Monday, March 06, 2006

The significance of the violence in Onitsha

(A Christian writing pro-Christian and anti-Muslim slogans in Onitsha, photo credit BBC)

Andrew Sullivan, on the Christian violence against Muslims in Nigeria:
In the West, the theocratic tendencies of the religious right have very rarely tipped into violence; and there is no equivalence with the terror of Islamists. But in the developing world, that may not be the case any more. Nigeria is Ground Zero for the new wars of religion.
I think we really have to dig through the dregs of 20th C history to find an instance where Christian-Muslim grass-roots violence has erupted on this scale, and in the midst of international crises over oil supply and civil liberties (I'm not counting all-out wars). But it is the first instance that I have ever read of closely that involved Christian rioters, armed with machetes, clubs, and knives, spraypainting "Jesus is Lord" on the walls of their victims' mosque.

The Rev Fleming Rutledge, one of the first women to be ordained to the Episcopal priesthood, speaks out on the "genuine theological emergency" this represents:
The use of the earliest Christian confession, Kurios Iesous (Jesus is Lord) in such a context simply staggers the imagination. Issues about sexuality are very important indeed but must be set aside in this genuine theological emergency. This is not about barbarous, primitive Africans. This is about the universal human capacity to move rapidly from relatively peaceful co-existence with others to murderous mob action in a matter of days when certain conditions are present, and to appropriate even the most sacred religious beliefs for lethal purposes. The 20th century is full of examples -- the Afrikaners in South Africa, Gentiles all over Europe in the Nazi era, segregationists in the American South, Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, the Hutu in Rwanda who murdered Tutsis in their churches with frequent cooperation from the clergy.

Even so, there is something particularly horrifying about this example from Nigeria. The use of the name of Jesus Christ to celebrate destruction and murder is beyond sickening. This is the Name of the One who voluntarily gave himself up to a tortured death to show us how to forgive our enemies and not to seek vengeance. Bishop Tutu of South Africa led his people in non-violence for more than thirty years under conditions of utmost provocation. Let us fervently pray that Archbishop Akinola is made of similar metal -- for the sake of Nigeria, for the sake of the Anglican Communion, for the sake of the Gospel around the world, for the sake of the Name of the Crucified One.


A friend has sent this link to a statement by Abp. Peter Akinola. I find it profoundly disappointing. ... I look in vain in this statement for any sign of a transforming cruciform theology. It has a truculent sound, as if he were saying: if you're going to beat us up, we're going to let loose our young men to beat you up. This is not encouraging. I am comparing it in my mind with something that any of the recent Popes might have written, for instance. I think of Lech Walesa in his great early days, Martin Luther King -- not to mention Desmond Tutu. There was no doubt about these leaders' strength and determination, but it was clear to everyone that they intended to rein in their troops. They were enabled to exhibit dauntlessness while at the same time still teaching us about what a distinctively Christian witness looks like. When a Christian leader speaks truth to power, it should have that unmistakable note of trust in an invincible unseen Power that arms its servants with alternative weapons. [her emphasis]
There you have it: a genuine theological emergency on top of a clear violation of human rights. The conservative Anglican communion needs to wake up to the fact that recents actions by the Archbishop of Nigeria represent a problem far beyond the distinctly American or northern struggles over orthodoxy.

In comments I've seen from conservative American Anglicans, I've been disappointed by the nearly complete lack of sensitivity to what Rutledge called the "invincible unseen Power that arms its servants with alternative weapons." If you've ever seen it in action, it gives you goosebumps, bristling with the power of actual righteousness, not the righteousness of mere orthodoxy. Romans 12 (and Proverbs 25):
20On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


John said...

I read Abp Akinola's statement in full and would like to emphasize the first

Having watched with sadness and dismay the recent development in some States in the Northern part of this Country where many Christian Churches and other property have been wantonly destroyed by some Islamic fundamentalists, the Christian Association of Nigeria is compelled to issue the following statements:

1 a) From all indications, it is very clear now that the sacrifices of the Christians in this country for peaceful co-existence with people of other faiths has been sadly misunderstood to be weakness
b) We have for a long time now watched helplessly the killing, maiming and destruction of Christians and their property by Muslim fanatics and fundamentalists at the slightest or no provocation at all. We are not unaware of the fact that these religious extremists have the full backup and support of some influential Muslims who are yet to appreciate the value of peaceful co-existence.

c) That an incident in far away Denmark which does not claim to be representing Christianity could elicit such an unfortunate reaction here in Nigeria, leading to the destruction of Christian Churches, is not only embarrassing, but also disturbing and unfortunate.
d) It is no longer a hidden fact that a long standing agenda to make this Nigeria an Islamic nation is being surreptitiously pursued. The willingness of Muslim Youth to descend with violence on the innocent Christians from time to time is from all intents and purposes a design to actualize their dream.

2 a) It is sad to note that all acts of hostility meted against Christians by Muslims in the past have remained unaddressed with nobody paying compensations or the culprits brought to justice.
b) We do appreciate the fact that at this stage of our national development, peace is absolutely necessary for realizing our dreams and aspirations. It is in view of this that Christians in Nigeria agreed to participate in the forthcoming National Census as sacrifice for the peace and progress of this nation, in spite of our protest over the non-inclusion of Religion and Ethnicity as necessary demographic data.
c) May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation. Nigeria belongs to all of us – Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. No amount of intimidation can Change this time-honoured arrangement in this nation. C.A.N. may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue.

So Abp Akinola actually laid out the reasons for responding as he did - the violence and intimidation against Christians in the North have not abated and he had no choice but to respond as he did with this statement. Incidentally, I do not recall Bishop Chane or the Rev Rutledge protest the violence in the North of Nigeria or offering any words of Christian comfort to Abp Akinola. Surely that is a "brotherly" Christian response.

Matt said...

again...sorry for my slow to you in the morning

Matt said...

Hi john,

Thanks for contributing. I do not know if Rugledge or Chane ever expressed sympathy to any bishop -- I'll have to rely on you for that information. But you can't absolve Akinola of threatening Nigerian Muslims with inevitable violence (even if not by his own hand) by saying that Chane and Rutledge aren't being brotherly.

The basic point of Rutledge's blog post (which you should read in full on her site) is that violence against anyone in Jesus' name is utterly abhorent. I'll let her words speak for themselves, but I would say (for myself) that if you advocate violent retaliation for attacks on Christians, go ahead and go on the record saying so.