The summary by CNN’s John Blake for his story “Religious hatred simmers in terror suspect’s homeland” could not have been stated better:
Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab wouldn’t have to go to an al Qaeda camp in Yemen to learn how to hate. He had examples closer to home. Christians and Muslims have been killing each other in Nigeria for much of his lifetime.
As comes in later in the story, “violence begets violence.” But what John Blake stated was very true: when killing is the culture you grew up in, there is no need to learn it from elsewhere. When you factor in the history of Nigeria (brought up and summarized in the story), the general history of Christian and Muslim animosity, and then the retaliation and attitude of revenge taken by those Christians in Nigeria who chose to act in that way and be part of the violence, it would be difficult not to breed violence in the younger generations.
Christians and Muslims have been killing each other in Nigeria for much of AbdulMutallab’s lifetime. At least 10,000 Nigerians have died during Christian-Muslim riots and ethnic violence during the past decade.
That is a very telling statistic. That is not the message and mission of God’s Kingdom. That is not the Good News of Jesus. That is not serving and loving your neighbors and enemies. That is not the way of the cross.
I understand there is a lot of cultural turmoil behind the violence. As was also brought out in the story, poverty is a big factor. Poverty and oppression was a major influence in the time of Jesus as well, especially to the zealots who wanted the violent uprising and takeover of their home from Rome and the elites. Still Jesus came in, supplied the method and means to revolution, and not one bit of it was violent. Despite the history, despite the social factors, despite the oppression, the Christian leadership and missionaries there have to bring the focus back to the message and teachings of Jesus. Let Jesus guide the response of the people.
Yes, that is difficult. Yes, that seems “pie in the sky.” But please show me where Jesus said something to the effect of “You don’t really have to do what I say or follow my example. That’s just idealism. Try your best, and if you can’t do it, then go ahead and kill your enemy. Take over with bloodshed. Either way will work out for you.” (Okay. So I ran on a little with that one.)
Am I saying had the violence not existed that young men like Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab would not take up the call for violent, militant, suicidal jihad? Of course not. I am saying it’s very, very hard to kill someone who does nothing but love you, serve you, take care of you when you’re sick, visits you in prison, gives you clothes when you’re cold, shelters your family from the rain, houses your community’s widows and orphans, develop methods and utilization of technologies that help restore the communities, speaks up for you when you are being oppressed and wronged.
The situation is not simple. The answers are not simple. But Christians must be guided by the Lord, not natural impulses or even common sense. Leaders and communities there know far better than I do how that will look and feel and proceed. However, the second violent action is sanctioned, condoned, or even endorsed, our Christ is chucked aside and told to stay inside the church walls while the Christians go do the will of God.
No, I do not believe the violence in Nigeria is actually that widespread and all encompassing. But anywhere that Jesus and violence seem to join hands is a place where the Good News is being suppressed. And that should be troubling for all Christians, everywhere. Christianity is given a bad name here in the US because of the ties it now has to such things as imperialism, occupation, oppression, capitalism, torture, militant anti-abortionism, anti-gay, and capital punishment. So much so that there are Christians who are tending toward not really liking being called Christians. Too many negative connotations involved, and preconceptions in the minds of those who hear you are a Christian. There needs to be a change of that tide here in the US (and there is evidence of that actually happening), and also in places like Nigeria. If the dominant idea of Chrisitans in Nigeria is “they are in a fight with Muslims,” then the name and message of Jesus gets dragged through the mud a little bit.
The message of Jesus in the first century was revolutionary and far from passive (there’s a difference between being a pacifist and being passive, but that’s not the last time I’ll have to mention that); nonviolent to the core, but very active and obviously subversive in the community. The message has not changed now 2,000 years later. So maybe we need to confront the Good News and be told what to do.
I welcome you to read over John Blake’s article and engage in the conversation. How can you and I help in any way? Should we help? What is best: a defensive, retaliatory Christianity or one more pacifistic?