I was asked this question at a training center for pastors.
The young man is earnest and wants to be faithful to the Word of God. Does it allow me to protect my family? From being killed and burned alive? Or does God forbid us from using weapons to prevent our extermination by Muslim terrorists?
An Anglican priest who was trained at Oxford gathers scores of pastors together secretly to help answer their desperate questions. What do I tell my flock? How are we to think about a government that stands by idly while we are being burned alive and hacked into pieces–like this little girl in the picture? A Muslim president who lies to the international media, saying that we Christians are exaggerating or bringing it on ourselves? Why would God allow this?Several generations of Christian pastors here have suggested that the gospel has little or nothing to do with society or politics. They have focused either on the prosperity gospel or a pietism that eschews the public square. As a result Christians have tended to be politically passive. Now they are governed by Muslims who shelter terrorists.
This Anglican leader and his helpers never announce a meeting place until one hour before, and only by texting to cellphones, for security reasons. Pastors are not invited unless they are recommended by one or two other reliable pastors. Even though these pastors are gathered to discuss theology and how to help their flocks, informers could suggest otherwise to radicals.
This Oxford-trained leader took me on a tour of dangerous sections of Jos today. We passed one street of Muslims where he said Christian evangelists had entered and disappeared, never to be seen again. He pointed out three churches that had been bombed or burned, only to be rebuilt by determined Christians. We rode through a No Man’s Land which, my friend said, is like the Wild West. “Anything goes here, and Christians would never dare walk this street.”
This man is a brave leader. He regularly subsists on three or four hours sleep because he is often called in the middle of the night by a call from Christians who have been attacked. Like the vast majority of Nigerians, he and his family have one or two meals a day. The first is a breakfast of tea and bread, the second of corn or rice and beans. Meat is rare because it is so expensive.
He told me that most of his friends expect civil war. Most Nigerians are Christians and live in the south or in this Middle Belt centered in Jos, yet the government and police and army are everywhere run by Muslims. The only people who believe in a unified Nigeria are Western leaders and Nigerian politicians who are enriched by the status quo.
Two days ago crowds of Christians gathered outside a government office here to protest the inaction of the government. Hundreds of Christians are being killed and still no one has been arrested. Yesterday the government detained pastors who led the protest. Within the hour my new friend was called. He mobilized Christian lawyers to try to get the pastors released. An Anglican bishop warned the police and governor that they were risking new violence. Vigilantes might strike back at Muslims.
Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Christians here in the Middle Belt pray for God’s protection. And they wonder if God would permit them to use weapons to defend themselves.
I told the young seminarian yesterday, and the other young men and women training for ministry with him, that there is a long Christian tradition of Just War theory that argues that Jesus was not a pacifist. I told them that the great African theologian Augustine–and other great Christian thinkers like Aquinas and Luther and Edwards—used Romans 13 and other biblical passages (including the Old Testament) to argue that Christians may use force to defend themselves against extermination.