NIGERIAN CHURCHES UNITE FOR FIRST TIME TO ADDRESS VIOLENCE IN THE NORTH
The world’s deadliest terrorist group is not in the Middle East, but in Nigeria. Boko Haram have killed more than 4,000 Christians in Nigeria in 2015. That tally was a 62% increase from the previous year, according to Open Doors, a global charity that supports persecuted Christians. In response, Nigeria’s largest confederation of Christian churches is, for the first time, jointly endorsing a commitment to revive the Church in the country’s north, before it collapses from a decade of violence that has killed thousands of Christians and driven away more than 1 million. “Christians in the Northern region have for long been abandoned to their own fate by the Nigerian authorities.” The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has jointly published with Open Doors a detailed study of the violence and its impacts.
CAN is comprised of all Catholic and Protestant churches that together encompass about half of Nigeria’s 173 million people. The association has adopted the report as a joint declaration which demands that the government quell the violence and guarantee religious freedom, and asks the UN to launch an inquiry into atrocities. “This is the first time we have gone public in giving the true picture of the persecution Christians are going through in this country,” said Rev. Musa Asake, the association’s general secretary. “This will enable us to inform the world what Christians in Nigeria have been going through.” From 2006-14, religion-based violence killed an estimated 11,500 Christians in Nigeria, 13,000 churches were destroyed, or closed during the period, and 1.3 million Christians fled to safer regions in the country.
Over the past 2 years, the violence has spilt over into neighbouring countries Chad and Cameroon. In 2014, Boko Haram was the world’s deadliest terror group, ahead of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, according to the Global Terrorism Index. “This targeted violence, discrimination and marginalization of Christians in Northern Nigeria, if not halted, could lead to the extinction of the Christian faith and Christian communities in Northern Nigeria,” the CAN declaration asserts. “Christians in the North have long been abandoned to their own fate by the Nigerian authorities.” The report says “There is still a large Christian presence in Northern Nigeria with potential to unite and stand strong. But the Church in Northern Nigeria will need to find a way to not close in on itself and disengage from society.”
Northern Nigeria has been governed by Muslim sultans and emirs for centuries. Since the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 19th Century, the northern Christian population has grown rapidly. Today Christians form the majority in half of the 12 northern states, which are governed by Islamic sharia law. Across the area that separates Nigeria’s north and south, nomadic Muslim herdsmen have clashed with Christian farmers over grazing land for generations. After military rule yielded to a democratically elected government in 1999, the ruling Muslim political class in the north moved to consolidate their hold on the region. In 2000 and 2001, the 12 northern states added sharia law to their legal systems. Radical Islam took on the name Boko Haram and blew up into a military insurgency in 2009, the report said.
In 2014, the latest year covered by the report, Open Doors says nearly 2,500 Christians were killed and 103 churches attacked. In 2015 the carnage has only intensified. From 2006-14, the report estimates Christian deaths represented 41% of all violent deaths in the region during the period, even though Christians represent about 31% of the region’s population. Churches emptied, businesses were abandoned, Christian-Muslim relations deteriorated and communities segregated along religious lines. “Although the conflict has undeniable political, economic, social and ethnic components, a strong religious dimension has also been identified” CAN said in its declaration. Media, policy makers and international players should acknowledge the religious dimension of the conflict.”
Based on 122 interviews of church leaders and nine focus groups across the North, the report said nearly 66% of the participants claimed that between 2006 and 2014 church membership had declined. Eighty per cent of Christians interviewed said perceptions of Muslims had soured during the past 10 years. The Christian virtue of forgiveness, participants said, is more difficult than ever to attain. “Many Christians say they face harassment, hatred, intimidation and violence,” the report said. “They have very limited freedom to worship and to build churches. They have no real voice in public media, hardly any access to government positions for employment and are barely represented in local politics. Young Christians feel discrimination at school.” Asked to assess their future, 75% of those interviewed said the outlook is bleak.
Against this grim backdrop, the report identified several bright spots. The chronic violence has galvanized some Christians into political action, especially in the ‘middle-belt’ states, where the Christian population is higher. But Christian political action is almost non-existent in Nigeria’s Muslim dominated, north-east. In churches where membership has declined, those who remain have found a new commitment to their faith. Some Christians report that church membership is actually increasing as Christians arrive from violent locales, but also as former Muslims attracted by a Christian spirit of forgiveness are responding to dreams of Jesus. Open Doors provides trauma counselling to victims of violence. It funds clinics, schools, provides micro-loans to orphans and widows and provides Bibles and other Christian literature.
Strengthening the Church, however, will be a long-term project the researchers said. Pastors need better training and a heart for service; they need to prepare believers, especially youth, to endure violence yet respond with forgiveness. Trauma counselling is urgently needed and perhaps most self-critically, Christians in Nigeria’s north must abandon a “dependency mentality” that leaves them reliant upon political benefactors or wealthy relatives for protection and support. “Christians in the northern region are often not engaged in the economy, politics and education. They do not really want to advance in income, influence and knowledge through hard work, but are inclined to more easily rely on fate,” the report said.
