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Grace as an Inexplicable Concept

Grace, a victim of sectarian violence in Nigeria

Where was Grace’s Father when she lost her arm to a machete wielding terrorists in Dogo Nahawa Nigeria

I could feel my blood pressure rising. A warm flush spread across my throat as I shook my head in defiance. We were traveling in a cramped van just outside of Cairo, Egypt but the conversation that made me so infuriated was centered on a place most people couldn’t find on a map – Dogo Nahawa, Nigeria.
For some background, I was traveling with a team that worked for one of my clients which has global humanitarian programs. It was a medical trip where doctors from the U.S. visited injured victims overseas to access their health care options and ensure they were getting good care. It was an amazing trip and the people I traveled with were all amazing.

We traveled first to Nigeria and then on to Egypt. And until that moment in the van on the outskirts of Cairo the team had not hit a snag. We were gelling as the commercial says and all was good. But then one of the doctors commented that it was the women of Nigeria who carried the heavy burden because whenever violence occurred the men were no where around. We were speaking particularly of a massacre that occurred in Northern Nigeria, March 2010. More than 500 Nigerians, mostly women and children were hacked to death by marauding Islamic militants. The massacre was apart of Nigeria’s long-standing sectarian war between the mostly Islamic north and the Christian-dominated areas of the southern most areas in the north. Because we like our news fast and furious the clashes have been characterized as religious violence – a feud that started hundreds of years ago – but in actuality it’s more complicated than that. Though Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and contains billions of dollars in natural resources, including that black gold known as oil, most of its residents are incredibly poor. And the Muslim north is outpaced by the prosperity of the Christian south. And of course where you have scarcity of resources you have war.

The doctor was commenting on the lack of utter strategic planning for the Christians in the north to protect themselves. As much as I hate labels, I considered the doctor was the God, guns and country sort. He saw President Barack Obama’s needle about “clinging to God and guns,” as a personal insult.  I’ve never really had a problem with folks who believe in God, or America. But sometimes their vision seems a bit a narrow and one-sided and a bit blind.

It’s easy for a doctor who lives in the suburbs to love America versus a black man who has tried and failed 100 times to get a break on a job, loan or whatever. I’m not blaming – very few people get to be doctors at the top medical schools because they’re lazy, but we all know the fix is in when it comes to who succeeds in this country and who doesn’t. And as much as I love and support American idealism I understand those ideals of our founding fathers were written with the blood of enslaved men and women who made this country possible more than the white-haired, property-owning men who took credit for our nation would like to admit.

Let’s face it; there would be no American exceptionalism without American exploitation and anyone who says otherwise is naive or ignorant of historical facts.

So when the doc started espousing his opinion about the lack of authority Nigerian men had over their families in the realm of protection, well, I guess all that legacy of colonialism, racism, and marginalism got the better of me and I began to push back on his assessment.

Now this wasn’t your normal white doctor, rich guy “do-it-yourself,” don’t wait for government spiel. The Doc was no Tea Party guy, in fact he spends most of his time in developing countries using his amazing medical skills to pull health out of sickness and heal wounds created by inexplicable violence. He’s a man I admire, respect and had grown to deeply care for which is why his words cut so deep I guess.

What he said was that the men in Nigeria had failed to protect their women while he had seen other men under attack fight for their families. What I heard was, “Black men are weak, so weak they can’t keep their families alive.”

To be truthful that’s not what he said. But that’s what I heard and well, the debate began. I have to give myself credit, though my tone went acerbic I remained civil and didn’t show him the repressive violence that bubbles beneath even the most polished of black folks. On the surface, his assessment seemed to be correct. After three days we had interviewed dozens of violence victims and many were women, left alone, it seemed to fight. But I guess I saw it a different way. I saw the men so burdened down with economic struggles that they often took jobs hundreds of miles away from their families leaving them at the mercy of the community. And the terrorists, knowing this, took advantage of this unfortunate circumstance.

