How then are we as believers to respond to the current spade of insurgency directed against us as Christians. The responses of Christian leaders, since the advent of this current blood letting terrorism has been anything but unanimity. The Crisis met us in 2011 when we were un-prepared to speak with one voice as to how to tackle this menace. We kept mute in the beginning. And when we started reacting to this menace our responses were diverse in nature and lacking in Unity of purpose.
Some of the responses tended to be absolutely pacifistic in nature.This is, those who believe that the only Christian response to terrorist activities against her, should be fasting, praying and repentance. A researcher into Christian persecution in the world said recently that Some of the communities that have this kind of pacifist response alone no longer exist as Christian today” (cf. Durie).
Other resposnses were moderately pacifist, this is a combination of fasting, praying, repentance, but in addition, the readiness to employ the use of reasonable and proportionate force as a way of self defence and deterrence to the occurrence of greater
The Magisterium on Legitimacy of Self Defence
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as an act of love toward one self, and in defence of God’s gift of life. The theological authorities of the Church are emphatic: Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.”
The Magisterium is further explicit on this subject matter when it teaches that: “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. CCC, 2264 – 2266, p. 482).
What then are we to say in the light of these troubling moments in our Nation’s history? We must avoid any form of reductionism in the interpretation of Jesus’s teaching on how to respond to evil. We should take the teaching of Christ in its totality as a single Corpus. That does not mean individual Christians cannot take to absolute pacifism. But this cannot become normative for all. In the same vein, we can say Christianity has some elements of Pacifism, but it is not an absolutely Pacifist Religion. Christians reserve the right to employ proportionate use of force not only as a deterrent, but as a legitimate way to ward off unjust aggression.
Priests whose orientation is that of “absolute pacifism” cannot rightly impose such position on the communities they lead. In the light of current challenges, and threats to obliterate entire Christian communities, they must teach their communities the whole truth, and allow them to decide whether their best option in the face of life-threatining terrorist activities, their response should be that of fight or flight. We cannot keep running before evil even if government is unable to protect us.
This menace must be confronted head-on. We must drop all cowardice and timidity under the false guise of obedience or imitation of Jesus. Listening to the recent statement of Shekau, the Boko Haram seems to be more afraid of the the Civilian JTF than the Soldiers. His attacks were directed more to this group than the military.
And that is why I was impressed with the decision of the other 10,000 youths, local hunters, former soldiers and police (all of them displaced persons of Bama and other localities) who converged at Maiduguri vowing to push back the advance of the insurgents with sticks and stones, which seems to be all they have. They are forced to reason this way because before their very eyes, they have seen army barracks taken over at Bama, and hundreds of soldiers seen to have abandoned their post with some crossing the border to the Cameroons.
We should encourage “community policing”. While we are called to pray fervently to the Lord to resolve this current spade of terrorism in our midst without us having to employ the use of force as believers, we must at the same time remain vigilant to ward off any aggression intended to wipe out Christians and their faith.
Evangelization as we understand from the first African Synod is multifaceted, with sometime seeming contradictory variants like: Proclamation, Dialogue, Inculturation, Action for Justice and Peace, Use of the Media etc. One cannot evangelize using all these means or variants at one and the same.
Circumstances will determine which is the most effective to be employed at each given time to maximize results. This to me holds true about turning the other cheek on one hand and the imperative to decisive action that includes the use of legitimate, proportionate and responsible force on the other. The teachings of Jesus must be taken in their entirety, and not selectively.
*Being an excerpt from the Homily of late Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri during the priestly silver jubilee celebration of Bishop Dunia and his classmates in Auchi, Edo state on 13/92014.