Religious Intolerance in Nigeria: An Abuse of Human Rights
Anthonia Bolanle Ojo, SSMA
More than before, contemporary Nigerian society has been beset with religious conflicts that have threatened to tear the fabric of the country’s unity. To a large extent one can say that Nigeria of the past boasted of religious flexibility and tolerance for many years. However, recently, it seems to have been shelved as gruesome stories relating to religion rear their ugly heads frequently, causing loss of lives. One can say that a curious feature of today Nigerian society is religious intolerance, most especially in the Northern and the Middle Belt regions of the country. Religious fanaticism in the Northern part of Nigeria has been hidebound and its spread is unbridled. Religious violence has been unleashed on many innocent citizens of this country, that one wonders if Nigeria is truly a secular country which gives room for religious freedom. There is palpable apprehension among the citizens due to the Boko Haram insurgencies in the different parts of the Northern region. For over two years, cities like Maiduguri, Bauchi, Damaturu and Gombe have being bedevilled with fear due to the Boko Haram insurgencies. Religious intolerance prevails in the country and this is an abuse of human rights.
Religious intolerance usually originates from the perceived superiority of one religion over the others. In simple terms, religious intolerance or fanaticism is the inability of an adherent of a particular religion to acknowledge, accommodate and accept the right of others to live by another faith different from his own. Invariably, such attitude is connected to the conviction that one’s religion is the only divinely ordained path to spiritual enlightenment and immorality in heaven. Consequently, a religious fanatic believes strongly that his religion is unquestionably superior to other religions. It is good to point out that being zealous for one’s religion is commendable and is to be expected, but where such zeal is wrongly channeled, it becomes dangerous for the life of the community and it is an abuse of human rights.
The high rate of killings due to religious intolerance in many parts of the country is worrisome. A great concern at this alarming phenomenon is informed by the recent extrajudicial murder of a 75-year-old woman, Mrs Bridget Agbaheme, a Christian and trader at Kofar Wambai market, in Kano, who was beaten to death by irate youths after accusing her of blasphemy against Islam and also Mrs Eunice Elisha of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Kubwa, Abuja, who was killed recently for preaching. Before Nigerians could comprehend the motive behind such barbarity, another Christian and carpenter at Kakuri area of Kaduna metropolis, Mr Emmanuel Francis was mobbed and stabbed severally by some Muslim youths for failing to observe the Ramadan fast. Definitely, such primitive acts do not present Nigeria in positive light before the international community. Legal opinions have it that, while the above examples may be considered criminal acts, they are largely considered to have religious undertones. There is no denying the fact that many people now see the country as hostage to religious extremism.
Nigeria, like many other countries, is a secular country going by her Constitution. A quick look at the 1999 Amended Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shows that in Section 38 (1) and also Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right, state that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” Furthermore, Section 10 of the same Constitution states: “the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State religion.” It therefore bears restating that the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and no one should be victimised for their beliefs. The multiple religions in the country give every citizen the right opportunity to choose which faith is convenient. Therefore, freedom of faith must be defended at all cost, even when those in authority are not convenient with it.
Religious intolerance poses a great threat to human rights. Human rights apply to all irrespective of color, gender, sex, religion, health status, dress, socio-economic status, etc. This threat is not simply because of the specific acts of fundamentalist groups which may be recognised as concrete violations of human rights standards; the real threat comes from the political aims or the political project that is at the heart of fundamentalisms, which is essentially to transform the way identities are ascribed and negotiated. The human rights question is about us having rights as human beings. The fundamentalist claim is very different: it is about ascribing humanity on the basis of a certain religious claim which has to be legitimated by certain authorities, and which in turn lays down a whole set of other obligations and subject relationships with self and others to a certain kind of regime.
Right to religious freedom is based on the inherent dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). In the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it is explicitly affirmed that the recognition of the dignity and the rights of the human person is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace, and that disregard and contempt for them are acts of barbarousness that offend the conscience of humankind. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Dignitatis Humanae, the Declaration on Religious Liberty, teach that the right of the individual and of communities to social and civil freedom in religious matters carries with it the right “to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (§ 2).
Today, most of the world’s major conflicts are as a result of religious intolerance that has been left to fester into uncontrollable spiral of violence. We must restate that religious belief is fundamental to many human identities. It is part of the ways in which human beings experience the world around them. Hence all have the right to enjoy freedom to choose which religion that one is convenient with.
A Path towards the Building of Peace
By Osamu Takeuchi, S.J.
True peace commences from within each one of us. As the author of the Imitation of Christ affirms, “First keep yourself in peace and then you will be able to bring others to peace. The peaceable man does more good than one who is very learned” (II, 3, 1).
A Crisis of Peace in Japan
There are several issues that threaten peace within Japan, such as the law of collective self-defense of 2013, the security-related bills of 2015, and the anti-conspiracy bills of 2017. These issues bear close links to one another, and these bills reveal three distinctive breakdowns, namely the breakdown of constitutionalism, democracy, and the commitment to peace.
With reference to the right to collective self-defense, in the view of the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the use of force as a means of self-defense is permitted not merely when the nation of Japan experiences military assault, but also when a nation bearing a close relationship to Japan faces such assault. However, the fact is that an exercise such as this would undeniably surpass the minimum level of self-defense permitted by the Constitution.
The security-related bills are no more than war bills, and in fact over 90 percent of Japan’s constitutional scholars insist that they violate the Constitution. The government can classify information as a state secret under four designated categories, namely defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism. Nonetheless however, the definition of what qualifies as a state secret is vague, and alarmingly broad.
Anti-conspiracy bills can erode in name of security the basic freedom of expression of the people, as well as their right to privacy. They would make 277 types of crimes punishable, and besides, they seek to punish crimes in their planning stages.
