G lobal Positions This ECWA church in Buruku, Kaduna State, was destroyed by Muslim militants.
Nigerian Christians Seek a Theology of Conflict Armed Muslim militants continue to attack the Christian community in northern Nigeria. In April of this year, Human Rights Watch reported that in two days of post-election violence targeted at Christians and their churches, more than 800 were killed. Christians who call for retaliatory attacks say armed offense is the only way to ward off the Muslim militants. Should Christians fight back to protect their lives and property, or should they take to their heels when the enemy rampages against them? What does the Bible have to say on this matter? Is there a theology of conflict that can help embattled Christians address these questions? Has the church failed to provide answers to these conflicts and thus exposed her members to avoidable harm? These are the kinds of thorny but crucial questions that Nigeria’s church leaders are facing today. Lamenting the spate of attacks, Mark Jacob, a member of the Middle Belt Dialogue, an advocacy group fighting for the religious and political liberty of minority groups in central Nigeria, says, “I have interviewed and felt the pains of mothers who saw husbands and children butchered; I have encountered men who wept helplessly as their children, wives, or aged parents, who could not run fast enough, were butchered. Unless you have been
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hurt yourself it is quite easy to dismiss the deep, genuine questions of our people.” Joy Machunga, another member of the Middle Belt Dialogue, asks, “Are there no justified wars? Do we just sit and watch them slaughter us like lambs? During biblical times, didn’t Israel fight their enemies who are of other faiths? In fact, I believe it is a sin for you to lie down on your bed claiming to be a Christian when a madman comes in with a machete and slaughters your wife and children. Israel would not have survived today if they had followed that kind of teaching.” Rev. Tersur Aben, professor of systematic theology and philosophy at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN) in Bukuru, a town near Jos, comes from the Reformed Church and says that his church embraces Just War theology. “Christians can engage in a war wherever injustice or oppression exists,” explains Aben. “This is precisely why America has been supporting opposition elements in the Middle East and in North Africa.” When Qhadaffi declares war on his own people, there is no way Christians can ignore such an evil regime, he says. However, Aben believes there are some cases to which the Just War theory cannot be applied and that this is the case with the Nigerian situation. “This theory does not advocate the defense of one’s faith,” asserts Aben. “What we have in Nigeria is the battle of Islam against Christianity. Global terrorism is nothing but the war Islam is waging against Christianity. But we must note that Christians cannot fight for God. God rather will fight for his people and then provides solace and comfort for them.” Quoting from Revelation 6, Aben says that conflicts have engulfed the world today in fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Of the seven seals mentioned in Revelation, he says, “The
Obed Minchakpu second seal (vs. 3-4) shows how world peace would be taken away and wars and conflicts take its place. It is therefore not a surprise to see Muslims waging war against Christianity.” Aben also believes that all these conflicts are within the sovereignty of God, that they will come to an end at the appointed time (vs. 9-11), and that the perpetrators will be brought under the justice of God (vs. 13-17). Dr. Phil Andrew, an American missionary who is director of Serving In Mission (SIM) in Nigeria, admits that religious and political conflicts have adversely impacted Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), a church planted by SIM and other churches in northern Nigeria. “In this part of Nigeria,” says Andrew, “Christians have been killed and churches burnt. This is very difficult for us, because we brought the gospel to them, and to see them suffering is not a pleasant thing. We have continued to encourage Christians not to despair in the face of these challenges, and we have also tried to raise support in order to assist those suffering and the displaced.” At the global level, the story is the same, asserts Andrew: “Even missionaries have been killed in the African continent and in other parts of the world.” But then, he adds, “those of us serving in missions see this challenge as a motivating factor to urgently recruit more missionaries so that the task of evangelism can be carried out.” Whatever it is, the prevailing situation in Nigeria and elsewhere demands the urgent teaching of the word of God, for it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that Christians can withstand the pressures of the evil one.
Obed Minchakpu is a writer and media consultant. He lives in Jos, Nigeria, with his wife and four children.