So the men weren’t weak, on the contrary they were incredibly strong. And when the violence swept through their community they gave their lives rather than run. But they also refused to fight back, because their Christian nature told them not to. And I guess this is part that the doc didn’t get. The Doc’s thought was, “Why didn’t the men just arm themselves and get ready to kill those that would kill them?”

I always found it curious that people who follow the Prince of Peace are so willing to put a cap in someone. These Gods, guns and country folk who sing of loving others and compassion on Sunday are at the gun range on Saturday getting poised to kill anyone who may harm them. I’m not saying an individual doesn’t have the right to protect themselves, but when the Christian mixes with the conservative political ideology strange things begin to occur. Political leaders begin saying oxymoronic statements like “war maintains peace,” and military personnel start burning the Q’uran even by accident. Evangelizing is one thing, evangelizing by the sword is quite another.

So when a western Christian derides an entire Christian population as “unable to protect their women,”  I guess I get a bit confused. Mostly because to kill is a sin and there are no caveats. Killing to protect others doesn’t seem to be sanctioned anymore than say, killing to eat others. I know we think of them as different but does God? Does he make a distinction as to the intent or just the act? This is widely debated in Christianity. Ask any Christian in the military and you’re in for a long night. But it also seems to fall along the political lines with progressives fighting to save lives and against war – think protesting nuns Latin America – and conservatives who say protect the status quo by any means necessary – think Christians arming themselves to fight to keep slavery.

What I found in my limited trips to Nigeria is that the Christians who are being slaughtered there on an almost daily basis by murderous Islamic militants most assuredly expect they will die. They even accept that death is part of being a Christian in northern Nigeria. So perhaps they do not see the sense in buying up guns at the local gun shop and fighting back. It may seem infuriating that they won’t protect themselves but maybe they have a different path to reconciliation that doesn’t involve war. American protectionism tends to get even the most progressive among us thinking about wiping out our enemy. How President Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize while enthralled in three warring conflicts is beyond me.

Anyway, the debate ended unresolved. But I guess my answer to this confounding question would involve the inexplicable concept of Grace. Sometimes when we’re under attack fighting back isn’t the best way to go. It may just breed more violence. Sometimes maybe grace and mercy are the answer. But who knows, extinction is a frightening prospect and some people would rather kill than die.



5 thoughts on “Grace as an Inexplicable Concept

  1. Unfortunately, Americans have a nasty bent toward violence and power, all the while carrying our Bibles and singing the old hymns.
    “Evangelizing is one thing, evangelizing by the sword is quite another.”
    We have slaughtered Native Americans by the sword in our own country, and then claimed our right to evangelize them. And when we look at Africans, we see things through our Western lens. And grace is a difficult lens to look through. Thanks for your honest writing.

    Posted by lisatresch | June 16, 2012, 7:41 am
  2. I am an evangelizing Christian, and I think your article is spot on. The mindset of evangelizing by the sword (also including hateful words/rhetoric), pushed me away forcibly from Christianity as a young person. I had come to believe the Bible was a pointless relic with no worth. As a now fervent follower of Jesus (forty-ish years later and no one more surprised than myself), I have come to recognize the pointless relics are the supposed believers in Christianity who do not live as Christ has called us to live, but have instead created a religion unto themselves that suits whatever they want it for and misleads many – even the most well meaning. He is the Prince of Peace because of the transformation he makes in the inner person when one truly believes in, trusts in and relies on him. It is His Peace in us, and it brings us to a place of acting from his Grace (through the Holy Spirit) and not from our own selfish desires. Even the most well meaning Christians can get off track when they don’t regularly study and refresh themselves in His word. (this is part of what drives me to evangelize) I feel for your disappointment in your respected Dr. friend. I hope this can one day be resolved between you both and that you will retain an open heart toward true Christianity and failing Christians (“all…fall short of the glory of God,” which is why we need Jesus). Thank you for your poignant article and your heart.

    Posted by lynda | October 24, 2012, 3:22 pm
  3. Thanks Lynda for your insights! It’s a tough dilemma!

    Posted by Ovetta Sampson | December 2, 2012, 7:12 pm
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