The Origin of True Peace
True peace does not imply the occurrence of nothing, the maintenance of balance in forces, or control by a dictatorship. Rather, it is suffused with a much more profound significance (cf. Gaudium et spes, 78). Christ uttered the words, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19, 21), where peace or shalom is a familiar word of daily usage that serves as a greeting, and also signifies the fact that God is with us. “Do not fear. You are mine. I will always be with you” (cf. Is 43:1-2) — this is God’s promise, the source of true peace.
The following two individuals present us with a simple understanding of peace, namely Mother Teresa and Fr. Pio of Pietrelcina. When Mother Teresa was alive, she once gave a person she met a note that stated: “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace.” In her view, the way to true peace begins with silence. Fr. Pio asserts that peace is simplicity of spirit, the serenity of conscience, the tranquility of the soul, and the bond of love.
Peace as revealed by Jesus
Jesus as the “prince of peace” invites us to true peace (Is 9:5). “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). This celebrated phrase forms part of the Beatitudes, the Magna Carta of the Gospels.
While on earth, Jesus is often said to have declared, “do not be afraid.” (Mt 14:27, 17:7, 28:10, Lk 5:10, 12:32), and after his resurrection he said, “Peace be with you,” which also happens to be God’s greeting in the Old Testament. This is an unchanging promise of God, the good news from which true peace originates.
Access to Public Transportation Should Be Made (More) Explicit in Catholic Social Teaching
An integral feature of modern societies, public transportation is assumed common good in Catholic Social Teaching, official Church documents seem to take public transit for granted. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church includes access to transportation as essential to helping promote integral human development and fundamental human rights that meet the proper conditions for the common good (Compendium, 166). Although Church documents generally neither specify nor endorse specific types of transportation, documents like Mater et Magistra and Pacem en Terris do take care to distinguish between transportation in general and road building in particular (MM, 127; PT, 64); the Church never limits the definition of transportation to private vehicles alone. John XXIII, in a December 1959 address to the Address to the Transit Workers of Rome, articulates this assumption well: “In the inevitable difficulties of life, which can be bitter sometimes, bear in mind that you fulfill a very good and necessary task, which everyone appreciates for its fair value, because it connects in the many activites of the whole social body.” The Church values, and takes for granted, public transportation precisely because it enables people to gather and engage in those activities which make a society dedicated to the common good possible.
Catholic Social Teaching’s treatment of public transportation is unsurprising, given that this body of thought originated and developed in Western Europe, a region which utilizes every mode of public transportation, has a history of experimentation with new modes of transit, and is home to some of the world’s leading manufacturers of transit products. Europeans, like Americans, did fall in love with private automobiles and helped pioneer modern highway systems. But, unlike the United States, Europe neither neglected nor disposed of public transit systems. Post-World War II, what became the member states of the European Union implemented a transportation policy that developed new urban and national transit systems, and redeveloped, modernized, and expanded existing systems. Europe pioneered high-speed rail as the preferred mode of travel over air between its capitol and other major cities. Today, public transit remains a priority in Europe, with ridership at its highest levels ever.
The United States is almost unique among industrial nations in its neglect of public transit The Federal Government favored state and municipal infrastructure projects with subsidies that supported private automobiles, trucks, and aviation against which unsubsidized and overregulated railroad companies could not compete. Eventually, the railroad shed their long-distance passenger and commuter rail services to Amtrak and local transit authorities. Commuter bus and trolley companies, marginally profitable in the best of times, could not compete with the rise of the automobile and they too passed into public hands. Further with the lack of a political consensus and public support for a dedicated subsidized revenue and, the public transit systems suffered from inconsistent levels of maintenance. This lack of support generated a vicious cycle of inconsistent investment causing inconsistent maintenance leading to a decreased quality of service with a consequent decrease in ridership: transit systems broke down; they could not expand to follow people living and working beyond metropolitan centers; and they were hurt by unionized workers striking for increased wages, benefits, and work rules that transit authorities believed they could not afford. Our urban centers became dumping grounds for our underclass, instead of commercial and manufacturing centers. Consequently, transit systems, save for those in our largest metropolitan areas, are today used primarily by persons with lower incomes, unfortunately, those who are most in need of better transportation options but whose concerns are rarely considered in political rationing. Nevertheless, beginning in the 1990s, national and regional public transit experienced a comeback in ridership: millennials in particular and Americans in general have rediscovered city life and are seeking less costly –in time and in fuel and maintenance costs not to mention the environmental impact of fossil fuel dependence—alternatives to automobiles. Ironically, the increased passenger traffic coupled with years of inconsistent maintenance and lack of infrastructure upgrades are the primary reasons behind the accidents and congestion issues which have befallen transit systems in recent years.
Public transportation has never been able to cover the costs of its day-to-day operations or the costs of the maintenance, upgrade, and expansion of its infrastructure through passenger fare revenue alone. By themselves, such systems are a money losing enterprise. However, when they are subsidized and paid for by the economic activity that public transit facilitates elsewhere in the economy, these transportation systems make possible the personal, governmental, and commercial social exchanges inclusive of the common good that generate the tax revenue, user fees, and fare revenue necessary for their success. Since public transit’s contribution to the common good is not assumed in the US as elsewhere, a study of public transportation contributing to the common good must expand from the occasional public statement in support to connect the dots between political action, advocacy, and Catholic Social Teaching (see Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, "Transit Reform: Why us? Why now?").
Let’s start the conversation, purchase and use public transit fare cards, and encourage our neighbors to do likewise.
