has often been yoked to nationalism, stoking the flames of violent conflict and setting group against group. Religious leaders have not always spoken out when their voices could have helped combat hatred and persecution or could have roused people from indifference. Religion is not itself to blame: The problem is usually not with the Faith, but with the Faithful

Benedict XVI echos the same sentiments in his recent encyclical caritas in veritate:

Violence puts the brakes on authentic development and impedes the evolution of peoples towards greater socio-economic and spiritual well-being. This applies especially to terrorism motivated by fundamentalism, which generates grief, destruction and death, obstructs dialogue between nations and diverts extensive resources from their peaceful and civil uses

CONCLUSION:

The purpose of this presentation is to advocate for THE ESTABLISHMENT of a new world order, where the human family lives in peace, freedom, harmony and love, freed from violence, worst still freed from a violence inspired and motivated by religion. We therefore appeal to world leaders especially at the political and religious levels, and to the international community, we passionately appeal to all those saddled with the responsibility to promote the welfare of their subjects and provide them adequate security, to rise up to these two great challenges. They should provide the ennobling environment that discourages discrimination, marginalization, forceful immigration/migration of the indigenous peoples from ancestral lands and worst still, the resort to violence as a way of seeking redress either to real or perceive injustice(s). Actors and perpetrators of heinous crimes such as abuse of religious freedom and other fundamental human rights must not be treated with kid gloves by States and Governments. They must be brought to justice by facing the full wrath of the law. Religious bodies could promote inter-religious dialogue as a way of promoting better understanding in plural and heterogeneous religious societies. But government and the judiciary on the other hand should employ dia-praxis, by enforcing relevant laws without exception, favour and exemption of any kind, in order to curb the excesses of miscreants in the society.

In the face of hostilities against our Christian brothers and sisters, we cannot remain indifferent. May this Consultation become an opportunity to call once again the attention of the international community to the fate of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities. Hostilities must stop and proper protection must be accorded by national governments and international organizations throughout the world. Jesus teaches his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (cf. Matt 5:44). Revenge or vengeance can never be a Christian response to persecution. We cannot continue the circle of violence. Christianity is a religion of universal love. We must be ready to forgive and to open the way to reconciliation and peace among religions, ethnic groups, peoples and nations. Drawing closer to one another during this Consultation, let us pray for each other, listen to each other and learn from each other, and seek with each other a common understanding and a proper response to the demanding challenge of following Christ together in the world today.

 

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