People have asked us for our take on the racial tensions in the US and although I haven’t spent much time following it, this week I watched a video of people vandalizing a Target. The images I saw were strikingly similar to the violence we constantly hear about on the English-speaking side of Cameroon. I think the burning, pillaging, and violence we find here could shed some light on the conflict currently taking place in the States.
The Anglophone Crisis: A Little History
Relations between the former British colonies and the former French colonies have been tense since the independence and unification of Cameroon. In 2016, English-speaking students, lawyers, and teachers held demonstrations claiming that they were being marginalized by the French-speaking majority in the Cameroon government. In response to this, protesters were shot, various activists were arrested and, in general, their voice of concern was met with brutal force. This reaction incited a group of the Anglophones to fight fire with fire, banding together in order to create a new state called “Ambazonia.” Proponents of this new state, called the “Amba boys,” have abandoned diplomacy for violence with the stated goal of making their regions “ungovernable.” Their acts include murder, pillaging, and burning entire villages. For a fuller description of the crisis, visit these sites.
We live in the East region of Cameroon, far from the conflict, but not completely removed from the effects of the violence and chaos. Some English-speaking refugees have come to the East, desperately trying to make a living. One woman showed me a video on her phone of a man who was riding his bike and then was suddenly shot in the head. She also described how a woman’s baby that she was holding in her arms was shot point blank in the head. We have had other friends whose family members were kidnapped by the Amba boys and they asked us for help to pay their ransom. Missionaries from that region tell stories of decapitations, villages being burnt, women being raped, and civilians being shot at random and their bodies piled up in front of a local Christian orphanage. I often do not know how to pray for this crisis because both sides are guilty of brutal violence.
I think the saddest thing about this situation is the fact that the civilians are suffering the most. They are caught in the middle of a horrible conflict and many have fled to the jungle where they are suffering from disease. Family members are being kidnapped and killed. People on both sides of the conflict, in their desire for revenge and control, are pointing their guns in the wrong direction and are committing acts of terror directed towards women, children, and people that just want to see their children go to school again.
What has the response of the local church been in this region? The Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) has taken a stand and condemned all forms of violence on both sides. They have denounced the violence of the armed forces as well as the violence of the Amba boys as seen in a statement they released back in September of 2018:
How does this relate to America?
I think the situation in Cameroon relates to recent events in America in a few ways. I have only watched three videos recently: one was of people looting a Target, in the second people were blocking an interstate and assaulting police officers, and in the last one a mob pulled the driver out of a semi which was trying to drive on the road they were blocking. When I watched the looting of a Target, I saw angry people throwing mannequins on the ground (what did they do?). The mob pulled displays down, and one man was kicking a display case and throwing electronic devices on the ground in a fit of rage. As I watched these videos, I was horrified at the anger seen in protesters as well as their desire for violence. This is not fighting for a cause. This is village burning. This is harming civilians. This is old fashioned ten-commandment breaking.
One thing I love about my country of birth is that if a police officer rapes a woman, he is held accountable. If he takes bribes, there is an investigation. If he sets fire to a strip mall, he is reported. Any accountability for police officers is a gift that many nations are not privy to. Is there legitimacy to the claims of current systemic racism in America? I don’t know, maybe. According to the Bible, people are sinful and therefore, why would we assume that there is no racism or marginalization?
However, just as the Amba Boys are dead wrong in their use of violence for their cause, so are those rioting in the streets in the US. I join in the voices of the believers here on the English-speaking side of Cameroon and condemn violence of any kind. We are called to overcome evil with good, not use evil as an excuse to burn down restaurants.
Let’s call it what it is: Evil.
The actions of some in the current protests are simply evil and violent. Police officers using excessive force is also evil. Let’s not forget that bringing harm to another human being is what the Lord destroyed the world for in the days of Noah:
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.’” – Genesis 6:11, 13
The reason why violence is so grievous is that violence is rebellion against the God’s call to love, forgive, and show honor to our fellow man.
Let’s also not fall into the trap of calling evil good. Police abusing authority is evil. Protesters burning another’s property is evil. People insulting and disrespecting others is evil. Violent hurting and killing of a fellow human being is also evil and we are called to hate what is evil (Rom 12.9). Some seem eager to label any critics of the riots as racist, but God commands us to call evil “evil”, come what may.
Let’s look at the lives of those whom we affirm.
When we look at two opposing sides, how do we distinguish the good guys from the bad? The Bible says that those who are right, who are the wise, show their rightness by their good lives.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” – James 3:13
We might ask, what does “good” look like in a situation like the one we are in in the US? Standing against racism is good, right? Absolutely. And yet the manner in which we stand matters. James 3:17 says:
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
Those who are on God’s side (those who are calling what he calls evil “evil” and what he calls good “good”) do it in a way that is peace-loving and considerate. We can be sure that those who are being violent are not filled with God’s wisdom and thus we should not affirm them.
Let’s busy ourselves with proactive, good deeds.
There’s a lot of people telling us what causes to fight for these days, and yet how much stock do we put in what the Lord calls us to fight for? In the same way, how much energy do we exert in understanding human arguments verses the energy we exert in seeking to do what God wants us to do? Psalm 37.1a, 3 says:
“Do not fret because of those who are evil…Trust in the Lord and do good.”
Simple actions like bringing food to the sick, caring for those who are in prison, spending time in prayer, being honest at work, teaching kids, correcting kids, loving one’s spouse, being involved in a local church, and so on are what God calls his children to busy their lives with. Are there causes worth fighting for? Absolutely, but those causes do not exempt us from the day-in-day-out good that we as Christians are called to do. We should be so busy with doing good that we have little time to watch videos of riots online.
The Cameroon Baptist Convention is a shining example of what our response should be towards violence of any kind. Even if we believe in the cause behind the violence, we ought to condemn loudly and clearly that for which God destroyed the world during the days of Noah. The voice of the church in America should join the voice of their brothers and sisters in Cameroon denouncing the means of violence to further a cause.