To Set the Captives Free…
Justice for Black and Brown Communities in an Era of Mass Detention and Incarceration
What does justice look like when 1 out of every 4 African-American males, and 1 out of every 6 Latinx males in the United States faces some time in the criminal justice system? How are black and brown communities to develop a thriving economy, and solid representation in the political structures that control their fate when their young men and women disappear into the carceral state, only to come out with the stigma of being formerly incarcerated, unable to vote, and forced to “check the box” that states they’ve had a prior conviction on job applications? Mass detention and incarceration, the most current iteration of the legacy of slavery and conquest over black and brown bodies in the U.S., was the central question examined during the joint Colloquium of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States and the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, held in Albuquerque, NM, June 4-7, 2017. The gathering had participants consider theological, ethical, and policy approaches to this injustice within the context of the captivity –from neighborhoods and jails—and containment –in prisons—of black and brown bodies as dominant elements of U.S. culture and history.
Sociologically and historically this injustice requires coming to terms with the ways black and brown bodies have been controlled through public policy since the abolition of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and especially beginning with the 1980s “war on drugs.” “Tough on crime” policies imposed heavy prison sentences for minor drug offenses, primarily impacting black and brown communities. The effects of these policies today can be seen in the expansion of the prison industrial complex, where black and brown bodies are detained for the profit of a few corporations and individuals, not for the rehabilitation or restoration of the human beings behind bars.
Presenters raised the key theological and ethical question: what makes this level of violence against particular populations normal? We have become accustomed to seeing poverty in our midst and to criminalizing its inevitable effects, while increasing funding for the building of prisons and detention centers instead of education, housing, and equal employment opportunities. An operative anthropology of control heavily impacts our ability to see black and brown bodies as legitimately deserving freedom. This anthropology requires a deeper analysis of the systemic evils that impose worse life prospects for certain communities bearing “minority” class or racial markers in the U.S., often for the gain and benefit of dominant communities.
While reform is the dominant language of Catholic social teaching with respect to many social ills, the Colloquium focused on the language of prison abolition. This approach points out the ways the current system is particularly damaging black and brown persons as it fails to honor a Christian vision of the human being. As Puerto Rican ethicist Elías Ortega suggests, abolition language is important to dismantle the whitening of democracy. Since racism and the myth of white racial superiority is a fundamental element of the U.S. criminal justice system, interrupting this ideology demands that we infuse theological language about human rights and justice with abolition logic.
Other insights from our time together include:
- Interdisciplinary approaches to mass incarceration and detention are best poised to yield accurate analysis, profound reflection, and creative solutions. Theological and ethical reflection on this injustice cannot be divorced from the historical, sociological, political, and economic facts that impose violent social policies and practices on black and brown communities.
- Theological considerations of mass incarceration and detention must come to terms with the role that the Christian churches have played historically in the social vilification and criminalization of black and brown peoples. This should include consideration of the ways Churches continue to play into narratives of white privilege and white dominance that run counter to a God whose victory over evil is through subverting the violence of the cross with resurrection, as black theologian Kelly Brown Douglas suggests.
- All critical academic enterprises on criminalization and detention should consult intimately with the voices and perspectives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated folk, for the sake of legitimacy and solidarity. As ethicist Vincent Lloyd stated, we go to the jails and detention centers to learn effective strategies of resistance from them, not to teach them.
Catholic theological ethicists in the U.S. cannot stand by idly nor remain silent in the face of this violence.
Are Brazilians Cordial People?
Intolerance and A Camillian Physician, a Sign of Hope
Alexandre A. Martins
As part of a great team of CTEWC contributors who write from different parts of the world, my function is to write on issues that challenge the theological ethics in Latin America, especially in Brazil, my home country. In my last contribution, I wrote about issues regarding to the lack of dialogue in Brazilian society. Just like other countries, Brazil is currently a polarized country where people with opposing viewpoints do not want to dialogue with one another. In a forthcoming book (Fundamentalismo: Desafios à Ética Teológica, eds. Maria Inês de Castro Millen & Ronaldo Zacharias. Aparecida: Santúario Press, 2017) to be released in August during the XLI Brazilian Conference of Moral Theology in São Paulo, I wrote a chapter in which I argue that social fundamentalism is one of the causes for this polarization and lack of dialogue. Furthermore, I present the uprooting of Brazilian society from its history, traditions, and values as one of the reasons for this social fundamentalism and consequently rising intolerance.
Seeing this context from outside, especially from the lens of media, the picture seems worse than what it is. The impression is that Brazilians – who worldwide gained a reputation of being peaceful, hospitable, and tolerant – are yelling on streets against one another all the time. Brazilian historian Leandro Karnal deconstructs a romanticized view that Brazilian people are a peaceful, cordial people (Todos Contra Todos: O Ódio Nosso de Cada Dia. Leya Press, 2017). Based on historical facts, he examines how the history of Brazil, since the colonial period until today, does not allow us to support a thesis of a “cordial people.” According to him, the current polarization and intolerance (especially against minorities, such as Afro-Brazilians, people from the Northeast, and LGBT communities) are more visible today than ever. One example is that Brazil, the last country of the Americas to end slavery, never actually lived a process of reconciliation with its past, or created a real process of social inclusion of minorities. Although Brazilian people are a mix of black, indigenous, and white blood that created a new people according to Darcy Ribeiro (O Povo Brasileiro: A Formação e o Sentido do Brasil. 3rd ed. São Paulo: Global, 2015), the difference – determined by an elite that oppresses its own people because of their social status and racial origin – always has been a reason for intolerance. This reality has supported an unjust and discriminatory structure that corrodes society.
