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.

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