Outside the church walls, Christians need to press government for civil-rights protections the study said. In its joint declaration, the Christian Association of Nigeria said its member denominations will “act decisively and responsibly” to demand Nigeria’s government “rise up to her responsibility” to protect its people and guarantee freedom of religion. The joint declaration also asks for international pressure on the UN Human Rights Council – of which Nigeria is a member — to form a commission of inquiry “to investigate the atrocities committed against civilians in general, and against Christians in particular in Northern Nigeria, including bringing the perpetrators of violence to justice.”
WESTERN PROGRESSIVES ARE AIDING IN CRUELTY AND ABUSE
It starts with women abandoning their miniskirts, then quitting their classrooms and offices to learn to cook. Soon older men are being match-made with submissive young girls. The bestseller Submission, set in France in 2022, is chilling because the author makes the gradual Islamification of the French republic sound plausible and almost desirable. The hero, a middle-aged professor, soon gets used to the idea of being provided with a nubile wife and lucrative job paid for by the Saudis in return for converting. He justifies this because it will give him a stable family life after years of Western debauchery. Surely this could never happen? Yet there are signs the liberal West is becoming more tolerant of regressive practices in other cultures.
A group of doctors in the US have said “mild” female genital mutilation (FGM) should be accepted as a cultural rite. They suggested re-terming this butchery “female genital alteration”. They claim mild FGM, is no different from other cosmetic surgery and they call opponents of the practice “culturally insensitive”. They are trying to embarrass Westerners from speaking out against FGM. Female genital mutilation, even the “lite” version is designed to prevent women enjoying sex. One grandmother explained: “If we don’t do these things, our girls will grow up horny. They will be like American girls.” Once most in the West would speak out against obviously outdated and cruel practices, but increasingly the West is nervous of condemning antiquated customs we dislike, in case it causes offence.
The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins recently said: “Islam is rife with sexism. What about the poor girls? I would worry if cultural values which are not just alien to our values but are actually unpleasant, were to enter our country. If there was a takeover that would be a major tragedy.” However British High Court judge Justice Pauffley, last year said police and social workers should make allowances when immigrants physically abuse family members. She suggested that in “many communities newly arrived” in Britain, children were slapped in a way that “at first excites the interest of child protection professionals” but warned that their concerns failed to take into account “what is almost certainly a different cultural context”. So British-born boys and girls, she implied, mustn’t be hit, while foreign-born children can be.
But does that also mean that honour killings among newly arrived brides should be ignored? Or that the 1400 children in Rotherham subjected to serial abuse by offenders of mainly Pakistani heritage should understand this was just a cultural misunderstanding by men who see 13-year-old brides as normal? An inquiry found that frontline staff were afraid of raising “ethnic issues for fear of being thought racist”. Prime Minister David Cameron was derided when he suggested targeting language classes at the 190,000 British Muslim women who speak little English. But being unable to speak English means many women are totally dependent on their men. Forcing women into marriage, refusing to give them the choice to work, expecting them to wear a niqab or burka is turning them into lesser beings.
Covering your entire face is a symbol of self-erasure. It is not acceptable to say that these women condone this — it is hard to fight against your community. The suicide rate of British Asian women is twice that of white women. However determined we are to be tolerant, we need to speak up for those who are denied the right to be treated equally. This is about the dignity of both sexes. It took a long time for the West to evolve but we should be proud that children are no longer beaten and women can be as well educated as men, dress how they want and choose their partners. The West is not culturally perfect. Women are still often denied equal pay and suffer domestic violence. But there is a sense that this is wrong. If the West is to keep improving everyone needs to stand up for our liberal heritage.
MANY MUSLIMS ARE SEEING THE TRUTH OF ISLAM AND TURNING TO CHRIST
ISIS has targeted more Muslim-populated areas in Syria. The attacks have left at least 140 dead in Damascus and Homs. The attacks were the deadliest of Syria’s 5-year war. In Damascus, the explosions took place near one of the holiest Shia Muslim shrines. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Dyann Romeijn with Vision Beyond Borders (VBB) said “As ISIS attacks the Christians, they also attack other Muslims. Certain Muslim groups that ISIS doesn’t perceive as radical enough are being persecuted.” The latest attacks took place during ceasefire talks. This is the second time attacks have happened in the last few weeks during the process of ceasefire discussions. The first time, the talks were delayed. But now, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said a “provisional agreement” has been reached with Russia.
There is both joy for the agreement and grief for a devastating loss in the war-torn nation. Millions of minorities and Syrians have fled from the terror of ISIS, leaving everything behind, including family members. In Lebanon alone, nearly one in every five people is a refugee. Romeijn explains this crisis is different than most others. “One of the things that’s overwhelming that we are seeing in this crisis more than some of the others is that the majority of these families were actually middle class families before ISIS came in.” The people had secure homes and jobs, but the persecution of ISIS drove them away and cost them everything. A VBB worker relayed the story of one man who’d saved up $50,000 for retirement. But, ISIS took it all away and left him with nothing.