I have developed activities in different parts of the world. In the last few years, every time I stayed a long period outside of Brazil, when I came back, I thought I would find a country which I could not talk to people anymore because everything I may say could be a reason for conflict. Again, seeing from outside, this is the picture that one might have. But this is not true when you begin to walk throughout São Paulo’s streets, the largest Brazilian city. Karnal’s thesis of deconstruction is true and Brazil suffers the consequences of its own history of intolerance and racism. However, this is a structural violence (or social sin, in theological language) that has poisoned the Brazilian society in more than five centuries. Average citizens on streets are struggling daily against this structure. They are victims of a racist, sexist, and intolerant elite /structure. But, unfortunately, these counter-values also contaminate those who are not part of this elite, more today than ever, making the dream of the poor and oppressed to be rich and oppressor. As a result, the context of intolerance becomes visible and affects everyone. It is a complex reality. On one hand, walking in Brazilian streets and interacting with people, I see a kind and friendly people. On the other hand, there is an atmosphere of polarization, and the statistics have proven the increase of hate crimes. For instance, a recent study showed that São Paulo was the city the most hate crimes committed against LGBT people in the world. Ironically, São Paulo is also the city that has the second largest LGBT pride parade in the world (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Violence Against LGBTI Persons, Organization of American States Press, 2015). The contradiction is so big that is extremely difficult to understand the facts.
As I affirmed several times in essays published in this Forum, dialogue is a way for us begin to break this reality of polarization and intolerance. Of course, there are many ways to engage in a dialogue. Social dialogue does not mean only talking to someone, but it also includes actions that care for the other, regardless of who he/she is, with the only goal being to promote the humanity and well-being of the other. Walking throughout São Paulo’s streets searching for signs of hope in the midst of this context of fear, I found many people who proved that Brazilians are indeed cordial. However, this cordiality has limits determined by some subjects that cannot be touched. Perhaps, the best way to excise tolerance is through actions of caring and being able to testify a real solidarity to one another. Having this in mind, I visited an old friend who is now a Camillian priest and physician, Marcelo Valentim de Oliveira. He is a family doctor who serves in a slum in one of the poorest areas of São Paulo city.
I have known Fr. Oliveira since he was a scholastic in the Religious Order of Saint Camillus. After he finished his studies of theology, he went to be a missionary in Brazilian Northeast and then in Bolivia. Later, he was ordained priest and began to attend medical school in São Paulo. Currently, He serves in an impoverished community that suffers with lack of healthcare resources, especially doctors and nurses. Listening to Oliveira, he said he does the “work of a little ant” caring for his patients. In his humility, he repeated several times that his work is very small, and he does not do anything special, it is merely his obligation as a priest and a physician. However, his patients do not think his work is small. They love Fr. Oliveira, or Marcelinho as he is known (Marcelinho means little Marcelo, a nickname that he has because of his short stature). These patients are thankful because Marcelinho gives them an opportunity to be cared, to continue living, and to see their dignity empowered by a physician who cares for them just in the way they are in order to address their health needs and improve their lives.
The reality of slums in Brazil is marked by poverty, unemployment, over-population, lack of appropriate housing, lack of basic sanitation, precarious public systems of education, transportation and healthcare, drug trafficking, sexual abuses, and violence. In terms of health care, public health services are the only type of care offered in these regions. Among other problems, the Brazilian public health system has difficulty recruiting physicians to work in slums. Although Brazilian medical schools educate enough doctors to serve the need of the country, there is an internal brain-drain in which most physicians do not go to work in poor areas. Oliveira moves in the opposite side of this tendency in order to be a partner of the poor.
I asked Oliveira if he faces conflicts with his patients because of different values, perspectives and even ideological beliefs. He said that he realizes clear differences between his patients and him in all of these aspects, especially when there are different perspectives because of faith. However, he affirmed that these differences never were a problem for him to approach and to care for his patients. I also asked him if the polarization that Brazil is now facing affects his work. He said that this polarization is visible, but this does not affect his work at all. What actually affects his work is the lack of better public health policies that can provide more resources to serve his patients. Oliveira works in partnership with the public healthcare system that is responsible for providing medical material and medication for his patients. He said that in the first quarter of this year, municipal authorities in charge of supplying public health clinics and hospitals with medication drastically decreased healthcare resources. This made his work almost impossible, but he continued serving his patients, asking friends for donations to buy medication and securing his own resources.
Unfortunately, my time with Fr. Oliveira, MD was very short because I only stopped in São Paulo on my way to the Amazon Rain Forest area in Northern Brazil, where I will continue my search for signs of hope among Brazilians in this context of polarization and increasing of intolerance. I agree with Oliveira that his mission is “the work of a little ant,” but Brazil, and perhaps the world, needs this kind of ant. I have the privilege of having met many little ants like Oliveira around the world. They are signs of hope on this earth. Through his work, Oliveira testifies a tolerant and fruitful dialogue that cares for the other, regardless who the other is. Perhaps Brazilian people are not as cordial as many had thought, perhaps the human being is not cordial in its nature of an animal whom, as any other animal, struggles to adapt and survive in a hostile world. However, there are little ants, signs of hope, that make us to believe that a world of tolerance, respect, and care is still possible.
'Asia’s diversity and gender diversity’
“Two men canned 83 times in Indonesia for homosexual sex”.[i] “Taiwan’s high court rules same-sex marriage is legal, in a first for Asia”.[ii] This was the week that was in Asia spotlighting gender diversity in particular, and Asia’s diversity, in general. How does one make sense of these milestones in human history?
The public canning of two gay-identifying men, aged 20 and 23, who were caught and filmed by “vigilantes” occurred in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province which is the only Islamic province in Muslim-majority Indonesia. It is “very rare”, as CNN reports, “even in Aceh, which follows strict Islamic law, for two men to be caned for having sexual relations” (Westcott and Simanjuntak, 2017). The meting out of corporal punishment under Aceh’s Islamic law (hudud) became a spectacle where hundreds turned up at the mosque to witness, film and stream the ordeal of these men who were canned along with four other (heterosexual) couples for “being intimate outside of marriage”.
