Category Archives: Central African Republic

Christian Militia – When Do We Support Them?

The ominous words “Christian militia” have been appearing with increasing frequency in the media.

In some cases the words indicate groups that are fighting against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. These are mainly Assyrian Christians who have taken up arms to defend their homelands.

This is a natural response to the depravities of Islamic State, and I am sure that Christians in the West will instinctively support them (even after reading the headline on one magazine article about their activities: “Ex-skinheads and angry white men swell ranks of Christian militia fighting Islamic State”).

But recently Pope Francis made a visit to the Central African Republic, and the words “Christian militia” appeared regularly in media reports of his visit. This time the connotations were definitely negative.

The Central African Republic has a Christian majority, with Muslims only about 15 per cent of the population. But in March 2013 Muslim rebel groups grabbed control of the government, and then launched a campaign of violence against Christians and others.

The response was predictable, and rapidly the nation descended into bloody civil war. As I wrote recently, the Central African Republic is often now described as a failed state in permanent crisis.

In particular, the “Anti-Balaka” militia group, often described as Christian, has been accused of a significant escalation of the violence, including the mutilation of some of its Muslim victims, the burning of entire villages and ethnic cleansing that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

Is this group really Christian? I am not in a position to judge, though certainly it appears to have Christians among its leaders. In any case, it has been condemned by the church and by many local Christians, and we in the West must condemn it too. Its activities have gone well beyond self-defense, regardless of the provocation.

Indeed, it is a sad fact that Christians have been involved in reprehensible conduct in several parts of Africa in recent times.

I have been reading a provocative new book, “The Looting Machine,” by Tom Burgis, a correspondent with Britain’s Financial Times newspaper. The sub-title of the book makes clear its theme: “Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth.”

In one chapter, “God Has Nothing to Do with It,” he describes how some Christians in Nigeria are actively involved in the corruption that plagues that country. However, he also quotes a Catholic archbishop who says that often this is a case of failed politicians using religion as a weapon to stir up the masses.

“God is not such a weakling that we must kill for him,” says the archbishop.

Amen to that.

Pope to Visit One of the Saddest Places on Earth

Pope Francis plans to visit the Central African Republic later in November, and you do not have to be Catholic to want to pray for him.

For this country – a land-locked former French colony situated between Cameroon and South Sudan – has to be one of the saddest places on earth.

As if to confirm it, just last week the Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank that works to promote global prosperity, released its annual Prosperity Index, which ranks 142 countries in terms of both wealth and wellbeing.

It would be little surprise that heading the list was Norway, followed by Switzerland and Denmark. But right at the bottom, at Number 142, worse even than Afghanistan, Haiti, Chad, Syria or Sudan, was the Central African Republic.

The country has a Christian majority, though the “Operation World” prayer handbook makes clear some of the sins of the church.

“A failure on the part of leaders to demonstrate Christ-like humility and graciousness in their walk and ministry not only stunts their own fruitfulness but passes on their flaws to their congregations,” it says. “High moral standards and honesty are frequently lacking in the churches.”

Despite considerable natural and mineral resource wealth, the country has been beset by military coups, civil conflict and intense corruption.

This all came to a head in March 2013 when Muslim rebel groups seized control of the government. Muslims comprise only about 15 per cent of the population, and since that time the country has descended into bloody violence. It is often now described as a failed state in permanent crisis.

Armed Muslim groups have killed thousands of Christians and forced many more to flee. Christian militia groups have responded in kind – despite being condemned by many church leaders for their violence – with armed attacks on the Muslim minority. Some 10 per cent of the population are now refugees.

Pope Francis will arrive in the country after visits to Kenya and Uganda. He plans meetings with religious leaders, including senior Muslims officials, and will call upon refugees and attend a prayer vigil.

But as the violence escalates, there has been speculation that he might even be forced to cancel his visit.

So pray that it goes ahead, and pray that he might succeed in the role of peacemaker. Few countries in Africa – or anywhere – are more in need of peace.

A Week of Depressing Headlines

By Martin Roth

In Brotherhood’s Egypt, blasphemy charges against Christians surge ahead

The Arab Christians’ existential crisis

Intense Christian persecution in the Central African Republic ignored by the world

Mob Attack Copts and their Businesses in Northern Egypt

Abduction of Young Coptic Girls in Egypt Showcased to Western Journalists

Muslim Persecution Against Christians Is ‘Spreading, Intensifying,’ Says Egyptian Copt