Yet despite the grief, Romeijn says God is moving. Because less radical Muslims are being persecuted and fleeing, they are more open to seeing the love of God. Their eyes are being opened to see the truth about Islam and there’s a turning to the Gospel in great numbers. A revival is taking place as Muslims turn to Christ, and VBB wants to seize the moment that God has given. VBB has printed 20,000 Arabic New Testament Bibles and is giving them to refugees. The Bibles have study notes in order to make it easier for Muslims to understand. Romeijn explains a New Testament is currently more beneficial to the people than an entire Bible because they will likely start at the very beginning of the book. A New Testament will immediately tell the Gospel story, whereas an entire Bible will contain rules Muslims might get caught up in.
But VBB knows they have more to do. “If you just tell Muslim refugees that Jesus loves them and hand them a Bible when they’re starving, they can’t even comprehend. But, we need to meet their physical needs as well.” VBB is meeting physical needs by providing food, clothing, hygiene kits, and more. When they see genuine interest and care, Muslims want to hear about the Gospel. They’re accepting the Bibles graciously, and Romeijn says more than 1,000 have already been handed out by VBB. Refugees could also use your prayers. After all, only God can bring peace. “There are over 6 million that have fled. It’s obviously no one person or organisation is going to meet the needs. It’s got to be the Body of Christ.”
CHRISTIAN HEALTH WORKER BACK IN COURT OVER SHARING FAITH WITH COLLEAGUE
A Christian occupational therapist is appealing a decision which supported her bosses right to discipline her for sharing her faith with a Muslim colleague. The National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust gave Victoria Wasteney a written warning and suspended her for 9 months, after she prayed with a Muslim colleague and gave her a book about Christianity. The colleague accused her of harassment and bullying. In April 2015, an Employment Tribunal ruled that the Trust did not discriminate against Miss Wasteney by disciplining her but in October a judge granted her permission to appeal. Ms Wasteney claims she’s been discriminated against because of her faith. She said “I conducted all my conversations with my colleague in a sensitive and appropriate way. I knew she was a Muslim and I was respectful of that.
I didn’t force my beliefs on her at any point. There must be room for mutual conversations about faith, where appropriate, in the workplace. Evidence from text messages shows that we had a friendly relationship. I believe that the complaint has been handled in the way that it has because I am a Christian. Her case is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre. Chief Executive Andrea Williams said: “Victoria has been punished and left out in the cold for being honest and open about her faith and this highlights an unhealthy trend. “Do we want to be left with working environments where people are forced to hide their identity and the things that matter most to them? Such environments are detrimental to meaningful working relationships and ultimately to productivity.”
FORMER SEX SLAVE CALLS FOR A UNITED GLOBAL FIGHT AGAINST ISLAMIC STATE
A 21-year-old Iraqi woman who was tortured and kept as a sex slave by Islamic State (ISIS) has escaped and told of the horrific acts the militants are inflicting on women and young girls. Nadia Murad shared her story during a visit to London, where she revealed that ISIS fighters killed six of her brothers and her mother in Sinjar, a town in Northern Iraq. Although her life was spared, Murad was taken as a sex slave along with 5,000 other Yazidi girls and women. She explained that some of the things the extremist group forced them were “more difficult than death. “A year and a half has passed and the genocide against the Yazidis is continuous. We die every day because we see the world silent in the face of our plight,” she said. “My mother saw them killing my brothers and then they took my mother and killed her.”
“I didn’t have a father, all I had was my mother,” Murad continued. “But when they took me to Mosul and raped me, I forgot my mother and brothers because what they were doing to the women was more difficult than death,” she added. “Even now, girls as young as 9 are being rented and sold for sex.” Murad revealed that the Yazidi community has lost trust in the government, as they can’t return to Sinjar without protection. She branded ISIS “criminals” who needed to be tackled by the world community and asked for everyone to “come on board” in fighting the militant group. Over 100 of the Yazidi women who escaped ISIS recently signed up to fight against the jihadist group. The women are fighting alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces, while another 500, ranging in age from 17 to 37, are waiting to be trained.
POPE FRANCIS CALLS FOR DEATH PENALTY TO BE ABOLISHED WORLDWIDE
Pope Francis has called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty, saying the commandment “You shall not kill” was absolute and equally valid for the guilty as for the innocent. He also called on Catholic politicians worldwide to make “a courageous and exemplary gesture” by seeking a moratorium on executions during the Church’s current Holy Year. “I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty,” he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square. The 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church allowed the death penalty in extreme cases for centuries, but the position began to change under the late Pope John Paul, who died in 2005.
The pope added that there was now a growing opposition to the death penalty which denied the person who committed a crime the possibility of rehabilitating themselves.” Francis made the comments in support of an international conference against the death penalty organised by a worldwide Catholic justice group. Francis, who has visited a number of jails since his election as pope also called for better prison conditions. “All men of goodwill are called on to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve prison conditions so that they respect the human dignity of people who have been deprived of their freedom,” he said. The pope also denounced life imprisonment, calling it “a hidden death penalty” and said more should be done to try to rehabilitate even the most hardened of criminals.