From Southeast Asia, one traverses to East Asia where a landmark ruling by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court deems the prohibition of same-sex couples from marrying as unconstitutional: these marriage laws “violate their personal freedom and equal protection”. Sexuality rights activists see this as “a huge step forward for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) rights in Taiwan and will resonate across Asia". The Taiwanese courts add that, marriage equality “[safeguards] human dignity, and therefore is a fundamental right" (Chappell, 2017). In contrast to the opposing standpoint of the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, the court maintains that, "a permanent union of intimate and exclusive nature for the committed purpose of managing a life together" does not affect “the rights of people in a heterosexual marriage”.
This secular ruling profoundly resonates with the Christian sexual ethics of the Free Community Church of Singapore, an “inclusive community that celebrates diversity in living out God’s love and promise of abundant life for all”.[iii] The FCC—wherein ‘free’ stands for “first realise that everyone is equal”—is a church that is “free”, “inclusive”, ”community”, “relational”, “open”, “ecumenical”, “living”, “relevant” and “missional” where “there is no demarcation between that which is sacred, and that which is secular”.
The diversity of Asia is apparent from the above disparate treatments of gender diversity. There is predominantly denial and castigation of gender diversity on religious grounds not unlike the Catholic Church’s theology of the body that informs its pastoral care of homosexual persons. The Church’s insistence on gender complementarity of the sexes leaves LGBTI Christians the only moral option of leading a “chaste life” for the glory of God.[iv] There is the rarity of a landmark secular ruling predicated on the inviolability of human rights that are in turn, premised on the inalienability of human dignity. And there is the transformative faith that celebrates the dignity of the human person as created in the image of God.
[i] Westcott, B. and Simanjuntak, G. (2017, May 23). Two men canned 83 times in Indonesia for homosexual sex, CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/23/asia/indonesia-caning-homosexuality/.
[ii] Chappell, B. (2017, May 24). Taiwan’s high court rules same-sex marriage is legal, in a first for Asia, NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/24/529841027/taiwans-high-court-rules-same-sex-marriage-is-legal-in-a-first-for-asia
[iii] Free Community Church. (2013). Our mission. Retrieved from http://www.freecomchurch.org/christian-sexual-ethics/
[iv] Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith. (1986, October 1). Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html.
Dream Maker Reviving Peace:
Our Current Reality and The Story of Joseph
Shawnee M. Daniels-Sykes, PhD
Lift up your eyes upon the day breaking for you. Give birth again to the dream. Women, children, and men, take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most private need. Sculpt it into the image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts, each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings. –Maya Angelou
The current political and governmental realities in the United States of America call for mutual respect, empathy, and confidence between peoples and nations for discernment of and the promotion of peace. We need dream makers and peacemakers to lead us in this pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. We need models like Joseph of old (Genesis 37-45), Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago (1928-1996), and many other women and men who set out to revive peace by their example, teaching, and audacious actions for social justice.
The story of Joseph closely parallels the Great Exodus Event, where God instructed (Moses/Aaron) to help free the Israelites in Egypt from dehumanizing and violent enslavement captivity by Pharaoh. In the end, Pharaoh and his armies let the people go to worship God (Exodus 13:17-14:28) . In a similar way, Joseph was freed from captivity too. Although textually and chronically, The Story of Joseph precedes the Exodus Event, their pervasive mystical themes reveal how a God of justice and love speaks to and through the need for human beings to be in right relationships.
Joseph was considered a master dreamer and a peacemaker. Examples of his dreams, shared with his family members, tended to put him in places of power, honor, and authority, above his brothers and problematic for them. Joseph’s dreams were a foreshadowing of his gaining a position of power, honor, and authority in Egypt. The question is was that a power with or power over? Was Joseph to be a peacemaker or a peace-destroyer? How would Joseph revive peace among his brothers given their deep-seated contempt and envy towards him?
Joseph was the highly favored son of his patriarch father Jacob, except for his brother Rueben, his other brothers disliked this so-called unearned privilege bestowed upon Joseph. This favoritism caused his brothers to denigrate, hurt, and threaten to kill Joseph. They conspired against him: stripping and tarnishing his long majestic tunic, throwing him inside a cistern to die, retrieving then selling him to Midian Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt and to Potiphar, a courtier and chief steward of Pharaoh. Given a well-earned ruling position in Egypt, Joseph eventually experienced struggles and sadness, and he yearned for more. It would be years before he would be satisfied with God’s grace to secure and protect the land of Egypt, to provide and take care of his family and their descendants, and to save their human lives as an extraordinary deliverance or liberation. As God has sent Joseph ahead of his brothers and father and family to Egypt, we can see how the master dreamer, Joseph, followed his dreams revealed and crystalized by the Divine who would also revive the promise and gift of peace.
Joseph was a peace-making dreamer used by God for peace, not a threat, not wielding power over others, not keeping some enslaved and others in captivity. Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was also a dream and peacemaker with reconciliation between nations in an age of nuclear proliferation and within the US on the sin of racism, sexual abuse and just sex, and the consistent ethics of life. For Bernardin the continued threats to reality and democracy in the US remain –untold victims of marginalized suffering, murder, suicide, depression, isolated dying, hurt, ashamed, bullied—in need of repair. Even amidst the struggles and debates of today: 1) with the best and most efficient ways to allow health care access to those who are medically uninsured instead causing people to be medical uninsured through Medicaid cuts and drastic changes to the Affordable Care Act, 2) with balancing the national budget on the backs of economically poor people, while allowing tax breaks for the rich, 3) with the right to work for a decent living family wage, 4) with travel bans directed at already vetted refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries, 5) with the constitutional understanding of an educated citizenry, 6) with the interference of Russians in the USA 2016 elections, 7) with an Executive Order on Religious Liberty that allows for broader exemptions, and 8) with white supremacy, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, and hate crimes on the rise, God mandates liberation, redemption, and deliverance of all people, revealing to us that all will be well.
