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Violence in Nigeria: Breaking the Country's Fatal Deadlock
Image: Photo by Dele Jones / AP / Corbis
Violence in Nigeria: Breaking the Country's Fatal Deadlock

When a suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed car into the flagship church of one of Nigeria's largest denominations, angry Christian youth retaliated by burning Muslim shops and killing nearby motorcycle riders.

The February incident, which killed 12 and injured 40 at the Church of Christ in Nigeria's Jos headquarters, fueled the global debate over whether Nigeria will erupt into a religious civil war. Christmas Day bombings of northern churches by Islamist extremists, which killed 44, also fueled such fears. The headlines haven't stopped since. On Sunday, gunmen attacked church services in Kano and in Maiduguri, killing at least 21 people, including a pastor preparing for Communion.

Missing from all the analysis and commentary on the ethnic, political, and economic causes of such violence was one crucial element: theology.

Decades of violence have tested the faith of Nigerian Christians, but have also warped their theology. Too many of them now believe that violence is more redemptive than nonviolence; in other words, they resort to human efforts—traditional retaliation—when seeking justice. Correcting this warped theology offers the best way forward. Violence is a moral problem that challenges the core of the nature, presence, and power of the gospel in any environment.

Nigeria began the 21st century with the February 2000 slaughter of thousands in Kaduna over the introduction of Shari'ah law, and September 2001 saw a spree of church and mosque burnings in Jos. In November 2008, disputed local elections triggered clashes between Muslim and Christian youth in Jos. Hundreds died. In April 2011, riots following the controversial election of Christian president Goodluck Jonathan killed an estimated 800 people. ...

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In the Magazine

April 2012

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