Fears of genocide in the volatile Central African Republic (CAR) have flipped focus from Christians being victimized to Muslims being victimized. Yet Christian and Muslim leaders are still trying to persuade the world that the current crisis is not sectarian at heart.
Religious leaders from the capital city, Bangui, who "refuse to be enemies" recently traveled to New York City to ask the United Nations for a peacekeeping operation. An Amnesty International report documents anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence throughout the CAR. One-quarter of the country's population of 5 million has now been displaced, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
But senior Christian leaders dispute Western media calling anti-Balaka fighters "Christian militias" and Séléka fighters "Muslim militias." Touted as a counterexample: Muslims finding shelter in churches in Boali and around the country.
The Alliance of Evangelical Churches even pledged to take action against Christians who "distort [Jesus' gospel]" by not pursuing reconciliation, stating:
A true child of God has received and must exercise the ministry of reconciliation as recommended by the New Testament. Therefore, AEC will take actions against those who for personal reasons and other ambitions contrary to the teachings of the Gospel of Peace of Jesus Christ, distort the essence of his existence and throw an infamous discredit on people of God, by identifying themselves as Anti-Balaka militia or Séléka rebels. Our battle is spiritual, not carnal and should be carried out on the knees and not weapons in hand.
A group of Protestant and Catholic church leaders representing more than three-quarters of the Central African population released a second Bangui Declaration condemning the violence and inaccurate media reports.
"All anti-Balaka are not Christians and all Christians are not anti-Balaka. It is the same for ex-Seleka and Muslims," the declaration says. "This amalgam propagated by national and international media has given a religious connotation to a crisis that is in its core political and military."
Open Doors and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) also dispute the sectarian framing.
"Anti-Balaka leaders have rejected calls by the Church and its representing bodies to cease from violence," says a position statement from Open Doors. "They have also attacked Christians and threatened Church leaders who have dared speak out against them. We bemoan the fact that despite this, international media continue to label them as Christians."
"We are encouraged by the bold position of the Church in the Central African Republic, clearly distancing itself from the fighting factions," said Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the WEA. "Religious leaders in the CAR call for restraint, peace, and reconciliation, leading by example."