Hence, we call on the spirit of Jesus Christ, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Alice Hamilton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Cesar Chavez, Rachel Carson, Bayard Rustin, among many others, to help us, to come to be with us, to intercede for us. We stand on the shoulders of giant dreamers and peacemakers. May their peace and justice be with you!
Tamás Ragadics and Gusztáv Kovács (Theological College of Pécs, Hungary)
Are You In, or Out? – Public Service in Hungary
In western countries slums and ghettos within big cities are the collecting points of socially disadvantaged groups. But if someone visited Central Europe and Hungary, she would find most of the people living in poverty trapped in rural areas, distant from economic centres. She would see an aging and waning population, since the young and educated tend to move from these peripheral villages to larger cities. There would also be large numbers of multi-child families, and many Roma people. They would tell her about the high level of unemployment and the diminution of local services. Many of them would live from subsidies provided by the state, or by joining the public service organized by the local council.
Public service gives the chance for the unemployed to make a living and secure social insurance. It aims at a reintegration into the labour market. The tasks of public workers are determined typically by the local council, or, in smaller villages, by the mayor himself. The introduction of public service received heavy criticism in Hungary, but also yielded some apparently good practices. To look at what’s real behind these debates we looked at some small villages in Southeast Hungary, to see how the system of public work has paid off for these settlements.
In Cserdi most residents are Roma, just like the mayor. He used to work as a middle manager for a big company, and now uses this experience to supervise an agricultural program in the village. They grow vegetables and sell these at the market. A certain portion of these products are used to support the poor in the city, which is publicized by the media to lower the prejudices against Roma people. The mayor expects hard work from public workers, and exercises strong control over them. It was symbolic how hesitant locals were to answer our questions, and they redirected us to the mayor. There is a broad system of social support in the village, but all benefits are tied to a required lifestyle that conforms to certain social norms. It is the mayor himself who checks the bins of the applicants, and if he finds any alcoholic beverages or cigarettes, he turns down the application by pointing at these “luxury goods”.
The mayor of Markóc, a settlement with only 60 residents, is an expert in ecology, who encourages locals to cultivate their own garden within the framework of public service. He uses his expertise to teach locals basic agricultural skills, and to process the fruit they grow. The future goal of this work is to form a self-sustaining ecological village based on the alliance between local farmers. The mayor views seasonal work and the need to commute long distances as negative for families, tearing them apart. Instead, the mayor encourages the locals to discover the values of their own settlement. However, these people are the deadbeats of consumer society, who desire the goods presented by TV and the services available only in cities. They experience living in a village with a poor transport system as a burden, and would move on if they had the chance. By selling their grounds, they buy only TVs of bigger size.
Gilvánfa is also a village populated exclusively by Romas, where most residents of working age are in public service. They organize work schedules according to the needs of the local households. After a few hours work in the morning, women go home to cook lunch and to look after their small children. They return to public service in the afternoon. This structure helps to accommodate different roles in the family with work, however it takes another step back from integration to the labour market. There is a strong cohesion in Roma families, and these ties trump any efforts toward social integration. Many young fathers following vocational training tend to turn down better paid work in the city just to stay with their families.
The most controversial example for the management of public service was found in Kórós, a village with 200 residents. The level of public security was extremely low here in the past. Usury, theft, and rivalry between gangs were common. The mayor created local regulations to gain control over the situation and imposed taxes on the lands at the frontier of the settlement. He used this source of income to employ security officials and installed 40 video surveillance cameras. These measurements brought the expected result, and now these cameras only serve the amendment of the ways of young smokers, public drinkers and litterers. In Kórós, the central part of public service is gardening. Vegetables produced in polytunnels are sold at the city markets at a comparatively low price. The central principle applied by the mayor is reciprocity: only those who contribute to the development of the community are entitled to support. Residents are required to keep their houses and environment tidy. This notion of reciprocity has resulted in a controversy with the study support centre run by a Catholic foundation, since the mayor accused the centre, through its aid programmes, of creating in its students a sense of entitlement to assistance without a corresponding duty to give anything back in return. The local council has pronounced that the building occupied by the study support centre is to become a development area, and its expropriation is in process.
Following the fall of the socialist system, politics was interested in providing local councils with a stronger mandate than before. Thus mayors became eminent actors in the local field of power. They have a huge role now in supporting the indigents and motivating them through the organization of public service. In small villages local elections often turn out to be clashes between familial alliances. Democratic values often seem to fail, and patriarchal models are sustained. These structures reflect the degree of socialization of the residents, who often lack sufficient democratic skills. In the short term, this devolved power structure offers efficiency by reducing decision-making mechanisms. However, in the long term, it raises serious questions.
It is obvious that one of the prerequisites to overcome poverty is the change in consumer behaviour and lifestyle. But is any mayor entitled to achieve this through regulation of social benefits and by expanding local authority over the private sphere? A further question is whether public service leads to a certain decline in mobility. The rate of income is low, however it provides the locals with a sense of stability and safety. Nonetheless, the marketing of agricultural goods produced through public service supported by the state lowers the chances of other small producers on the regional markets. These problems call for regulations, which go beyond here-and-now political interest, and create a concert of principles such as personhood, justice, subsidiarity, solidarity and sustainability.
