Over the recent past, events in the Central African Republic have brought to the fore a phenomenon which, though still in its infancy, may yet bode a profound threat to world peace. A weekly summed this phenomenon succinctly thus: ‘Christian Radicalism: From Alms to Arms’.
What, you may ask, is the significance, and what is the rationale behind it? Religious radicalism has hounded the world for as long as the world’s people have had different religions. In their fervent and completely innocent desire to propagate, consolidate and defend their religions in many parts of the world, adherents have fallen prey, especially when resistance was offered to their overtures, to the temptation to resort to violence as a means of spreading their faith.
The matter gained notoriety (and this should not be taken as a veiled attack on Muslims), with the advent of Islam in 7th century Arabia. Though it began in a humble way, the rejection of Mohammed’s claim to being a prophet by the Jews and Christians living in the Arabian Peninsula left him embittered. The legacy? Some well-placed verses in the Koran on how to deal with non-Muslims, explicitly advocating their subjugation and elimination, that resulted in the early spread of Islam by the sword and, in later times, in that phenomenon which is the quintessential definition of terrorism.
When Pope Urban II exhorted European Christendom, in 1095, to go to the defense of those lands which had fallen in the hands of Muslims, he had the very holy intentions of relieving Christians living under Muslim oppression. But what later came to be called Crusades actually ended up being revenge attacks on Muslims, characterized by massacres and rapes and gross violations of human rights. Pope Urban’s intention was not to kill, but rather to preserve, life (Pope Urban’s Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095). The misinterpretation of his intentions left in the Christian-Muslim divide a cleft that is yet to be bridged.
Which brings us to the present issue of Christian Radicalism. The events which have unfolded in the Central African Republic in the recent past have highlighted what can happen when people misuse the precepts of their religion. When Michel Djotodia launched a successful coup d’état, backed by Seleka rebels, the majority Christian population of CAR rose up in arms, seeking to get him out. The situation spiraled out of control, and sectarian violence spread throughout the country, leading to the displacement of hundreds of thousands.
The radicalism came when the ‘Christian’ militants gained the upper hand, and under the banner of the ‘Anti-balaka’, began to terrorise Muslims, drawing from non-existent Christian precepts. While this is alarming, it is important to clarify some matters. Christianity is an inherently peaceful religion, never advocating for violence, but rather love, for one’s enemy (Matt 5:44). The Church’s proclamation on the relationship between Christians and non-Christians is also an exhortation to love and understanding (Paul VI, Nostra Aetate, 1965).
Regardless of what these extremists might say, Christianity will remain a religion of peace, bringing peace to all the men of the world, be they Christians or not. The moment a christian departs from this path, he ceases to be one. Christianity can never be used to justify war, for the ‘sword’ that Christ brought to the world (Matt 10:34) is not an external one, but rather a continuous fight against self in the quest to inherit the kingdom of heaven. There is a silver lining, though, in the situation in the CAR: it has been established that Catholic priests there sheltered many Muslim refugees in their churches at great risk to their own lives, refusing to surrender them to death despite threats from their ‘Christian’ brothers. This, indeed, is one of the highest manifestations of the Christian spirit.
It is impossible for me to predict how the new phenomenon will impact the world, and it would be foolish of me to try. But one thing is for certain: whatever these animals are fighting for, it is not Christianity.
by Mathew Odhiambo