The Anglican Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese, a predominantly Christian area of Southern Plateau State of Nigeria, Rt. Rev. Markus Madugu Dogo made an interesting but challenging reading in his recent Daily Trust interview of 16 November 2018.
The Bishop was asked how religious leaders or scholars could help maintain peace in the society. In fairness to the cleric, the question did not specify whether ‘society’ in that sense was a particular reference to the Nigerian society or to the universal society. But since the Church of Christ is a universal organisation, it would be reasonable to assume that the question referred to society in general.
There is so much conflict in almost every country in the world today. The African continent is riddled with crises. In the Middle East, in Europe, in China, in Korea, even in America, conflicts have kept men in what seems like perpetual bondage. No one seems to be sure of his grounds any more. Anything could happen any time, anyhow. The reflection of the situation we find ourselves in today is captured by how far we have come to adopt the attitude of “survival” in our lives.
In my younger days, it was only “Happy New Year” we wished each other. But today, people wish each other “Happy New Month” and “Happy Sunday”. So, I imagine that if we continue this way, the time might be around the corner when we begin to wish each other “Happy New Day” and then “Happy New Hour” and who knows: “Happy New Seconds!” We survived.
In Nigeria, incessant incidents of kidnapping for ransom, killing for money- making rituals or killing in vengeance as in the case of Fulani cattle rearers and the farming communities of the north, bank and other forms of armed robberies, armed insurgencies and so many similar conflicts have become the daily experience of the people.
The journalist wanted to know from the learned cleric how Church leaders and scholars could help maintain sanity in the society. But the bishop preferred to be evasive. His answer was that most of the conflicts in Nigeria had to do with religious terrorism. Religious fanaticism and the conflicts emanating from it, the bishop said, predicated on poor scholarship of the Scriptures. Many Christian and Muslim leaders lack a complete knowledge of their religion and so indoctrinate their followers with false information that makes the polity volatile and fertile for crises. That did not exactly answer the question, which prompted me to ask if the Church was actually not failing in its responsibility as the custodian of the nation’s conscience.
Why does it appear that there is so much misunderstanding between Muslims and their Christian neighbours everywhere – so much so that anyone who is not essentially a Muslim is regarded by them as an infidel? And why have Christian communities failed to put up a straight conversation with their Muslim counterparts which would bring home to them the fact that they cannot possibly regard Christians as infidels? That would be practical evangelism, if you ask me and one that every committed Christian must learn to practise.
So, to help Bishop Dogo clarify that vexatious question, the approach that every professed Christian and not only Christian leaders and scholars should adopt is to first create an atmosphere of understanding between Christians and Muslims. That atmosphere would then precede a peace condition that is based on an unambiguous understanding.
The Christian starts a conversation by asking the Muslim if he believes that Jesus (Esa) was a prophet of God. And if the Muslim knows his Koran well, he will certainly say ‘yes’. But he will also be quick to explain that what Muslims don’t believe is that Jesus was actually the Son of God as Christians assert.
The Christian explains. Everyone knows that God did not marry or have a wife and therefore could not have had a son in a biological sense. But it is easy to understand what Christians mean when they say Jesus was the son of God.
In actual fact, Jesus referred indirectly to himself as the son of God only once or so. Most times he called himself “the son of man.” But when Christians call Jesus the son of God, it is much the same way the Arabs are called “sons of the desert”. The desert does not marry and cannot have children in a biological sense. So, calling the Arabs the sons of the desert simply means that they know the ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the desert, just as Jesus knew the ‘in’ and ‘out’ of God. And that is why Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
So, the argument becomes: if the Muslims believe in Jesus as a special prophet of God, how then can they turn around and call his followers infidels? It doesn’t make sense. What could possibly make sense is that some religious teachers could be using religious indoctrination to foment social trouble by creating conditions of conflict. Such ‘clerics’ deserve to be fished out and adequately punished by government. So, one way for Christian leaders, scholars and Christians generally to help diffuse tension in the country is by preaching and teaching as “people of the book”, countermanding the poisonous indoctrination perpetrated by some irresponsible, blood-sucking clerics who pitch the Muslims against their Christian brothers.
Another way Christian leaders can help bring about peace in the country is to initiate “handshake meetings” between top Muslim clerics and top Christian leaders in ‘retreats’. In fact, government can sponsor such retreats. A retreat could last for about 4 days or even a week. And during those days, with the organisers aiming to create and enhance an atmosphere of unity and peace in the country, top Muslim scholars and top Christian scholars from other parts of the world like America, Britain, Australia, South Africa and so on, can be invited to deliver speeches on given topics.
And all the time, the reason for the retreat will remain at the back of the minds of its organisers and they will not lose sight of what they want the country to achieve through their deliberations, which is unity in the country that predicates on a proper understanding that Muslims and Christians are brothers and not enemies. After the treaty, participants will be expected to carry the messages to the grassroots through the various churches and mosques under their domain.
At school level, debates can be sponsored by staff of two neighbouring schools, preferably an Islamic school and a Christian school or a community school to trash some knotty ideas about Muslim-Christian relationships. A typical example is the recent case where a school in Lagos was closed because of agitations about the wearing of jihab at school. This issue of Muslim students being allowed to wear jihab in public schools has been controversial for some time now and has even gone to as far as the Supreme Court in an attempt to bring justice to all concerned. But students can actually debate on that and the many other issues that tend to put Christian students and Muslim students apart from understanding their shared responsibility of up keeping the integrity of their country both at home and overseas. Indeed, if the biases between Muslim and Christian students were tackled in this way, much cohesion would be achieved for the youths, bearing in mind that they are the leaders of tomorrow. Again, Christian heads of schools and institutions of higher learning can come in this way.
But those who have no doubts in the minds, the many who believe that the church could actually be on its way to failing in its responsibility as the custodian of the nation’s conscience, point to the manner some so-called “Christian leaders” emphasise materialism in their churches. These days, there seems to be an intense competition among clerics of the cyber churches about who owns the most expensive cars and private jets. It is no longer the question of “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” as the Gospel expostulates in Matthew 22: 21. Today, there is practically no difference between God and Caesar and many Nigerian Christians would rather worship Caesar’s head that is inscribed on the denary. When Christian leaders live a life of humility such that Christ taught with so many illustrations like the widow’s mite, Lazarus and the rich man, the rich noble who wanted to know what he would do to inherit the kingdom of God and many more illustrations, they would be on their way to encouraging their Muslim brothers and sisters to understand and appreciate that money is not everything. Life is, and both are not interchangeable.
Both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria have, unfortunately come to believe that “money answers all things” and that too is desperately fanning the embers of violence and impunity. That is a major cause of injustice in the society resulting in rapes, murder, domestic violence, land grabbing and other forms of violations against human rights. If Christian leaders were to set the right examples, there would be peace and unity in the land. God said: if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. And if you ask me, who do I ask if the Church of Christ is not actually failing in its responsibility as the custodian of the conscience of the nation. Who actually do I ask?
- Mr Asinugo is the author of “The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari” and Publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine.
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