Tag Archives: Christianity

For my Conservative Christian relatives on why I am not voting for Trump (and some useful links and resources for Clinton or “other” voters with Trump-supporting loved ones)

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A truck observed. Sorry about the finger in the photo… still learning camera phones and trying to take the picture quickly before the owner of the vehicle saw me and started getting ideas.-CM

Since my last post, I moved, started a new job and have had very little time to blog. Tonight I have not had time either, but I, apparently, did have time to spend 6 hours or so on an email to one of my relatives, who sent me the following video of Mike Pence, meant for broadcasting in “The Church of the Mall” (???!!!–what a poetically appropriate name), appealing to Christian voters and reflecting on his own church background.

[So apparently privacy settings are blocking the video from being screened from my site, but you can click through to vimeo]

I will resist an analysis of this video, the look, the sound, the words, as I would like this to be a page for those, like me, who voted for or plan to vote for Hillary Clinton in this election. Those like me who, despite some misgivings (indeed who have some major problems with her), find Hillary the most competent, and indeed the only possible, candidate this year. Yet we have relatives, friends, and loved ones passionately opposed to her and willing to vote for even a candidate as horrifying as Trump in order to keep her out of the Oval Office. (I hope I haven’t just alienated a bunch of people by “replying all”to my aunt’s email with this. We shall see tomorrow).

It is 1:30-ish am California time, and I have just squandered an entire evening of writing and grading (I’m putting it down to my civic duty before the election), so please forgive all of the little inconsistencies in the way I list these articles. In some I list the author, in some I list the publication. In others, I just put the name of the article and the link. I did not take the time to correctly punctuate and italicize everything. Because I didn’t want to use up my 10 free New York Times articles, I sometimes provided indirect links to New York Times research.

To those who wish to comment on this blog post, I would ask for you to keep your remarks civil or I will delete you. No trolls. If you think you disagree with me, please read the articles I have posted before responding. If things get too nasty, I will close the comments section. I’m a “Nasty Woman” like that.

Dear Aunt  (Sweet Aunt),

First, I love you all, and I know that you are approaching this election season, as am I, with your faith and your love for Jesus at the forefront. I know, too, that our love for eachother as a family transcends political boundaries.

I have watched the Mike Pence video, and I am sending this email not to get into a political argument–indeed, I have already voted and I imagine many of you have too.
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Although I had been sent a pre-paid envelope by the election office, I sent that baby certified mail with a tracking number.

Instead, I am responding to you in order to share, in kind, some of the articles that help to explain my own take, as a Christian, on this election season, and why I am not supporting Donald Trump.  Even though Mike Pence quotes scripture and talks about his churchgoing, in an appeal to Christians to follow him, we have to closely examine the candidate he has tied his own character too. Remember that Paul described the Bereans as “noble” because instead of just accepting his word for it, they searched the scriptures to be certain of the truth of what he was telling them. My approach to this is to respond also with scripture, with the words of Jesus, who himself rejected political power when it was offered to him by the Devil:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 15:20, NIV)

If someone is appealing to me to follow him on the basis of our shared faith, then, I look for this good fruit. And when I read Paul’s list of the fruits of the spirit, I do not recognize Trump, who after all is the one who is running to be president, not Pence. Indeed, I see in him examples of what the “flesh desires”: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, … enmities, strife, jealousy, anger”

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Although some evangelical leaders believe that Trump is a “baby Christian“, Trump has, since that initial meeting with his evangelical advisory council, demonstrated that he does not seem interested in following the teachings of Christ, continuing to insult women and other groups and engaging in violent, self-glorifying rhetoric. When Christians continue to follow such a leader, it sends alarming signals to those who might have otherwise been attracted to Christianity and to Christians. If Christians loudly back Trump as the best candidate, what does association with and loud support of such a man say about who we are to those who know Christianity only by what we show to them? Christian writer Jonathan Hollingsworth pulls no punches in describing what we look like from the outside.  I ask, are we willing to gain power at any cost? Are we willing to gain power if that means we can impose our “own values” and “our agenda” on America but turn away millions, who will associate Christians with hatred and anger and division and selfishness and support of sexual violence? As Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot” (Matthew 5:13). In Luke, he repeats, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Luke 14:34).
Now, of course, Trump’s opponent, who identifies as Methodist, is not entirely free of these sins of the flesh either, but neither does she claim to represent all Christians as Trump does, joke about getting rid of all the non-Christians (LA Times), or claim to be a saviour, a rhetoric that has been adopted by Trump’s most ardent supporters, such as this Breitbart article that claims “Donald Trump is Last Chance to Save America.” (Update 8 November: More recently Trump claimed on the even of the election. “You have one day until the election. It’s not even one day. Half a day, to make every dream you’ve ever dreamed for your family and your country to come true.”  Here he repeats earlier statements, as published on his website, that “You have 40 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true.” He is promising that he can make every dream come true. That’s dangerous messianic rhetoric. Even Barack Obama who inspired voters to believe “yes, we can”  [and also inspired certain unrealistic expectations of people who expected Obama to solve all problems rather than focusing on the “we”] did not imply that he alone was the solution but instead appealed to an American tradition of working together to bring about a greater good.)
Please note note that the majority of these articles I share below are by Christians, by conservatives, or by internationally respected newspapers/magazines, known for fact-checking their materials. If you would like to engage with me on this, I would simply ask that you read the articles I’ve posted below before doing so. I have roughly organized them by theme, but some of them could fall into several of the same categories. I have been obsessively reading for a year on this election, and I have a pinterest account with dozens, if not, hundreds of articles, if anyone is interested in reading further than the articles I have sampled below.
Much love, Carmen

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Christian responses
“Have we Forgotten the Point of Christianity” by Christian writer Stephen Mattson on Sojourners
“Speak Truth to Trump” by Andy Crouch executive editor for Christianity Today
“Trump’s Offer to Christians is same Offer Devil Made Christians” (see this article, in particular, as a response to the temptation of political power and “our agenda to make America great again” (stated by Pence, in the video you sent) (See Matthew 8:11) and “Hillary Clinton is the Best Choice for Voters against Abortion” by Christian Post writer Eric Sapp
“Decency for President” by Max Lucado, Christian bestselling author
“10 Conservative Christians who are not supporting Trump” by Emily McFarlan Miller for Religion News Service
“Powerful Evangelical Women Split from Male Church Leaders to Slam Trump” (Article focuses on Beth Moore). Joshua DuBois in The Daily Beast
“I’m Pro-Life and I’m Voting for Hillary. Here’s Why.” by Christian Mom-blogger Shannon Dingle, who has adopted multiple disabled children

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Conservative Responses
“The Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton” by David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, and currently one of the senior editors at The Atlantic
(Update 7 November) Moving piece by Republican strategist “Ana Navarro: I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton–and against Donald Trump” CNN
(Update 7 November) Fox News host and conservative commentator Glenn Beck is touched by Michelle Obama speech, says Donald Trump is “Dangerously Unhinged”“Glenn Beck Tries Out Decency” The New Yorker ; “Glenn Beck: Opposing Trump is ‘Moral’ Choice–Even if Clinton is Elected.” CNN ; Even Breitbart reports on this, linking to Beck’s Facebook page where he made the statements:
“For this Republican, Never Trump means ‘I’m with Her'” by Caroline McCain, granddaughter of John McCain
“10 Reasons why I will never vote for Donald Trump” by conservative writer Aaron Goldstein in the American Spectator
(Update 7 November) “The Conservative Case for Hillary Clinton” by Erica Grieder for The Texas Monthly
(Update 7 November) “The Problem of Character: Why Conservatives Must Reject Donald Trump” by Ashleen Menchacha-Bagnulo for the conservative Witherspoon Institute publication Public Discourse
“5 Conservative Reasons to Vote for Hillary Clinton” by conservative writer Tyler O’Neil
On the prominent Republican leaders Trump lost after the tape of him bragging about groping women came out: “Republicans who won’t vote for Donald Trump: McCain, Kasich, and more” AM New York

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On National Security/Corruption/Business Ethics
This letter written by 50 Republican former national security advisors (Letter in New York Times) description in Business Insider
“The Donald’s Dangerous Dismissal of NATO Allies” by Evan Moore in the conservative journal The National Review
“Trump insults Gold Star mom, freaks out U.S. allies” by conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin
On Hillary Clinton’s emails: “Admit it. The Clinton Email Controversy  bothers you but you don’t really know what the Clinton Email Controversy is” by Ken Crossland on Medium. This Newsweek article comparatively examines the private email server used by the Bush white House and some of the missing emails from that time. On Sunday, November 6, the FBI director said that “the agency stands by its original findings against recommending charges” (Washington Post).
Donald Trump’s Business Plan left a Trail of Unpaid Bills” by Alexandra Berzon, Wall Street Journal
“Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties” by Suzanne Craig for the New York Times

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On Racism, sexism, violent rhetoric, and enthusiastic responses to Trump’s rhetoric by “deplorable” white nationalists
“This is How Fascism Comes to America “ by conservative columnist Robert Kagan, Washington Post
(On Trump’s discrimination against black renters in the 1970s) “No Vacancies for Blacks: How Donald Trump got his Start and was first accused of Bias” by Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder for the New York Times. “Donald Trump’s 1973 Discrimination Case Really was Part of Something Larger” by Lily Rothman for Time Magazine
The KKK and the American Nazi party have publicly made their support known, there have been an increasing number of hate crimes recently, including murders and attacks against Muslims, the torching of a black church in Mississippi, which was also defaced with pro-Trump graffiti; the appearance at a football game of my own alma mater UW-Madison of people in costume as Obama with a noose around his neck etc. Although Trump’s campaign rightly disassociates themselves from these hate crimes, Trump’s own words encourage these kinds of interpretations. He has called Mexicans rapists. He has endorsed torture. He has called for banning Muslims from entering the U.S. He has insulted Muslim Gold star parents over their religion. He has claimed an American federal judge is biased “because he is Mexican.” He has said that the families of terrorists should be killed. He has called women who have spoken out against him disgusting, nasty, and “fat pigs.” He has bragged about grabbing women by the “p#@%y” [and as a woman who has been groped several times before I have an especially visceral reaction to that]. He has implied that “2nd Amendment” people can do something about her once she is in office. He has a a record of discrimination against black people in his housing units etc).
“Hate Crimes Against Muslims Most Since Post 9/11 Era” by Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times (September 2016)
This Daily Beast article points out that at least one of the three men called himself a “big” Trump fan. The article also points out the discrimination other “Middle Eastern” looking Christians are facing.
An open letter to the University of Wisconsin chancellor by my pastor in Madison, WI, about a recent incident at a football game, in which a man in a costume depicted Obama with a noose around his neck, a reference to lynching: “Alex Gee: An Open Letter to the University of Wisconsin, Madison” 
At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, a Saudi student was just murdered a few days ago. “Saudi student is beaten, killed in Wisconsin.”USA Today
A Republican protester is beaten up at a rally in Nevada. “Trump rally protestor: I was beaten for a Republicans against Trump sign.” The Guardian

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On Sexual Assault and Adultery 
Again, I don’t think I have even told my parents about the times I have been groped, but as a woman who has experienced that, it horrifies me that good Christian people are willing to vote for a man who has himself bragged about kissing and grabbing women without their consent.
Here is a timeline of accusations that have been made against Trump (International Business Times)
“Trump, Companies accused of mistreating women in at least 20 lawsuits.”USA Today, investigation shows that accusations of Trump sexually harrassing and demeaning women have been going on for years, long before he started running for president
“Trump bragged on hot mic about being able to grope women”Fox News (in which Trump brags about trying to seduce a married woman and about kissing women without their consent and “grabbing them” by their genitals. Since that time multiple women have come forward with stories of him doing just that. Multiple news agencies, including Fox, have reported on this. Trump has responded to these allegations by further demeaning these women and insulting their looks, saying that they would not be his “first choice” (Time Magazine). Most of these women had confided in their family and friends before the tape was leaked.
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Ramadan pieces from Last year: “Why, as a Christian, I Fast during Ramadan” and “Under the Mango Tree”

I have been reading back recently over several of the articles I wrote last Ramadan, when I was fasting alongside my Muslim friends in Kano. It was the third year I was fasting, and I had settled into the rhythm of the month. I did not fast this year, though, at points throughout the month I have wished I were. I think it may have made me feel a little bit more in tune with what is happening around me. As I never posted my articles last year, in part because I was never able to find a hard copies of them to include online, I figured, in honour of Ramadan, before it ends in the next few days, I would put up at least two of them right now. “Why, as a Christian, I Fast during Ramadan” published 20 August 2011 and “Under the Mango Tree” published 27 August 2011.

Breaking fast on the set of Jani-Jani, Kaduna, 29 August 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

“Why, as a Christian, I Fast During Ramadan”

20 August 2011

Recently, my blog was accessed six times with the search phrase “Is Carmen McCain a Muslim.” I’m not. I’m a devout Christian, but I can understand how some people might be confused. Most of my friends in Kano are Muslim, the people I write about are often Muslims, and this is the third Ramadan have fasted alongside my Muslim friends. When I brought up the issue on Facebook, several Christian friends told me they also had been confused about my religious identity because I had mentioned fasting, and in Christianity, one is not supposed to advertise one’s fast. Although there are also Christian traditions of public fasting, I tried to explain that ultimately I AM fasting with Muslims, but that does not mean I am any less a Christian. I won’t necessarily fast for Ramadan for the rest of my life, neither do I expect other Christians to do the same, though Christians in Bethlehem and other parts of the Arab world have done so for centuries. It is a personal decision I have made for the time being to participate in my community.

Last week, I walked into a Zoo Road studio a few minutes before maghriba with a bag of sliced watermelon. “Are you fasting?” novelist and scriptwriter Nazir Adam Salih asked me. “I am,” I said. “Kina taya mana azumi.” he said. “You are helping us with the fast.” I had not heard it put that way before but his expression felt exactly right. I am not as strict with my fast as a Muslim would be. When I am sick, as I was for the first week of Ramadan this year, I eat without any plans to later “make up” the missed days. But the experience of Ramadan and fasting out of love for my community has been one of the most powerful things in helping me empathize with my Muslim neighbors. This week, I share a piece I wrote three years ago in 2008, during my first Ramadan fast.

Ever since I knew I was going to be in Kano for a year, I thought that I would try to fast during Ramadan. First, I thought it would not be appropriate to eat in front of other people who are fasting, even if it’s just sneaking a meatpie and sachet of water from the canteen to my office at Bayero University; second, I thought it would be good to experience what millions of people, and specifically those around me, experience every year. As I told one of my friends on the first day of Ramadan, “If you are hungry, I will be hungry. If you are thirsty, I too will be thirsty.” The day before the fast began, I bought a book on fasting from an Islamic book seller to better understand fasting from an Islamic perspective—what my friends believe. But ultimately, what I hope to gain out of this is spiritual discipline practiced from the perspective of my own faith. Although not compulsory, fasting is a spiritual discipline in Christianity as well (Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert in preparation for his three years of ministry). I thought that, though I am Christian, I live among Muslims, so I will fast when they fast and pray when they pray. And I will hopefully grow in my own spiritual life.

Today, on the second day of Ramadan, walking wearily across campus to wait for the bus at around 5pm, I thought, maybe I should stop this. It’s not a requirement for me, and I’m finding myself dull, forgetful, distracted, irritable, impatient, on edge. It’s not easy to manifest the Christian “fruits of the spirit,” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control), when I have not eaten or drunk all day. On further thought, as I was walking from the bus stop to my house clutching two packets of dates and a sliver of watermelon I had bought to break my fast with, I realized that perhaps that is the point of fasting, at least for me. It forces me to realize, humbly, how much of my good spirits, my mostly cheerful demeanor are chemically-based, physical attributes. I have been blessed with good health, with chemical balance, with a fairly even and laid back temper (though my good friends know the exceptions). Peeling back those layers of the physical, one comes closer to the core of one’s being, what is underneath the surface pleasantness—what comes out when there is no protective politeness—and it’s not always very attractive. I have thought often over the past few years of what Christian writer and thinker C.S. Lewis says in his book Mere Christianity, about the difference between human perspective and God’s perspective:

 “Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of [Nazi war criminal] Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first tune, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.”

I meditate on this in relation to fasting. When fasting, those base human characteristics, the instincts, the first reactions, come out more dramatically, and you have to deal with them. You are impatient but you force yourself to speak patiently. You don’t feel gracious but you make yourself be gracious anyway. It becomes a discipline, training and subduing those initial reactions that surface more clearly when you are hungry and tired, and it encourages humility. You don’t have that easy excuse—oh sorry, I haven’t eaten yet today, and I can’t think clearly—because no one else has either. You become weaker and more vulnerable to your community while stronger in your individual will. This is spiritual growth—going beyond one’s personality to something deeper.

At the same time, you also become more aware of the joys of the physical. The pleasure that comes at the end of the day, especially when you are breaking the fast with other people. The lilting greeting “A sha ruwa lafiya,” “Enjoy quenching your thirst”—the sweetness of the crystallized sugar in a dry date when it is the first thing that has touched your tongue all day; the fresh wetness of a tangy orange or sweet watermelon or solid banana; the way the spicy flavours of Hausa shayi detach themselves and come one by one: cardamom, ginger, other flavours that I cannot yet identify. The first burst of energy after the sugar enters your blood stream and the pleasant stuffed feeling when your stomach is extended with tuwon shinkafa and miyan taushe or fried yam and potatoes, peppered tofu and kosai. Denied for 13 or 14 hours a day, the senses are heightened. Listening to the Ramadan service on the radio, the chanted Arabic, the call and response, it reminds me of listening to a mass—Gregorian chants in Latin—or a BBC broadcast of the Nine Lessons in Carols on Christmas eve.

These common elements of our faiths are what I am reminded of at Ramadan. Though Christians and Muslims have many differing religious beliefs we will never be able to agree on, at core, all three Abrahamic religions are linked by what Jesus identified as the “greatest commandments”: First, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I believe that, beyond our differences, if we encourage each other in love to seek this truth, we will find peace. A sha ruwa lafiya.

–FIN

“Under the Mango Tree”

27 August 2011

One of my main joys of Ramadan this year, whenever it is not raining in the evening, has been to take a mat outside and sit under the mango tree that grows outside my window. I read or write or just lie staring up at the leaves above me, mind at rest, until the maghriba prayer is called and I reach for my packet of dates. I am close to the dirt there and the strands of grass that find enough sun to poke up under the trees. One evening I moved around the mat for an hour trying to move out of the path of a slow but persistent little snail who seemed to want to follow me wherever I went. Eventually, I placed a leaf into his path and then carried the leaf to a muddy patch far from my mat. A neem tree arches over the wall of my house, branches mingling with those of the mango tree and when I lie under them, I look up through layers and layers of leaves, watch them sway in the breeze, hear them rustling together, merging with the sound of the neighbor children outside the wall and the distant honk of horns on the main road. If I gaze up long enough, I feel like I am floating.

This week, when I spread the mat out under the tree I could see dark clouds billowing in the East and thought I might not make it to maghriba before the rain came. All the same, I piled up fruit in a basket, and took out newspapers, a pen and a notebook. The leaves were mostly silent that evening. The air was still, in anticipation of rain. I lay on the straw mat under the tree, and thought, as the thunder began to break and the first fine droplets filtered through the trees, about the motion of the universe. This flat soil I lie on, this surface of the planet that seems so solid and still, is actually spinning through star studded space. This sun I am waiting to set on my face of the planet, my little patch of ground under the mango tree, is only one star in one galaxy out of a million. The sun does not, in fact, move down towards the horizon. We are the ones, clinging to this fragile planet, who are spinning past fire.

There is a peace in these moments, an awareness of my own smallness, as I listen to the rhythms of the earth. I am both as still as I will ever be and hurtling through space.  I am reminded that when we fast we acknowledge our own desires are ephemeral in the vastness of God’s design. We give up pleasures, which we may at times over-indulge, joys, not always necessary for life. This year, I have realized how weighted down we become with loves, which are not ours to own, the heaviness of commitments to unnecessary habits. It is sometimes in the pain of giving up that which we think nourishes us, gives us life, that we float free. In this time of discipline, it is only when the sun passes that we realize the sweetness of its fruit.

One of my favourite music videos is “Patience” by reggae artist Damian Marley and rapper Nas. The musicians quietly ask piercing questions about life, challenging the arrogant presumptions of the privileged about “modern development,” sound-byte answers in the face of eternal mystery. The musicians emerge out of a backdrop with the perspective of a Renaissance painting, camera sweeping through layers of images, through clouds past pyramids, into a mythic African past:

We born not knowing, are we born knowing all?

We growing wiser, are we just growing tall?

Can you read thoughts? can you read palms?

Can you predict the future? can you see storms, coming?

The Earth was flat if you went too far you would fall off

Now the Earth is round, if the shape change again everybody woulda start laugh

The average man can’t prove of most of the things that he chooses to speak of

And still won’t research and find out the root of the truth that you seek of

Scholars teach in universities and claim that they’re smart and cunning

Tell them find a cure when we sneeze and that’s when their nose start running

And the rich get stitched up, when we get cut

Man a heal dem broken bones in the bush with the wet mud

Can you read signs? can you read stars?

Can you make peace? can you fight war?

Can you milk cows, even though you drive cars? huh

Can you survive against all odds, now?

Marley and Nas pace through a shallow river to where it spills over the edge of the world. Galaxies and planets stretch out above them: “Who made up words? who made up numbers?” Nas asks. “And what kind of spell is mankind under?”

I hear the song echo under the mango tree as dusk moves in, and hunger moves towards its end. The first time I broke fast for Ramadan in 2008, a friend took me home for dinner. We walked under the sunset, past the ancient sloping Kano wall grown over with grass, down winding paths through the old city, spitting out date seeds. I sat on a mat under the cloudy sky eating oranges, fried yam, drinking tea, tucking my skirt firmly around my ankles and mayafi around my neck as mosquitos began to bite. I answered in fumbling Hausa, those questions my friend’s mother asked, but I mostly sat quietly under the sky and listened to the chatter of teenage girls, the banter of young men, the good natured laughter of their parents. Above us the clouds scudded past in a darkening sky. After that first evening, I mostly broke fast with musicians and editors and actors on Zoo Road, sharing out quartered oranges and slices of watermelon, crispy kosai and fried potatoes served on a newspaper transparent with oil, hot thick koko sweet with sugar in plastic cups. As my Hausa began to improve, we’d have long conversations in the studios, about film and politics, music and religion.  At night, I’d speed home on an achaba,  moon rising overhead, as stars began to peak out from beyond the clouds.

Well into my fourth year in Kano, my days have grown busier. This week, as Ramadan draws to a close, I break the fast by myself on this straw mat, waiting for the sun to set or the rain to come, wondering which will come first. It’s good to be under the mango tree, under the leaves, under the clouds, beyond which stretch the stars. I am glad I am not inside with my laptop open to the insistent demands of the internet, emails that must be answered and people on Facebook demanding responses, the guilt-inducing cursor blinking on the blank white page of articles long overdue.

I let my mind sway with the trees. The rain comes before the sun sets. The ink on my page blurs into little wet patches. I slowly stand up and carry the straw mat, my basket of fruit, newspapers and books to shelter. Dark clouds are piled up in the east, blowing in with the approaching night, but in the west where the sun hovers on the horizon, the rain falls through light, glimmering and sparkling to the earth, watering the grass which thrives today and dies tomorrow. So many things we love are fleeting, the raindrops that fall from sky to soil, bushes that grow green and lush now, and fade to brown later, the light which rises with promise each day only to fall into dark. But it’s all beautiful while it lasts.

–FIN

[Please NOTE that the video “Patience” has been embedded into this blog post under Fair Use laws for review purposes.]

Taking Sides

One thing that has particularly troubled me in the aftermath of the Jos crisis has been hearing both Christians and Muslims (and all other combinations of this: Hausa/Berom/idigene/settler/outsider/insider) blaming the other “side,” without taking any responsibility for actions committed by their own “side.” I am also troubled by how international mission groups/churches have seemed to use the crisis as a way to further an agenda to “prove” that Muslims are fanatical and hateful and violent, even if this means ignoring the fact that so-called Christians have also been fanatical hateful and violent.  In fact, some of these Christian websites go so far as to deny that Christians took part in the violence and claim that Muslims are inflating the numbers of their own losses, without recognizing that they might be doing the exact same thing.  Even Craig Keener, a family friend and world renowned biblical theologian who has previously written books on peace and conflict resolution and whom I admire a great deal, in an article in Christianity Today ironically titled “The Truth about the Religious Violence in Jos, Nigeria” presented only the “Christian” side of the story he had heard from friends in Jos without doing much investigation on how the other side might view it. Many of the comments on the Christianity Today articles about the crisis from various Christian readers are cringeworthy.

One of the best analyses I have yet seen on the crisis from the R.E.A.L. Organization (Responsibility for Equality and Liberty) takes to task the international faith communities for not doing more to denounce the atrocities committed by their faith communities, pointing out:

But the obvious point to any people of faith who respect each other and respect our universal human rightsis that it really does not matter who “started” the latest conflict. The reports of burned houses of worship, rioters murdering with machetes, gunfire in the street, dead bodies thrown in wells, axes used on little children, warrant shame and international condemnation from both sides and a unequivocal renunciation of religious hate. The Jos riots are a horror story of human beings’ inhumanity to one another, driven by nothing less than blind, unreasoning hatred.

Let me be clear: I am a Christian. As I have mentioned in the past few posts, I know Christians who have lost homes, family members, and churches in these ongoing crises in Jos. In the 2008 crisis, I spent almost a week with Christians in a refugee camp at my parents house. I have the deepest sympathy for them and agree that the international community should pray for and support financially those who have lost so much. But perhaps the international Christian community should expand their compassion to include the many, many Muslims who have suffered as well.

Let me also be clear that, living in Kano and having many Muslim friends, I have heard similar claims by Muslims to the complete innocence of the Hausa community and complete blame against the “vicious and warring local tribesman” (that is a direct quote) of Plateau State. I recently read a poem by a Hausa Muslim acquaintance that I found very disturbing, that cast the settlers as peace-loving civilized people and the indigenes basically as bloodthirsty savages who pass the time by murdering other people. Now, it’s clear that both sides see the other side as having started the crisis and being at fault in it. Both sides dehumanize the other. And this kind of rhetoric, on both sides, will only feed the fires.

I intend my critique to be against all of those who look at only their own side of the story–both Christians and Muslims. However, since I am a Christian, I feel I have a particular responsibility to take my own faith community to task for what seems to be a lack of compassion and a refusal to try to see through the eyes of the “other,” of using the tragic deaths of both Christians and Muslims to further an agenda to demonize Islam. And to those who claim Christians are completely innocent, let me say that for the past year and a half that I have been back in Nigeria, I have heard Christian friends in Jos say poisonous, toxic, hateful things about Hausas and Muslims. I have heard Christian friends rejoicing over the destruction of Muslim property, even over the burned hull of a primary school owned by a Muslim. When I protested, I was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about. (In fact, my mother just told me the story of a Christian non-Berom friend whose shop was burned by Christians–he rents from a Muslim) So let me protest on a more public forum, and those who disagree with me are free to answer me in the comments section of this blog. I have no doubt that there is much similar rhetoric on the Muslim side of the divide that I do not hear because few people would say such things in front of me, but whether there is or not, does not excuse Christians for hate. As Jesus said, “43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 43-45

I will provide links to two articles on Christian websites here. There are many more, but these are the two that I wrote comments on, trying to point their readers to Human Rights Watch articles that would provide a more complex picture of the situation. My comments, which I posted over a week ago, were never approved and made visible on these websites. I’m sure the people who posted these stories are good people, who have the best intentions to help their Christian brothers and sisters in Nigeria, but in not posting the comments of someone who tried to bring some amount of balance and context to the story, they are not doing our faith any favours. In fact, by ignoring my contribution in favour of  their own preferred sources, one could even say they are complicit in the spread of hatred.

But let me give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they have not seen my comments. Perhaps the internet ate my posts. If this is the case, I welcome them to contact me when they receive the pingback  from my link.

The first one, “Jos is Burning,” is from the CMS mission on January 20, 2010. I read the article because someone posted a link to it on Facebook. The article correctly reports on deaths and losses of property from Christians. It also reports several rumours and allegations about “Muslim” soldiers targeting Christians:

A statement from the Anglican Diocese of Jos said that over the last two months, there has been concern over widespread rumours of plans to bomb the homes of Christian leaders and to kill senior members of Christian churches.

[…]

There are worries that the military, brought in to contain the violence, seems to be splintering along religious lines with claims that Muslim troops are allegedly firing on Christians and armoured vehicles are opening fire on Christian civilians.  CSW reports that one eyewitness saw a Christian youth singled out in a crowd by a soldier, who forced him to kneel and executed him.

It finally lists a number of admirable prayer requests, including that “For Christian leaders in Jos, especially the Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi: for safety, courage, wisdom and opportunities to make connections across the Christian-Muslim divide.”

On January 20, I attempted to post the following comment,

While we should rightly be very concerned about violence against
Christians in Jos and elsewhere, I think we also need to be careful
not to focus so completely on our “own” side as to miss the violence
and hateful rhetoric carried out by Christians against Muslims as
well.

I am a Christian who spent a good part of my adolescence in Jos. I now
live in Kano and have many Hausa Muslim friends. At least two or three
of my personal acquaintances (Hausa Muslims–Jasawa) from Jos but who
now live in Kano have had their family homes burned and relatives
wounded and killed. One acquaintance lost her grandmother and many
other family members. And if Muslim soldiers have been targeting
Christians, the same is happening with Christian soldiers targeting
Muslims. If churches have been burnt, mosques also have been burnt.

In fact, in one report, almost all of the Muslim homes in the village
of Kuru Jenta were burned and many Muslims”rounded up and killed:”
http://naijablog.blogspot.com/2010/01/tragic-news-from-norma-in-jos.html

For another side of the story about the beginning of this conflict,
see this article from a Northern newspaper. It presents one side of
the story, but it may provide some explanation of the context behind
the church being attacked:
http://allafrica.com/stories/201001190555.html

Similarly, for those who are not familiar with Jos, to make this a
story about persecuted Christians without mentioning the complex
politics behind it oversimplifies the story:

For more detailed information on the specific context of this
conflict, see these links:

Recent academic article by shari’a-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien on
the 2008 Jos crisis
http://www.sharia-in-africa.net/pages/publications/jonah-jang-and-the-jasawa-ethno-religious-conflict-in-jos-nigeria.php

Human Rights Watch report on the Settler/Indigene politics in Nigeria,
with about 5 case studies from different parts of the country,
including the plateau
http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11354/section/2

Human Rights Watch report on Military abuses in the 2008 Jos crisis:
http://www.hrw.org/en/node/84005/section/4

Have Christians been killed? Yes. Have churches been burnt? Yes. I was
in Jos during the 2008 crisis and we had a refugee camp at our house
made up of mostly members from Emmanuel Baptist church, which had been
burnt for the 3rd time. (Hopefully, it has not been burnt again in
this crisis.) There is very much a need for prayer for Jos. But, let’s
please not focus so much on the Christian side that we forget that
Muslims are suffering and dying, as well, often at the hands of those
who claim to be Christians.

thank you

To date, it has still not been posted. Perhaps the internet ate it.

The second post on the 2008 Jos crisis I found because it is the automatically wordpress generated “suggested link” after my blog post on the Jos crisis. This article,“Nigerian Christians Murdered Left Homeless by Organized Muslim Attack”, posted by a Pastor Chuck and Arlyn on a site called “Urgent Prayer Chain” was a bit more sensational.

Pastor Chuck and Arlyn say:

The following report was received by Christian Aid from a native missionary living in Jos, Nigeria. Most reports of this situation by secular media contain skewed information, received directly from the Nigerian government. This information includes false claims that Christians attacked and killed Muslims, and vastly underestimates the damage done to Christian lives and property. In reality, Muslims plotted an attack on Jos Christians days before the election results were announced.

Now, I remember, at the time, as we sat through the crisis with hundreds of Christian refugees in and around our house, thinking that the international media reports did seem somewhat skewed and biased. However, for Pastor Chuck and Arlyn who were not actually in Jos or Nigeria at the time and who were relying on their information from one source, to claim that reports of Christians attacking and killing Muslims were “false claims” or that “in reality, Muslims plotted” the attack seems unwise and in fact quite dangerous.

I posted the following response, which I know was received, because on my google chrome browser, which I was using when I wrote and posted it,  it shows my comment and says “awaiting moderation.” On Internet Explorer, it shows no comment. This was my response:

carmenmccain said

Your comment is awaiting moderation.
January 23, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

As a Christian who was in Jos during the November 2008 crisis and had a refugee camp from three different churches at my family home, I appreciate the attempt to raise awareness about the sectarian crises in jos. However, I think we as Christians also need to be a little bit careful about skewing the story to “our” side so much as to not recognize that Muslims, many of whom I know personally, also suffered a great deal in this crisis, many times at the hands of those who call themselves Christians. While you say that “secular media […] includes false claims that Christians attacked and killed Muslims,” it is actually very well known in Jos that so-called Christians did engage in serious reprisal attacks. While we can say that people who kill others are not truly Christians, I have, with my own ears, heard Jos-based pastors advocating violence against Muslims (as well as some very admirable pastors who stress non-violence and forgiveness.)

You say that the “original” inhabitants of the land are Christian, but that “but the green farmland pastures have attracted Muslim Hausa and Fulani people from the north.” This is a bit of an over simplification. The Muslim Hausa community, also known as the Jasawa, has been in Jos for over 100 years, and has until recently lived fairly peacefully with the Christian “indigenes.” Many commentators who have researched this feel that these crises are actually political and have much to do with Nigeria’s policies about granting certain rights only to “indigenes” of the land, which often means that three or four generations of a family may have lived in one place but still not be considered “indigine.” The Jasawa community is denied rights such as reduced tuition at the university, opportunities to be employed in the civil service, and political representation. This does not excuse violence but places the crisis in more context. Just as many Christian “indigenes” feel that the violence is orchestrated by outside Hausa Muslim forces, many Hausas also feel that the violence is orchestrated by local “Christian” “indigene” politicians who are using ethnic chauvinism to reclaim land that has been bought and lived on for years by the Jasawa.

For more detailed information, please see the following articles: “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa: Ethno-Religious Conflict in Jos, Nigeria” by sharia-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien ; a Human Rights Watch report on the politics of “Settler/indigene” in Nigeria , with a section on Plateau State , and the Human Rights Watch report on the Military abuses during the 2008 crisis, which have no doubt been continued during this most recent 2010 crisis .

For an example of why it is so dangerous to talk about only one side of the story, see these reports of a massacre of a Muslim community that took place only a few days ago in Jos:

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/22/nigeria-protect-survivors-fully-investigate-massacre-reports

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2010/01/201012333947758520.html

I say all of this as a Christian who knows Christians who have been killed in these conflicts, Christians who have lost their homes, and Christians who have seen their churches burned. I am not trying to downplay the amount that Christians have suffered, but to urge us not to open our eyes wider to the complexity of these crises and to reach out in love to our Muslim neighbors who have suffered much as well. This is the only hope we have that these crises will stop.

carmenmccain said

Your comment is awaiting moderation.
January 23, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

For some reason, the links I posted above did not come through.

The link to the “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa” article is here:

http://www.sharia-in-africa.net/pages/publications/jonah-jang-and-the-jasawa-ethno-religious-conflict-in-jos-nigeria.php

The link to the human rights watch report on the “Indigene/Settler” policy in Nigeria is here:

http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11354/section/2

The link to the specific details on Plateau State is here;

http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11354/section/8

The link to the Human Rights Watch report on Extrajudicial killings in the 2008 Jos crisis is here:

http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/07/20/arbitrary-killings-security-forces

I’m sorry that neither of my comments were posted, as I think those posts, without any sort of caveats, will merely further global misunderstandings about what is going on and will further solidify an “us against them” mentality among Christians and Muslims around the world. [UPDATE 4 February 2009: to be fair, the urgent prayer chain blog has now posted my comment.) As the R.E.A.L. organization notes:

You cannot promote religious love, if you won’t recognize and reject religious hate – especially when it comes from members of your religion.  Our shared rights to exchange ideas and expect dignity for our religious beliefs comes with the shared responsibility to never allow our religious beliefs to be used to rationalize hate.  Surely the thousands that have died in Nigeria over religious hate deserve more than a determined denial over why they died.

[…]

The widespread silence by responsible, international Christian leaders and Muslim leaders (outside of the anti-freedom OIC and Muslim Brotherhood groups) to recognize and condemn such religious hatred by both those Christian and Muslim rioters in Jos will certainly ensure that the Jos riots will be used by those who perceive a global Christian “war on Islam,” which remains a motivator for violent jihadists around the world.

Ultimately, I am not interested in “who started it” so much as “how will we now respond.” How will Christians and Muslims in Jos respond? How will Christians and Muslims in the rest of Nigeria respond? How will Christians and Muslims around the world respond? Certainly justice must be done, and the organizers of such violence must be found, prosecuted, and punished. But if we wait for  justice before we begin to reach out to the other, before we begin to forgive and try to heal broken communities, I fear that as Dr. Martin Luther King observed: The “Hate [will multiply] hate, violence [will multiply] violence, and toughness [will multiply] toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”