Are Nigerian Christians Really Facing Persecution? Definitions.


In Nigeria, the situation is grim for Christians. In particular, Christians in the northern tier of Nigeria live in constant fear of bombings, execution, or torturous violence at the hands of Boko Haram, a militant Islamic terrorist organization.

Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan spoke against the violence but insisted that this violence was not Christian persecution, as Boko Haram kills Muslims, too. No doubt, the latter half of the statement is true, as the organization has admitted to killing Muslims on occasion. Their explanation sounds like the explanation often given when civilians are unexpectedly killed in battles. I think the term is “collateral damage.” (It is an awfully cold manner in which to describe any loss of human life.)

According to this report,

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has refuted his assertion. Its spokesman Sunday Oibe responded: “Our attention has been drawn to a purported claim by President Goodluck Jonathan that the Boko Haram insurgents in the north have killed more Muslims than Christians and that it is not a religious issue.

“The purported statement by Mr. President is highly disappointing considering the fact that Christians and their churches and businesses have been the major targets of the Boko Haram terror group.

“We want to believe that the President was misquoted… If it is true that Mr. President actually made this assertion, then we are highly disappointed and sad at this veiled attempt to distort the facts as it concerns the activities of the Boko Haram sect.

CAN goes on to explain why, in their opinion, the violence is Christian persecution. In short summary form, here is the explanation:

“We say this because there has never been any bomb that has been exploded in any mosque or targeted at any mosque in the entire activities of the Boko Haram sect in the north. The Boko Haram members even said that when a Muslim is killed, it is by mistake”.

Christian Persecution Definition WorldWatch Monitor, a responsible news agency reporting on persecution around the world, has made a good case in agreement with CAN that the violence in northern Nigeria is, indeed, persecution. Their credible report also demonstrates the difficulty that exists in persecution studies with regard to definitions and the intermingling of politics and religion. (We need definitions).

The paradigm proposed by WorldWatch Monitor is to distinguish between Insidious persecution—which includes discrimination, harassment, and less volatile forms of oppression; and Elevated persecution, which would describe more violent (and even lethal) forms of persecution. WorldWatch Monitor then asserts that Christians in Nigeria are facing Elevated forms of persecution on a regular basis.

I am very thankful for the work of WorldWatch Monitor. They study the numbers seriously and avoid sensationalism in reporting Christian persecution. I do not wish to undermine anything they are doing, only to build further upon it.

In that spirit, I offer yet a further taxonomy of persecution study. Rather than violence being the beginning of the taxonomy, I suggest we make violence derivative of a more basic taxonomy. The first question when categorizing persecution by type is not whether it was violent vs. non-violent. Rather, the first question is whether the persecution is simplistic or systemic.

If it is simplistic, then it results from an individual or small group of friends, family, or colleagues acting in haste, committing an unplanned hostile response to agitation because of the presence of a Christian. If the persecution is systemic, then the hostility was planned and orchestrated at an institutional level—like the police, the military, the school system, the local government, or an organized militia like Boko Haram.

Whatever the “collateral damage” is in Nigeria, the reality is that Boko Haram is systemically opposed to Christianity and targets Christians for violence, execution, and church explosions. Like CAN, I suspect that Christians in Nigeria are victims of systemic persecution and need our prayers.

2 thoughts on “Are Nigerian Christians Really Facing Persecution? Definitions.

  1. The persecution against Christians in Nigeria is definitely systemic. We have a correspondent there who has been able to report extreme cases specifically against the Christians. Not only is Boko Haram trying to rid the country of them, their Muslim neighbors will instigate attacks with the terrorist group hoping to gain from the Christian losses—land, valuables, business.

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  2. Pingback: How Many Meanings Can a Biblical Text Have? | Gregory C. Cochran

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