STANDING FOR THE TRUTH – AGAIN!
Anthony Egan SJ (Jesuit Institute South Africa, Johannesburg)
Johannesburg, May 30-31, 1988: At an emergency Convocation of Churches initiated by the South African Council of Churches (SACC), and endorsed by the Catholic Church (which then had observer status in the SACC), the Standing for the Truth Campaign is launched. Comprising Christians from across denominations and including Jews, Muslims and Hindus, its purpose is clear: effective non-violent resistance against apartheid. It called on religious communities to support the June national days of protest planned by the trade union movements, prayer and protest calling for the release of detainees held under the national State of Emergency, the freeing of political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, the unbanning of liberation movements and the transition to democracy.
As I recall, the service that launched ‘Standing for the Truth’ was held at Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto. The church was ringed by heavily armed police and military armoured personnel vehicles throughout and after the ecumenical service. One among thousands leaving Regina Mundi, I noticed (with more than a little unease, I must admit) how the heavy machine guns and water cannon mounted on the APVs followed us to our awaiting transport.
Flash forward: Regina Mundi (again), May 18, 2017: The SACC announces its ‘Unburdening Report’ on corruption and state capture by the ruling African National Congress government. It produces a pastoral statement to all member churches (including now the Catholic Church, which joined the SACC in the 1990s) which states quite bluntly: the ANC, with whom the SACC had often worked closely during the struggle era, has lost moral legitimacy. The government of South Africa could not be trusted to tell the truth about corruption. It was up to the religious community, together with a range of allies (including academics and sometime allies of the ANC, the trade union movement and Communist Party), to reveal the real state of the nation, so that the democratic legacy of the struggle would not be lost.
This is a profound moral moment in South Africa’s history, one that deserves analysis.
For the realm of political ethics, it reflects a dramatic rupture. During the struggle against apartheid the SACC and other religious organisations that were in opposition found themselves in a peculiar situation: while never formally part of the ANC or taking direction from it, and while recognising the significance of other non-ANC liberation movements, it took a broadly ANC line. This was hardly surprising, given that the fundamental option of the ANC – anti-apartheid, pro-democracy, pro-human rights, promotion of greater economic equality – accorded generally with Christian moral values. Even the use of violence by liberation movements including the ANC could be with varying degrees of difficulty accommodated: from the tragic consequence of state intransigence for some to a legitimate use of force under ‘just war’ doctrine.
Today, however, the message has changed. The SACC are not attacking the ANC’s policies as such but rather the misuse of power for political gain by those who run the ANC, centred on incumbent President Jacob Zuma and his colleagues. Whatever the merits or faults of policies, the issue is corruption, revelations of which suggest it is all-pervasive. Moreover the evidence suggests massive undue influence in policy and practice of a number of big businessmen, notably the India- and Dubai-based Gupta family, who have even allegedly influenced appointments to Cabinet and Ministries, profiting themselves and the Zuma clique. Honest public servants like former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan have been fired or side-lined; Constitutionally-instituted organs to prevent corruption have been compromised. In short, we have what is called ‘state capture’.
The integrity – the truth and wholeness – of the democratic system has been compromised.
In the absence of credible state organs, the SACC, religious communities and civil society have once again stepped into the breach – not as a political movement but as a moral voice that seeks to do what the state has failed to do: tell the truth. In telling the truth, it hopes to change public consciousness, offer an alternative moral vision and call public and parties to take ownership of the hard-won democracy, even if it might mean voting the ANC out of power in 2019.
This is a daunting task, one that will not easily be accomplished. First, the majority of South Africans still have an emotional attachment to the ANC. Given too that opposition parties have dubious credentials – the Democratic Alliance is perceived as at best a party of free market capital, at worst the political bolt hole of disaffected minorities; the Economic Freedom Fighters is a utopian socialist party, expert at protest but untested in managing even a city council. Second, the poorest South Africans – spurred on by ANC grassroots propaganda – believe that if the ANC loses they will at least lose their social welfare grants, at worst see the restoration of apartheid. They may be disillusioned with the lack of social development, disgusted with the corruption of Zuma and company, and frustrated by the increasing gap between themselves and the ruling elite, but will that inspire them to jump the ANC ship? Third, the church on the ground is deeply divided – many pastors have close ties with ANC leaders, some of them benefitting from ANC largesse. There is also the problem that many churches, ‘mainstream’ and independent, are themselves practising forms of corruption, notably squeezing money out of often cash-strapped congregations – hardly a grassroots advertisement for the integrity the SACC demands of politicians.
Finally, it is clear that if the SACC initiative takes off, then we are entering a new round of ‘church versus state’ confrontations. It is ironic, but hardly amusing, to note the ANC rhetoric against the SACC: keep out of politics, your job is to pray. We heard that throughout the apartheid era – now the paragons of anti-apartheid are using the same language! More sinisterly, it’s becoming clear that the old apartheid divide-and-conquer strategy with the churches is also being used: bring in prominent church leaders, especially from ‘opposition’ denominations, to give yourself legitimacy.
Like South Africa as a whole as it battles to restore democratic integrity and moral legitimacy, the churches are entering a difficult time. This is as it should be. To paraphrase that great saint of resistance Dietrich Bonhoeffer, if the churches do not stand with the country in its time of need, embracing the hard cost of discipleship, it will have little if any legitimate role in its renewal.
“Hoy en México el periodismo es profetismo”
por Miguel Ángel Sánchez Carlos
Uno de los sectores más afectados por la crisis del Estado fallido en México es el de los periodistas. Lo cual desgraciadamente es obvio: si las instituciones estatales fracasan en brindar seguridad a la población, oportunidades laborales con futuro, impartición de justicia equitativa y expedita y administración pública eficiente en general, lo que esos sectores gubernamentales quieren evitar es justamente que la población se entere de esa crisis, que tome conciencia de la situación y que, por ende, exija soluciones viables.
