#BringBackOurGirls

Human trafficking. Dehumanization and abuse of women and girls. Intertwined roots in execrable theology.

That, dear reader, is a hat trick of blog post subjects for me if ever there was one. I determined I would write a post on the 270 kidnapped Nigerian school girls and the global response, hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. I had the lede written in my head by the time I finished walking our kids to school. A concluding call to action was simply a given.

But before I could actually write it, a few links about this story came across my feeds. I clicked on one. That link led to other links. Instead of writing, I read.

Finally something occurred to me. Something as important as it is obvious.

I don’t know a damn thing about Nigeria.

To paraphrase Col. Nathan R. Jessup, I’m an educated man, but I don’t know the first thing about the socio-economic, religious or political realities of Nigeria. I have no business suggesting a course of action.

Instead, how about we let Nigerians speak for themselves? How about we listen to those who are actually there? Some of these stories are a little longer than the typical internet post. They may take some investment on your part to get through them. They are difficult reads about horrific – though all too real – actions. Yet, we live in the world that is even as we strive to let God’s Holy Spirit work in and through us to create the world as God intends. Let us not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear – or an ignorant tongue – to the suffering of our Nigerian sisters and brothers.

Here then, are a few articles I’ve happened upon. Please share others in the comments.

From where were the girls taken?

#bringbackourgirls map

 

A survivor’s story.

I thought it was the end of my life,” Deborah Sanya told me by phone on Monday from Chibok, a tiny town of farmers in northeastern Nigeria. “There were many, many of them.” Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, kidnapped Sanya and at least two hundred of her classmates from a girls’ secondary school in Chibok more than two weeks ago.

 

Nigerian-American author, Teju Cole on #BringBackOurGirls.

Much as we might wish this to be a singular issue with a clear solution, it isn’t and cannot be. It never was.

 

This kidnapping isn’t the first act of terror by Boko Haram. Or the Nigerian government.

An increase in attacks by Boko Haram and uncontrolled reprisals by Nigeria’s security forces has seen the death toll in North East Nigeria rise to at least 1,500 people, more than half of whom are civilians, in the first three months of 2014.

 

The kidnapping wasn’t the last act of terror by Boko Haram.

Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there.

 

Nigeria is an incredibly complex place.

This is twisted but true: attention itself can be the reward Boko Haram seeks, as it too often the case with groups like that which terrorize their own region. Rewarding their thirst for attention can lead them to repeat the same act that worked so well before. Kidnap girls, which perhaps unexpectedly generates global outrage this time, but now the Great Satan is involved: rinse, repeat.

 

The latest: Nigerian officials know the attack was coming and couldn’t stop it.

After independently verifying information based on multiple interviews with credible sources, the organization today revealed that the Nigerian security forces had more than four hours of advance warning about the attack but did not do enough to stop it.

So what can we do? Read, learn, listen, speak, pray.

May the God of the universe, who yearns for peace with justice for all humanity be served by me, by you, by the people of Nigeria, by governments near and far, by all.

 

 

 

 

 

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IL gets it right

[Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. Whatever I write for eNews usually ends up here too. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

Pop Quiz time! Grab the nearest Bible and find this verse: “God helps those who help themselves.”

…Time’s up! Did you find it?

I hope not, because it’s not there. While frequently quoted as scripture, it was actually Benjamin Franklin who said it. (As often noted in this space, Scripture actually has the exact opposite to say: God helps the helpless and calls his followers to do the same. But the great divide between those two ideas is a post for another day…)

I thought of that “verse” today because I just discovered that I’ve been guilty of something similar. For years I’ve heard – and repeated – that the great 20th Century theologian, Karl Barth, instructed we who would preach and teach the faith to do so “with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

Turns out, Barth said some things in that vein, but never actually said that. What kind of in-depth investigative journalism was required to learn this? About 30 seconds of Google searching and then reading. Wow.

As you may have already guessed, I was thinking about that Barth “quote” this week because of this 1A, above the fold, top headline of the week: “Illinois Bans Death Penalty.” (Though today you could make a strong case that the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan have taken over that top spot.)

Excuse me. That should probably read: ILLINOIS BANS DEATH PENALTY. That’s how it was in the print version of this Chicago Tribune’s story. For reasons unknown to me, the online version has a different headline. (For comparison sake, the Sun-Times’ version.)

That’s just huge, huge news; perhaps even cause for (muted) celebration. For we, the people of The United Methodist Church, have this to say:

We oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

– ¶164G Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

That’s actually the conclusion of the Death Penalty section of the Social Principles. Here’s how we get there:

¶164 Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

The Political Community:

While our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state, we acknowledge the vital function of government as a principal vehicle for the ordering of society. Because we know ourselves to be responsible to God for social and political life, we declare the following relative to governments:

…G. The Death Penalty

We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

Offered as scripture references to support the UMC position are:

Matthew 5:38-39 – Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount “turn the other check” teaching on non-violent resistance to oppression and abuse.

John 8:1-10 – Jesus’ response to the crowd looking to stone to death a woman caught committing adultery (with no mention of punishment for the man!), “let anyone among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

As you would expect, the Board of Church and Society (which is the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church), leads the way in turning this statement of faith into action. To the words of the Social Principles and the Scripture references, they add:

When another life is taken through capital punishment, the life of the victim is further devalued. Moreover, the church is convinced that the use of the death penalty would result in neither a net reduction of crime in general nor a lessening of the particular kinds of crime against which it was directed. The death penalty also falls unfairly and unequally upon an outcast minority. Recent methods for selecting the few persons sentenced to die from among the larger number who are convicted of comparable offenses have not cured the arbitrariness and discrimination that have historically marked the administration of capital punishment in this country. We will continue to advocate for the final elimination of this act of barbarism, which has no room in a civilized society, nor in a country that prides so much on its Christian heritage.

And you can sign up for their action network

They also offer a link to Amnesty International, an organization which I support. Amnesty is at the forefront fighting against the death penalty. Check out their take on this story. In that post, Amnesty also offers a way you can add your name to a thank you note to Governor Quinn.

As this Chicago Tribune editorial reminds us, you can add this information to the reasons for abolishing the death penalty. “The Governor’s Commission on Capital Punishment found that the death penalty is most often pursued when the defendant is poor or a minority or when the victim is white.” These racial, social and economic factors alone make capital punishment untenable.

The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Our faith moves us to action. I offer these resources to encourage you to take some time to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider where you stand and why. As always, I’d love to make this a conversation by hearing your responses.

What do you think? Did IL get it right? Does the UMC? What, if anything, would you change about the UMC’s position on this?