Muslims are dying in Central African Republic (CAR). Actually, people have been dying in the country for weeks now. Nothing new there, people die all the time.
But reports say that these Muslims are dying in the hands of Christians. Innocent men and women are being massacred, not because of any crime they have committed, but because they have a different religious affiliation. Children are murdered because they were born in the “wrong” religion. In a way, this is both news and not news.
Religious extremists commit such heinous crimes all the time. Christians should not be surprised that fellow believers are being killed in the Middle East. The Bible says this will happen. It is to be expected and acknowledged, even if it will not be enjoyed. But should Christians be surprised that Muslims are dying at the hands of Christians?
DISOWNING THE EXTREMISTS
As Christians, reports of fellow Christians killing people who belong to a different religion are disturbing. And we are quick to dismiss them as the work of “religious extremists” who are not true Christians. We are careful to qualify how we refer to such people, as “professing” Christians who are not true Christians at all. We do not want to be associated with such barbarism. Because we know the Jesus we worship is a peaceful King. A king who embraced women and adored children, no matter which god they worshiped or where they did their worshiping. Our Jesus vehemently condemned the killing of the innocent — the last and the least among us.
But don’t you feel a tinge of guilt even when you stand to use such an argument to disown the massacres happening in CAR? I do. I feel guilty because I have heard the exact same arguments before — from Muslims, disowning terrorists as extremists and fanatics unworthy of the call of Allah. It is so easy for us to assume that Islam is a religion of violence and cite global terrorism as the perfect example. But none of us would stomach the idea that the crusades, or the Central African Republic, are examples of violence carried out in the name of the one true “Christian” God.
OUR VIOLENT HEARTS
The truth is that the violence in the human heart is not a product of any religion. Almost all religious texts teach pacifism and violence, if any, is usually a last and desperate resort. Extremism is a human malady, and it should not be blamed on any god, or religion. I bring this distinction to light because I want:
- To call on fellow Christians to learn the folly of making sweeping statements about other religions, and
- To call us to pray for persecuted Muslims.
I am afraid that call 2 might be coming a bit too late. But better late than never. First, the situation in Central African Republic is an eye-opener on how we talk about other religions. For many of us, we want to show the validity of Christianity by contrasting it to the violence exhibited by professing Muslims. But the problem with such an apologetic is that it is inadequate. This defense of Christianity is faced with the challenge of reverse extremism as being exhibited in CAR. Furthermore, it distracts our evangelistic efforts from the central message of the Gospel.
Secondly, I call us to pray for persecuted Muslims on the basis of Jesus’ great command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It is easy to get close-minded and see any act of violence targeting Christians in areas such as the Middle East as an outright rejection of the Gospel or the message of the Cross. While this is sometimes the case, it is not always true that Christians in Islamic countries are being persecuted because people have heard the message of the Cross and chosen to respond with violence against it. Most of the reasons behind “religious” persecutions are usually political. Central African Republic is a good example, Muslims are not being killed just because they worship Allah, they are being killed because their worship of Allah associates them with a Muslim rebel government.
It is in light of this political reality that I call on my fellow Christians to pray for persecuted Muslims in Central African Republic, and the world over. Pray against the violence of the human heart, that respects no God or religion. Pray for the innocent and the defenseless dying in a conflict they can barely understand. And pray for peace in CAR and other parts of the world where political conflicts shrouded in religion continue to devastate whole communities and destroy lives.
Let the atrocities by “professing” Christians in the Central African Republic be a wake-up call to the rest of us. A wake-up call to refine our apologetic and re-visit our Gospel. Let this be a wake-up call to realize that Jesus is at the core of our faith, and it is faith in Him, not the other elements of our religion, that sets us apart from the rest. Let us not deceive ourselves that we are immune to similar religious extremism in our various contexts. It is only by the grace of God that we remember the Prince of Peace at such a time as this, and not only strive to be like Him, but also remember to worship Him and pray to Him.
For the fame of His name.