El trabajo periodístico siempre había sido peligroso en México, ya que en décadas, durante “la dictadura perfecta del priismo” y los medios de comunicación empresariales aliados a éste, no había más que dos posibilidades: aceptar la marginalidad de la libertad de expresión, con salarios y oportunidades ínfimas o entrar en la corrupción, abierta o encubierta, con censura o autocensura, donde en trabajo periodístico podía llegar a ser un negocio perfecto. Como muestra de esto último está aquella frase del presidente José López Portillo (1976-1982), quejándose de la fuente periodística de la presidencia que quiso revelarse de la censura: “No les pagamos para que nos peguen”.
Los procesos políticos y sociales que desembocaron en la alternancia en el poder gubernamental hacia el año 2000, produjeron la apertura de algunos medios de comunicación, situación que se ha visto potenciada por el uso de las nuevas tecnologías. Esto ha redundado en una mayor profesionalización del periodismo y en una mayor competencia por las audiencias, con todas las limitaciones que todo proceso social contiene.
Reconociendo el riesgo de ser simplista, creo que es posible afirmar que desde hace casi 12 años el gran riesgo que enfrenta el periodismo procede de los poderes fácticos, los cárteles del narcotráfico y sus mutaciones en crimen organizado, que han tomado el lugar que deberían tener las instituciones del Estado, y esto ha sido por comisión, por corrupción o por omisión.
Algunos datos que pueden respaldar lo anterior indican que del año 2000 a la fecha han sido asesinados en México 123 periodistas. Paradójicamente, hace siete años se creó la Fiscalía Especial para la Atención a los Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión, pero de ese entonces a la fecha la Fiscalía inició 1926 averiguaciones previas, de las que sólo se consignaron 111, y de esas sólo tres concluyeron con una sentencia; es decir, el 99.85 % de esos ilícitos quedaron impunes. En lo que va del año han sido asesinados seis periodistas, algunos a pleno día, frente a su lugar de trabajo o enfrente de su casa o en presencia de sus familiares.
Estos periodistas no son números estadísticos, sino personas con nombre y rostro y con una trayectoria profesional en favor de la verdad, como Jonathan Rodríguez, Maximino Rodriguez, Ricardo Monlui, Cecilia Pineda, Miroslava Breach y Javier Valdez. Aunque el actual gobierno de Enrique Peña Nieto no quiera reconocerlo, ser periodista en México es más peligroso que serlo en Siria o en Afganistán.
Los intereses de los grupos de poder en México, político o criminal o de ambos, que han sido “tocados” por la investigación de los periodistas son de diverso tipo; a veces los periodistas develan la verdad sobre los acontecimientos que impactan negativamente a la sociedad o en ocasiones rechazan divulgar determinados sucesos que los grupos antes mencionados quieren que se divulguen. Esto les lleva a ser presa de la violencia con que eso grupos criminales actúan.
Como en todo conflicto bélico, en “la guerra” que el gobierno de Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) les declaró a los carteles del narcotráfico y que ha continuado su sucesor Enrique Peña Nieto, siempre hay movimiento de diversos grupos y diversas interpretaciones sobre lo acontecido. Una cosa si es cierta: quienes buscan difundir la verdad tocan intereses de grupos que responden de forma violenta, situación que se agrava en un Estado fallido que no imparte justicia.
Y es justamente en el tema de la verdad donde destaca el carácter ético de la labor de los periodistas. Como es de todos conocido, para la tradición judeo-cristiana el profeta es “el que habla en lugar de otro”, el que trasmite la verdad que Dios quiere comunicar, verdad que denuncia el mal cometido y que anuncia la voluntad reconstructora o salvadora de Dios. Por tanto, ninguna denuncia o anuncio de la verdad ha sido neutra, pues siempre va en relación de nuestro actuar como humanos; para derribar o para reconstruir.
Independientemente de la tendencia de los análisis que podamos hacer sobre la realidad política y social de México, una cosa es cierta: Dios no quiere vivamos en una sociedad donde se daña o se elimina la dignidad de las personas, mucho menos como medio para favorecer intereses de poder, económicos o políticos grupos dominantes. Esta es una verdad fundamental para la ética cristiana; la restauración de la dignidad humana en este contexto forma parte esencial del anuncio del evangelio (Evangelii Gaudium 75); “la dignidad de la persona humana y el bien común están por encima de la tranquilidad de algunos que no quieren renunciar a sus privilegios. Cuando estos valores se ven afectados, es necesaria una voz profética” (Evangelii Gaudium 203).
En esta hora de México hay periodistas que han hecho suya esta voz, viviendo las consecuencias de todo profeta (Mt 23, 30-31; Lc 11, 47-48). ¿Dónde está la nuestra como sociedad, como eticistas y como Iglesia? Es pregunta.
 El Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) es un partido político de México que mantuvo el poder político sobre dicho país de manera hegemónica entre 1929 y 1989, cuando perdió por primera vez una gubernatura, la del estado de Baja California (ante el candidato del PAN Ernesto Ruffo Appel); posteriormente perdería la mayoría absoluta en la Cámara de Diputados en 1997 y la de Senadores en 2000. Desde 1929 todos los presidentes de México fueron miembros del PRI o sus partidos antecesores, hasta que se produjo la primera alternancia en el poder de manera pacífica en un siglo, en las elecciones federales del año 2000, cuando ganó por primera vez un representante de la oposición. Ese fue Vicente Fox, del PAN (Partido Acción Nacional).