Friday, May 9, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls: Righteous, compassionate justice

From Toledo, IA
Nate Hosler, with the
Church of the Brethren Office
of Public Witness
The Scripture from Ephesians guiding yesterday's prayers for the abducted girls in Nigeria focused on the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the name above all names, the name to which ultimately every knee on earth and in heaven will bow, and every tongue will confess as "Lord."

I'm alluding there to another Scripture, this from Philippians 2:1-11, which talks about the kenotic/self-emptying nature of Jesus' lordship. It is not a lordship enforced by the power of the sword, but rather it's a power born of suffering and absorbing the world's violence. It is a path that Jesus calls his disciples to talk, individually and collectively in his body, the church. We are to be a crucifom/cross-shaped people.

Today's daily prayer focuses on God's justice, which in this situation we actively and desperately desire. In the face of such horror, even people far separated from it such as myself want to see these innocent girls redeemed and the men responsible brought to face justice. But both our burning desire for justice and concrete expressions of justice must themselves be brought under the Lordship of Christ. We must think carefully about what God's righteous, compassionate justice might look like even in horrific situations such as this.

Yesterday I saw a provocative post written by a Nigerian-American woman, Jumoke Balogun: Dear Americans, Your Hashtags Won’t #BringBackOurGirls. You Might Actually Be Making Things Worse. I discovered it immediately after posting yesterday's refection. I'm American and I used the hashtag in my post title (and did again with this one). Uh oh. I certainly don't want to make things worse, so I read the post with great interest.  Here's a resonant passage:
It heartens me that you’ve taken up the mantle of spreading “awareness” about the 200+ girls who were abducted from their school in Chibok; it heartens me that you’ve heard the cries of mothers and fathers who go yet another day without their child. It’s nice that you care. ... Here’s the thing though, when you pressure Western powers, particularly the American government to get involved in African affairs and when you champion military intervention, you become part of a much larger problem. You become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa. This is not good.
When I see Christians in the U.S. (including some fellow Brethren) immediately jumping to petitioning the U.S. government to step in and "help" in this situation, I get nervous for all the reasons that Balogun cites (and she references numerous data about US involvement across Africa, which I've also been tracking). The very recent misadventures of US military involvement in various African states has led to some pretty horrific unintended consequences, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone on the planet right now because they're of the same nature as US involvement in any number of countries around the globe in the past few decades.

Paul Schrag, in an editorial for the Mennonite World Review, cites how Christians in Nigeria, including the EYN, are struggling to resists the demon of violent retaliation even in the face of protracted violence in their country.
As the leader of a historic peace church, (Samuel Dante) Dali says he must protect himself from being overtaken by hatred. He views the militants as victims of demonic possession. “A true Muslim would never kill anybody,” he says. His greatest fear is that he and his people will succumb to a spirit of enmity and allow the demon to possess them as well. ... Whether persecuted or comfortable, Christians everywhere must battle the evil spirit of hatred — and its companions, prejudice and suspicion. Dali can see clearly the demon that stalks him. He knows whom he might hate, and he would recognize the emotion if he allowed it to overtake his soul.
For Christians who don't have the supposed privilege of stable host societies and powerful forces that maintain a relatively luxurious way of life (i.e. most of the Christians in the world), isn't it ironic that it's the church under persecution who is struggling mightily to embody the way of peace Jesus calls all Christians to?

The prayer guide for today also has this very important passage from a CoB Annual Conference statement on nonviolence in the way of Jesus. I'll quote the entire passage:
God's revelation in Jesus Christ provides a very different sort of answer to the perennial questions intended to justify violence on behalf of victims. Yes, disciples are to care deeply about victims and act on their behalf. But what they do should be in accord with the teachings and spirit of Jesus. Moving against the life of another human being is never in harmony with what God has revealed in Jesus... Even when terrible inhumanities are being threatened or perpetrated, disciples refuse to become agents or advocates of violence. They cry out with victims. They intercede and pray against the powers of destruction. They may be called into actual accompaniment of victims, sharing their jeopardy, working at mediation, and joining with them in nonviolent resistance to those who victimize them. They seek the Spirit's guidance into creative initiatives that can show the judging love of God to those who move against others.... God's intent proclaimed in the Gospel is that all human beings, individually and corporately, give themselves to Jesus Christ and his way. Disciples should strive to make that intent manifest in their lives and witness. They must not, therefore, give their support and blessing to governmental policies and actions that are in stark opposition to the way of Jesus. They seek to propose and promote policies and actions by government that do have some congruence with his way.
The "some" in the last sentence is incredibly, incredibly important. Yes, we Christians live on planet earth and must engage with the powers of this fallen age. Sometimes large, powerful governments can enact policies and actions that have some congruence with Jesus' way. But there are other powers also at work in those seats of government, and not every spirit is of God, so I would argue any such congruence is very tenuous and rare.

May God grant vision, imagination, and power to those who can take concrete steps toward the rescue of these girls and bringing righteous, compassionate justice to the perpetrators of such evil. And may God stay the hand of those who would be too quick to assume and seek a farcical justice that would only give birth to further injustice and more, horrendous unintended consequences. And as the prayer guide suggests: "Pray that the girls will put their trust in God and not feel forgotten."

Kyrie eleison. Lord, hear our prayers for justice. Spirit, guide our prayers for justice. Amen.

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