“Conflict within, conflict without.” These are the words that best describe the state of affairs in Benue State, Nigeria. Though not brought up on this blog before, the volatile conditions in Benue State, which dub it “The Benue Crisis,” are not conditions to be overlooked.
What is the Benue Crisis?
In 2011, Fulani Herdsmen—a nomadic people group, known for being pastoralists— started grazing in areas where indigenous peoples, such as the Igbos and Idomas (located in Benue) lived. In what started a war between the two peoples, the people of Benue complained that Fulani Herdsmen coming to their land caused damage to their crops and worsened the health of their drinking water1. While this issue is only the tip of the iceberg (there is fierce ethnic and religious divides between the two peoples, as well2), it was this issue that broke the camel’s back. Enraged after Benue rejected grazing land for the Herdsmen3, Fulani Herdsmen killed 73 people at the beginning of this year in Benue, while rioting and committing arson in their towns and villages. Approximately 40,000 people have been displaced from the violence, and this crisis has made the Fulani Herdsmen Nigeria’s new biggest internal security threat.4
Reading of the sudden surge of violence, I’m filled with a sense of sadness. Nigeria has already been ripped to pieces by Boko Haram; the last thing it needs is fighting between fellow Nigerians, which breaks up whatever little amount of Unity there is. Yet, as I reflected on this news, it reminded me of another horrible thing, quite similar (but worse than) disunity within a nation: disunity and dissension within the body of Christ.
When the Church Hurts
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” King David wrote in Psalm 133:1. The Bible is chalk full of scripture on the importance of Peace and Unity within the Church body, worldwide, as a whole—and it is obvious from Scripture that such unity leads to Love, growth, and a strengthened Church. Yet, for reasons rooted both in the flesh and in the powers of darkness, the worldwide Church is more fractured than ever, filled with “backbiters” and all kinds of evil.
This kind of evil is especially sad. People expect this kind of behavior from the world around them, since it does not know Christ. But dissension and anger in the Church, along with gossiping and other sins, can catch a person off-guard and severely wound one’s heart and soul. When someone is hurt by sin in a place where they are supposed to be genuinely loved, it can cause one to turn on the Church—and Jesus– forever.
And honestly, who would blame them? When Jesus’ church looks and acts just like the world around it, providing no real love or shelter for those who are in desperate need of it (all of us), it makes sense for a person to leave. But, while it is easy to leave broken relationships and try to find another church to belong to— be it another local church, the world-wide Church, or turning on Christ entirely—it is obviously not Jesus’ desire. So, how is the Christian supposed to navigate hurt or disagreement when such things take place?
Peace Through Christ
First, we must start with the foundation: Peace with God. Ephesians 2 reads:
“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
(Ephesians 2:8-16, NIV)
In context, Paul the Apostle was telling the church in Ephesus that those who were once separated by ethnicity and religious background (for, Jews were taught to stay away from Gentiles, and even Gentile converts to Judaism couldn’t come as close in the temple as Jews5) were now one in Jesus Christ. Think of it—wait, we don’t have to, because it’s Truth! – people of every ethnicity, socio-economic status, skin color, culture, political stance, and even religious upbringing, upon believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, become ONE! Parts of ONE Body, baptized by ONE baptism, looking at ONE Hope—Jesus Christ Himself (Ephesians 4:4-6). This Truth changes everything.
This is not just some radical theology, or a truth-filled ideal. This is real. But how does it affect us, personally, on a day to day basis?
As Steven J. Cole so wisely asserts, “Being at peace with God is the foundation for peace with others.”5 To look for peace between people, one must first look to the cross.
Did someone gossip or lie about you? Look to the cross.
Did someone not invite you to a function you thought you’d be invited to? Look to the cross.
Has a difference in opinions or personal convictions (over a MINOR issue of faith) made you hard-hearted and divisive toward a fellow brother or sister? Look to the cross.
Has someone done something inconceivable to you, and you don’t know if you’re ever going to be able to forgive them? Look to the cross.
Listen: Jesus is the One who initiated reconciliation with you. He reached out first.
Not because of what you have done—but because of Who. He. Is.
So, my friend, my family in Christ: forgive. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Do not count someone’s sin against them, forever. (1 Corinthians 13:5)
In the midst of differences in opinion over non-essentials, give room for grace—and love them anyway. (Romans 14:1-4)
And– if safe and wise to do so– let the Power of Jesus’ Love and Forgiveness, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, allow you to reconcile.
Let me be clear. I am not condoning that a person in a harmful or unsafe situation should stay in that situation— not all forgiveness leads to the complete restoration of a relationship.
But I am saying this: We, as Believers in Christ, belong to each other. As people heading to Heaven, we will know each other, forever. And truly Loving each other—getting through our hurts and disagreements, and still Loving each other after it all– is going to be the boldest, realest witness to Christ that the world will ever see. Hatred is not a political problem or even a religious problem, at least in the ordinary way religion is viewed. Hatred is a heart problem—and only Jesus can change hearts.
In a world where division and hatred is the norm, the world needs this witness now, more than ever. The Salvation, Love, and Peace of Christ is the ONLY true solution to such division as the Benue Crisis. Let’s pray that together, as the Church is strengthened in Love, that the Gospel would be shared—and that even more hearts would be changed: For He Himself is our Peace.
This post is dedicated to Deputy Heath Gumm, who was killed by a gunshot wound after responding to an assault-in-progress in Adams County, Colorado. It is dedicated to every peace officer dedicated to protecting society as a whole. Thank you, Deputy Gumm; thank you, America’s Peace Officers.
Do you know Jesus?
It’s one of the first lessons people come to understand as children: Hatred and violence are undeniable parts of our world. No matter where a person grows up, they soon learn the hard truth that this world is tough, and people are mean.
While people fight for love and peace, they have never gained the final victory over it. But Jesus Christ has. “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:14-16). This passage is speaking about Peace between ethnically born Jews, and “Gentiles”—everyone who isn’t a Jew. In giving us Peace with God, Christ Himself has brought Peace to ALL people by His death on the Cross.
Jesus Christ gave us Peace with God. Removing the need to perfectly obey the law, we are given Peace with God instead through Jesus’ death on the cross. This is the true and lasting Peace that we need—and one day, Christ will come back to reign over the Earth, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Learn about this God-Man, who offers us lasting Peace with God and with one another, here.
- For any fractures within the Church. From hurt in the local church body to disdain and hatred between some denominations of Christianity, pray for Love and Unity, as Christ did (John 17:20-24). Reflect on your life—is there anyone you need to make Peace with? Make that Peace today.
- That Believers all over the world—both in Benue, and those as missionaries in Northern Nigeria—would extend the Gospel, Grace, Love, and Peace of God to both Fulani Herdsmen, and the indigenous people within the nation. Pray that these ministries would be built up, strengthened in knowledge of the Word and in Love, and given all they need to shine brightly during this dark time!
- That those in the Benue Crisis would seek God, and in doing so, would come to know Christ. “…God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).
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