Genocide. The word immediately conjures up horrific scenes of the darkest hours of human history.
Do we, as the church, hold these same dark images in our minds when we hear the word genocide?
The Holocaust was the most systematic genocide in history.
Beginning with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the Nazi regime methodically conducted a campaign of discrimination and demonization, which culminated in the extermination of two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe – 6 million people – by 1945.
Let that number sink in – 6 million people is equal to the population of Washington, D.C.
The liberating Allied forces of WWII documented the evidence in concentration camps in places like Auschwitz and Dachau. Surviving prisoners were photographed; their bodies emaciated and their eyes hollow.
Mountains of eyeglasses, shoes, watches, jewelry – all stripped from prisoners – only begin to put tangible images to the 6 million faces of innocent people who were starved, gassed and their lives extinguished during the Holocaust.
Following WWII, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, legally defining the crime of genocide for the first time. The world community cried out, “Never again.”
Then in 1975, the Khmer Rouge regime came to power in Cambodia and killed off 2 million citizens, over one-fifth of the country’s population.
In Rwanda in 1994, within the span of 100 days, close to 1 million Tutsi and Hutu moderates were killed in a mass butchering.
The church was not only complicit in this genocide, but churches, pastors, priests and nuns were active participant leaders in the killings.
In Bosnia in 1995, Serbian forces undertook a campaign of ethnic cleansing, killing 100,000 Muslim Bosnians, mostly men and boys. Two million people were displaced as they were forced to flee their homeland.
In Myanmar, between 2017 and 2018, paramilitary forces launched a campaign against the Rohingya, murdering, raping and burning villages in Rakhine state.
Over 1 million Rohingya have fled their homes to seek refuge in Bangladesh and surrounding countries. Today, in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh, over 750,000 Rohingya refugees are crowded into makeshift camps.
Genocide is often preceded and accompanied by hate speech, which demonizes the “other” and seemingly justifies the killing.
Genocide may also be couched as “ethnic cleansing” by its perpetrators and a complicit world community. By international law, genocide requires U.N. intervention, but “ethnic cleansing” does not.
Genocide is used as a political and economic tool. The goal is to ultimately subjugate or eliminate a group of people.
America’s own Christian history is stained by the genocide of Native American tribes and the brutal kidnapping and enslavement of Africans.
Large segments of the global church have stood by silently as discrimination and hate have been perpetrated against a category of people, be it a race, ethnic group or religion.
By the time hate moves those in power to kill and eradicate a people, the collective voice of the church has too often been muted.
As the global church, we must cultivate a world that has no tolerance for hate and genocide.
We must fight against discrimination and injustice. We must stand with the oppressed while actively working to stop the oppressors.
We must be vocal with our politicians and governments to demand intervention when mass atrocities are taking place.
Jesus valued people – all people: women, men, children, the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, the prisoners, the tax collectors, the fishermen, Jews and gentiles.
Christians are to do likewise. We cannot love our neighbor as ourselves while turning a blind eye to evil.
Genocide is one of the worst evils human beings perpetrate against other human beings. Let us never again allow our voices to be muted.
We must speak up and speak out against injustice and discrimination long before hate has the opportunity to take root.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles published this week in recognition of April as Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month.