CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AND VIOLENCE IN THE NIGERIAN CHURCH
On June 22, 1980, members of First Baptist Church in Daingerfield, Texas, were singing “More About Jesus” in the morning worship service when a gunman entered and yelled, “This is war!” Then he opened fire, shooting fifteen people and killing five.
It was the first mass murder by shooting at an American church. Sadly, similar acts of violence have occurred at other churches in the years since. In both mass shootings and individual episodes of violence, people continue to die at the hands of violent intruders in houses of worship. Since 1999, when violent episodes at churches and other places of worship began to escalate with alarming frequency, 427 people have died in incidents involving deadly force at faith-based organizations in America, according to church security expert Carl Chinn. During that time, more deadly force incidents have occurred in Baptist churches (135) than in any other denomination
Our families are torn by violence. Our communities are destroyed by violence. Our faith is tested by violence. We have an obligation to respond. Violence — in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world — is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers. Fear of violence is paralyzing and polarizing our communities. The celebration of violence in much of our media, music and even video games is poisoning our children. Beyond the violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts. Hostility, hatred, despair and indifference are at the heart of a growing culture of violence. Verbal violence in our families, communications and talk shows contribute to this culture of violence. Pornography assaults the dignity of women and contributes to violence against them. Our social fabric is being torn apart by a culture of violence that leaves children dead on our streets and families afraid in our homes. Our society seems to be growing numb to human loss and suffering. A nation born in a commitment to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is haunted by death, imprisoned by fear and caught up in the elusive pursuit of protection rather than happiness. A world moving beyond the Cold War is caught up in bloody ethnic, tribal and political conflict. It doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t always this way. We can turn away from violence; we can build communities of greater peace. It begins with a clear conviction: respect for life. Respect for life is not just a slogan or a program; it is a fundamental moral principle flowing from our teaching on the dignity of the human person. It is an approach to life that values people over things. Respect for life must guide the choices we make as individuals and as a society: what we do and won’t do, what we value and consume, whom we admire and whose example we follow, what we support and what we oppose. Respect for human life is the starting point for confronting a culture of violence. The Church community cannot ignore the moral and human costs of so much violence in our midst. These brief reflections are a call to conversion and a framework for action. They propose neither a sweeping plan nor specific programs. They recognize the impressive efforts already underway in dioceses, parishes and schools. They offer a word of support and gratitude for those already engaged in these efforts. We believe the Catholic community brings strong convictions and vital experience which can enrich the national dialogue on how best to overcome the violence that is tearing our nation apart. We know these reflections are not enough. Words cannot stop weapons; statements will not contain hatred. Yet commitment and conversion can change us and together we can change our culture and communities. Person by person, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood, we must take our communities back from the evil and fear that come with so much violence. We believe our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the values, vision and hope that can bring an important measure of peace to our hearts, our homes, and our streets.
CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES IN THE NIGERIAN CHURCHES
In ordinary language, the term crime denotes an unlawful act punishable by a state. The term “crime” does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition, though statutory definitions have been provided for certain purposes. The most popular view is that crime is a category created by law; in other words, something is a crime if declared as such by the relevant and applicable law. One proposed definition is that a crime or offence (or criminal offence) is an act harmful not only to some individual or individuals but also to a community, society or the state (“a public wrong”). Such acts are forbidden and punishable by law
Christianity has holy texts and traditions that promote violence as well as love, and Christian institutions and individuals have acted violently as well as peacefully. The relationship between Christianity and violence is the subject of controversy because some of its teachings advocate peace, love, and compassion, whereas other teachings have been used to justify violence and hatred. The word “violence” can be defined to extend far beyond pain and shedding blood. It carries the meaning of physical force, violent language, fury and, more importantly, forcible interference.
Among common examples of violence in Christianity, J. Denny Weaver lists “(the) crusades, the multiple blessings of wars, warrior popes, support for capital punishment, corporal punishment under the guise of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child,’ justifications of slavery, world-wide colonialism in the name of conversion to Christianity, the systemic violence of women subjected to men”.In the view of many historians, the Constantinian shift turned Christianity from a persecuted into a persecuting religion.
Miroslav Volf has identified the intervention of a “new creation”, as in the Second Coming, as a particular aspect of Christianity that generates violence. Writing about the latter, Volf says: “Beginning at least with Constantine’s conversion, the followers of the Crucified have perpetrated gruesome acts of violence under the sign of the cross. Over the centuries, the seasons of Lent and Holy Week were, for the Jews, times of fear and trepidation; Christians have perpetrated some of the worst pogroms as they remembered the crucifixion of Christ, for which they blamed the Jews. Muslims also associate the cross with violence; crusaders’ rampages were undertaken under the sign of the cross.”
The statement attributed to Jesus “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword” has been interpreted by some as a call to arms for Christians.
Above all, we must come to understand that violence is unacceptable. We must learn again the lesson of Pope Paul VI, “If you want peace, work for justice.” We oppose lawlessness of every kind. Society cannot tolerate an ethic which uses violence to make a point, settle grievances or get what we want. But the path to a more peaceful future is found in a rediscovery of personal responsibility, respect for human life and human dignity, and a recommitment to social justice. The best antidote to violence is hope. People with a stake in society do not destroy communities. Both individuals and institutions should be held accountable for how they attack or enhance the common good. It is not only the “down and out” who must be held accountable, but also the “rich and famous.” Our society needs both more personal responsibility and broader social responsibility to overcome the plague of violence in our land and the lack of peace in our hearts. Finally, we must realize that peace is most fundamentally a gift from God. It is futile to suggest that we can end all violence and bring about full peace merely by our own efforts. This is why we urge the Church community to join all our anti-violence efforts with constant and heartfelt prayer to Almighty God through Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We close these reflections with a word of support and appreciation for those on the front lines — parents, pastors, parish leaders, youth workers, catechists and teachers, prison chaplains, men and women religious. At a time when heroes seem scarce, these people are real heroes and heroines, committing their lives to the service of others, standing against a tide of violence with values of peace and a commitment to justice. We commend peace officers who daily confront violence with fairness and courage and we support those who minister to them and their families. We also offer a word of encouragement to parents who daily confront the cultural messages that influence their children in a way that is so contradictory to basic values of decency, honesty, respect for life and justice. We believe silence and indifference are not options for a community of faith in the midst of such pain, but we recognize words cannot halt violence. We hope this message has helped to outline the moral challenge, affirm the efforts already underway, share the framework we have as Christains and call our community to both conversion and action. The nation has been transfixed by the terrible tragedy of the five year old dropped to his death by two children in Chicago because he wouldn’t steal candy. We must get beyond our fear and frustration, our indifference and ideological blinders, to hear to his Grandmother’s cry at his funeral: “We hope somebody, somewhere, somehow, will do something about the conditions which are causing our children to kill each other.”
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• Collins, John J. Does the Bible Justify Violence? Minneapolis newswatch: Fortress, 2004.
• Hedges, Chris. 2007. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Free Press.
• Lea, Henry Charles. 1961. The Inquisition of the Middle Ages. Abridged. New York times: Macmillan.
• MacMullen, Ramsay, 1989 “Christianizing the Roman Empire: AD 100-400”
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• Mason, Carol. 2002. Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-Life Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
• McTernan, Oliver J. 2003. Violence in God’s name: religion in an age of conflict. Orbis Books.
• Thiery, Daniel E. Polluting the Sacred: Violence, Faith and the Civilizing of Parishioners in Late Medieval England. Leiden: Brill, 2009.