Presentation on theme: "Engaging Christian faith communities in development in the context of violence Obaji Agbiji, Research Institute for Theology & Religion, UNISA."— Presentation transcript:
Engaging Christian faith communities in development in the context of violence Obaji Agbiji, Research Institute for Theology & Religion, UNISA.
1. Introduction A number of African Christian faith communities are experiencing a high proportion of violence in their respective countries e.g. Nigeria, Kenya & Cameroon. Sources of violence include ethnicity & poverty. Militant Islam (e.g. Boko Haram, Al-Shabab) accounts for the highest rate of violence.
1.Intro. cont. Christian faith communities must come to terms with the fact that militant Islam and poverty will continue to constitute a huge challenge to the church and as such must evolve a sustainable approach to respond to the challenges. Unlike Galtung’s structural violence theory, Ninian Smart’s (1996) phenomenology of religion could assist us understand the causes of Islamic violence against churches in Africa.
1.Intro. Cont. Violence is injurious or lethal harm meted out through physical actions in the context of war or terrorism. (Cavanaugh 2009:8). Religious violence is a religiously motivated injurious or lethal harm meted out by a person or group of persons to other persons or groups of persons who are perceived to be of a different religious view. Development in turn refers to spiritual and material progress that results in the general wellbeing of humans, the environment and socio-political and economic systems in a given society (Agbiji 2012:21).
1.Intro. Cont. I will use the Nigerian Christian faith community and the Nigerian context as an example to discuss how the church can engage in development in a violent environment. I will first pay attention to the socio-political and religious challenges of Nigeria and the activities of Boko Haram before proceeding to give an account of how the church is so far engaging in development in the face of intense violence. I will then propose the engagement of the concept of Christian diaconia as a pertinent approach that could deepen the response of Christian faith communities to the challenges of underdevelopment and militant Islam in Nigeria.
2.The Nigerian socio-political and religious context Nigeria is multi-ethnic, multi-religious and underdeveloped, with a large population of her youth unemployed. Within the structural violence approach, - a fertile ground for dangerous persons or groups to find support for terrorism (Olojo 2013:1,2; Harnischfeger 2014:35; Carson 2012). “Politics is religionised and religion is politicised” with Islam showing the trongest religion-politics nexus (Agbiboa 2013:3, 8; Mohammed 2014:23).
2.The Nigerian socio-political and religious context cont. Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad popularly known as Boko Haram came to public notice in Nigeria in 2009 (Mohammed 2014:9) and the group can be seen in the broader context of Islamic movements that espouses unorthodox beliefs and unconventional religious practices. These groups are often linked to ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria, most notably the Maitatsine group active in the 1980s (Popular Discourses 2012:120). The rise and activities of Boko Haram is not based on a protest against deteriorating living conditions. The statements of its leaders (Yusuf & Shekau) insist on the religious motives for their insurrection: “This is a war between Muslims and non- Muslims…This is not a tribal war, nor is it … a war for financial gains, it is solely a religious war” (Harnischfeger 2014:35).
2.The Nigerian socio-political and religious context cont. So far, Boko Haram has carried out numerous systematic attacks on churches and Christians in northern and central Nigeria during its campaign of violence. Attacks include abductions (including the 250 girls from Chibok), forced conversions, attacks in markets and during Christian services using guns, improvised devices, swords or suicide bombers (HRW 2012:44,45).
3. The response of the Church to poverty and Islamic militancy Prayer Relief & Social services Advocacy Inter-religious dialogue Retaliation (sometimes)
3. The response of the Church to poverty and Islamic militancy cont. Cameron Thomas, international Christian Concern Regional Manager for Africa has noted that “for years, the Christian population of northern Nigeria has faced a devastating offensive by Islamic militants that has yet to be effectively countered”. He further adds: "Today, the bloodied soil of Kwada and Kautikari villages serve as a heart- rending cry for greater action to ensure the safety of Christians wishing to exercise their right to practice their beliefs free from fear of retribution at the barrel of gun or trigger of an explosive" (Zaimov 2014).
4. The concept of diaconia and its social implication in addressing poverty and Islamic militancy Diaconia is hardly used in many African Christian communities including the Nigerian ecclesial community, but the Church has always been involved in social services that are diaconial in nature. It seems to me that the time has now come for the church in Africa to make adequate use of the concept.
4. The concept of diaconia and its social implication in addressing poverty and Islamic militancy cont. The content of the concept of diaconia speaks directly to the needs of the African context and at the same time reveals the essence of the church in response to the needs of the society. The concept of diaconia is strongly rooted in the history of the Christian church and could provide a common ground for the much needed collaborative engagement between the church in Nigeria, other African societies and other Christian communities in other parts of the world. The need for collaborative engagement extends beyond ecclesial institutions & local environments is particularly pertinent in addressing poverty and Islamic militancy in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.
4. The concept of diaconia and its social implication in addressing poverty and Islamic militancy cont. The ultimate goal of Christian diaconia is the salvation of humankind from everything which oppresses, enslaves, intimidates, destroys and distorts the image of God, and in doing so, to open the way to salvation. This understanding of diaconia inevitably calls the Christian community to a life of individual and cooperate sacrifice, self-denial and sometimes even martyrdom. The ministry of Christian diaconia ministers to the Christian community and to all who come within range of its knowledge and loving care. The object of Christian diaconia is to overcome evil, by offering deliverance from oppression and injustice. For this reason, diaconia is an essential element that sustains the life and growth of the church (Ecumenical documents nd:176,177).
4. The concept of diaconia and its social implication in addressing poverty and Islamic militancy cont. Without undermining the enormous task of fulfilling such an ambitious endeavour in the Nigerian society given the religious, socio- political and economic challenges being posed by Boko Haram, such a diaconal ministry could assist in fostering neighbourly love, building of inclusive communities, caring for creation and struggling for justice.
4. The concept of diaconia and its social implication in addressing poverty and Islamic militancy cont. The diaconial ministry of Christian faith communities must be engaged at all levels of the church’s existence and must be expressed at least in three dimensions: 1. Diaconia of neighbourly love – transforming faith into action. 2. Building inclusive communities through Christian diaconia - hospitality which has the potential of transmitting its nature to the larger society.
4. The concept of diaconia and its social implication in addressing poverty and Islamic militancy cont. 3. Diaconia of justice and reconciliation - ensuring that human life must be protected from conception to the grave. Working for the just distribution of the world’s resources among Christians and the larger society within the local context and beyond. Support people whose dignity is violated through pastoral care, awareness campaigns, support groups, etc. Such endeavours should also be accompanied by non-violence, peace, reconciliation, legal actions against perpetrators of injustice and preventive measures. Build synergy with government and civil society (Higginson 2009) to ensure adequate security for Christians and other vulnerable persons.
5. Conclusion The struggle of African Christian communities to combat poverty and religious violence in their respective contexts is enormous and frightening. In the end, the church may be well-off or worse-off depending on her approach to the crisis.