Nigerian Crisis Captures Concern at BWA Meeting, Calls for Constructive Engagement
According to the Christian Science Monitor, gunmen killed two elected officials last Saturday who were attending a funeral of Christians killed in an earlier attack in Jos.
Christian reprisal attacks against Muslims "raised the toll to more than 200" dead.
Citing the militant fundamentalist Islamic group known as Boko Haram, the Monitor reported, "Christian groups that initially had agreed to refrain from reprisal attacks have taken up guns, not only for protection, but for vengeance against Muslim communities or Hausa and Fulani travelers who happen to be on the road at the wrong place and the wrong time."
Listening to the Nigerian Baptists through the week at the BWA gathering, one feels their anxiety, their anger.
One senses their deep need for empathy and support from the global Baptist community. One fears that their country is only a lit match away from a brush fire that will burn across the land.
Listening to some non-Nigerian Baptists, one hears their disquiet, their urge to act on the situation in Africa's most populous nation.
But what can one do in a situation when little appears to be doable that advances the common good?
The BWA adopted a resolution that expressed "concern about the discriminatory bombing of places of worship," the slaughtering of Nigerian people and the "abuse of human rights in the name of religion."
After calling for peacemaking efforts and advocating for religious liberty, the resolution urged global Baptists to voice their concerns to "their governments, religious leaders and persons of influence."
Herein is perhaps a kernel for constructive engagement.
We can speak with goodwill Islamic leaders in our own nation, seeking their advice and help about how best to help our fellow Baptists.
Baptists in the United States certainly have trusted friends at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
In fact, ISNA condemned the Boko Haram Christmas Day bombings in Nigeria in late 2011.
"It is a sad day for all people when a simple act of worship or community celebration is marked by violence and innocent deaths," said Imam Mohamed Magid, ISNA's president.
An interviewee in the EthicsDaily.com documentary "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims," Magid said, "We therefore ask all Muslim community members and organizations in Nigeria to lend support to the families who lost loved ones during these attacks, and we urge American Muslims to join them in praying that God may ease the suffering of all those affected by this terrible tragedy."
Magid reiterated ISNA's commitment to the right of Nigerian Christians "to worship freely."
The ISNA news release noted that ISNA had hosted in October two Nigerians – an imam and a pastor from Kaduna – who were working on peacemaking.
In an effort to ensure that ISNA's statement received coverage within the Christian community – to counter the false accusation that Muslims never speak out against Islamic acts of terrorism – EthicsDaily.com posted a news story about the Christmas Day bombings.
That story cited the ISNA statement and provided a link to it.
Additionally, the EthicsDaily.com story quoted Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, who condemned the actions of Boko Haram.
Nigeria's leading Islamic authority, Abubakar, said, "I want to assure all Nigerians that there is no conflict between Muslims and Christians, between Islam and Christianity."
In another statement, the sultan said: "We are totally against what has been happening, we totally condemn all these. Nobody can take anybody's life, it's un-Islamic, it's ungodly, nobody can take anybody's life, all lives are sacred, must be respected and protected by all."
Goodwill Baptists are invested in interfaith dialogue and interfaith action with goodwill Muslims.
I was invited by ISNA to speak on a panel at its annual convention in 2008. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches-USA, chaired the first national Baptist-Muslim dialogue in the United States, which ran across three days in 2009 (and is featured in "Different Books, Common Word").
A search of EthicsDaily.com will reveal numerous articles on how goodwill Baptists are engaging the Islamic community and speaking up for their religious liberty rights.
The grave situation in Nigeria calls for our continued moral investment.
We must speak up for Baptists – and other Christians – in Nigeria without demonizing an entire religion because of the violence of extremists.
We certainly have partners within the Islamic community who know that violence only breeds more violence. We know they adhere to the Quran, which teaches "no compulsion in religion."
Creating good will here through interfaith dialogue and actions may well bear good fruit elsewhere. It certainly challenges and changes the negative narratives that feed conflict.
So, let's speak up and reach out to the Islamic leadership. It's the right thing to do, and it might help our Baptist brothers and sisters in Nigeria.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Watch the trailer below for "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims."