A Dilemma in Nigeria

The situation for Christians in Nigeria is dire.  Recent stories have reported the rise of violence against Christians (and all non-Muslims) there.  As the stories go, the violence is the result of a determined effort to “Islamize” Nigeria (already close to being a “Muslim” nation).  This produces a dilemma when it comes to classifying whether the acts of violence against Christians are persecution or not.  If Christians and animists are killed together, each because he is non-muslim, then do we classify the Christians as martyrs?  Does it matter that those who killed them did so because of political reasons instead of religious reasons?  How do we classify persecution and martyrdom rightly?

3 thoughts on “A Dilemma in Nigeria

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  1. this question has actually come up between ourselves and our friends concerning the recent church shootings in Colorado. I do not wish to deter your focus from Nigeria; the question may still apply. If a person comes into our building and shoots to kill, but not for “religious” or “faith” reasons, but merely because there are mass opportunities for murder, then do we classify those who die as martyrs merely because they are believers in Christ? I personally have a hard time doing so because then a Christian dying from a drunk driver or homicidal negligence could also be called a martyr, right? I tend to classify a martyr as a believer in christ (since we’re talking of Christian maryrs here) who chooses knowingly to suffer death rather than conform to the prevailing power (ie: renounce his belief) If it is death by political reasoning with no threat to one’s faith (although in some instances the lines between political and religious is blurred) then I do not at this time believe it to be legitimate martyrdom. Hmmm…now you have me thinking on these things.


  2. Kelly,
    Very good question. This is a great conversation for Christians to be holding. Some would say that the motive of the persecutor determines whether or not the case should be called persecution. So, for instance, they would say that what is happening in Sudan is not persecution at all, but, rather, genocide (since the Muslim government there is killing all non-muslims). Your comment moves in the other direction and says that the definition comes from the persecuted, whether or not their actions were explicitly “Christian.” I think you are much closer to the truth of Matthew 5. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus offers a blessing for those persecuted “for righteousness’ sake.” This is also referred to as persecution for his name’s sake. What this means is that genuine Christian persecution happens when a faithful Christian is targeted because of his identifying with Jesus Christ. On this view, the churchgoer would be a martyr (assuming that he was a Christian), while the person hit by the drunk driver would not be a martyr (though he may well be a Christian). Thanks for a great comment.


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