Thursday, July 16, 2015

Shepherds of Woe

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD. The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.” – Jeremiah 23:1-6

In a video appearing in the New York Times this week, the Prophets Adam B. Ellick and Nicholas Kristof reported “The Worst Atrocity You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Probably Ellick and Kristof don’t think of themselves as prophets, but they sounded an alarm that warns of God’s angry disapproval of all of us.

“You’ve heard of Darfur, and you know about the slaughter underway in Syria, the latter day prophets write. “But the worst ethnic cleansing you’ve never heard of is unfolding in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, where the government is bombing villages, schools and hospitals and trying to keep out food and medicine.”

The video shows children and adults dealing with the daily threat of bombs and marauding soldiers. A lone doctor for a Catholic charity struggles to treat thousands who are dying of wounds, burns, and diseases. And many die because the necessities of water, medicine, and supplies are cut off by 
Sudan dictator Omar al-Bashir, the bloodthirsty strongman who continues to bomb the children of Nuba.

Kristof and Ellick provide us with a handy excuse for not knowing about the ongoing genocide because “it doesn’t get much coverage.”

But their video changes all that. It’s an Old Testament call to remember the promise we made to ourselves 70 years ago when the horrible truths of the Holocaust became known: “Never Again.”

It’s not a call that makes us comfortable because, in fact, holocausts occur all over the world and we do little more than shake scolding fingers at the perpetrators.

And if we don’t take effective actions stop the Nuba genocide, we become “shepherds of woe” who turn our backs on God’s beloved sheep.

Jeremiah’s original reference dates back six centuries before Jesus when Israel’s kings refused to pay tribute to the Babylonian Empire, triggering a bloody Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. Jeremiah suggested the kings hadn’t considered the welfare and protection of the people when they made dumb decisions. 

It was a leadership issue back then, just as the Nuba genocide is a leadership issue now. When leaders do nothing, nothing is done.

The tragedy in the Nuba Mountains is not an aberration of history. It’s only the latest in a never-ending story of human struggle. The cold determination of humans to eradicate all competitors may explain what happened to the Neanderthals, and genocidal calamities have erupted throughout recorded history. The systematic genocide of indigenous Americans rivaled the horror of the Nazi Holocaust but has rarely pricked our collective consciences with equal force.

Throughout most of history, mass pogroms could proceed with impunity because people didn’t hear about them until they were over. Today, satellite and digital communication bring them into our living rooms with high definition clarity. We have been complicit witnesses to a horrific progression of mass extermination that include these examples from Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

From 1975 to 1979, the massacre of one quarter of the population of Cambodia was perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge during the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) communist regime headed by the late Pol Pot.

From 1975 to 1999, one quarter of the population of East Timor died following an invasion by the Indonesian Army, which used rape, torture, murder, forced sterilization, and forced military service to subdue the population. 

In 1994 during the civil war in Rwanda, more than 800.000 members of the minority Tutsi tribe died at the hands of the Rwandan Armed Forces composed of the majority Hutu tribe. A report of the Organization of African Unity placed the blame squarely on the church leaders in Rwanda, who they said “failed to use their unique moral position among the overwhelmingly Christian population to denounce ethnic hatred and human rights abuse.”

From 1995 to 1999 in Kosovo and Bosnia Herzegovina, more than half a million Muslims were displaced or killed by Serbian Orthodox Christians.

Since 1997, an estimated six million persons have been killed and raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in actions by the government, army, army irregulars, and rebels, in a blood bath that is still going on.

Are we appalled by this litany of horrors? Of course we are appalled. But what can we do about it?

The 2004 film Hotel Rwanda included this dialogue between the hotel owner and a visiting video journalist:

Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.
Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?
Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
Jack: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that's horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.
Granted, not everyone has ignored mass murder and ethnic cleansing. The United Nations and the African National Congress have sought intervene on the African continent, and the U.S. and NATO dropped bombs in Serbia to halt the killing. 

But resources and political support are limited, and sometimes stern warnings are not backed up the good guys. President Obama has not spoken clearly against Sudan dictator Omar al-Bashir. Kristof and Ellick hope their video on “the worst atrocity you’ve never heard of” will attract public attention and compel Mr. Obama to address the issue and condemn al-Bashir during his visit to Africa in August.

I will try not to be so cynical as to presume that Sudan’s lack of oil is the reason Mr. Obama has not given the crisis a higher priority.

And I do think the president has good instincts on human right issues. I expect him to speak for the children of Nuba and other victims of genocide both next month and in the remainder of his term.

If he does, my prayer is that he will feel the churches at his back.

In 2007, when the genocide in Darfur was still attracting the world’s attention, the National Council of Churches (NCC) adopted a resolution supporting the United Nation’s World Summit Outcome declaration that called on the international community to protect victims of genocide and other political assaults.

Whether this protection should take the form of military intervention was a serious question for some NCC communion members. In the opinion of some, war is never the will of God. And some members, including Mennonites, Quakers, and the Church of the Brethren, have urged the council to turn away from its “just war” stance in order to urge a policy of “just peace” on the the world community.

At the same time, few persons of faith want to be guilty bystanders as children are killed each day in the Nuba mountains. 

The NCC’s resolution, Responsibility to Protect, states: 

The Christian community has always affirmed that, in response to the question, “Am I my brother's keeper?” (Genesis 4:9), we are indeed the protectors of one another. This affirmation is grounded in the prophetic call to protect the other -the strangers, the weak and the dispossessed. It was further exemplified by Jesus, who took the call for the well-being of all to the level of the nations, whose people he said would be judged by whether or not they led the hungry, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and visited the prisoners (Matthew 25;31-46). 
The Christian community also believes that God hears the cry of the oppressed, and indeed the cry of the very blood that is spilled through injustice (Genesis 4:10) It is therefore a person’s responsibility individually to protect the other. The responsibility to protect as outlined by the United Nations correlates as to our responsibility collectively as nations. As Christians, we urge our nation to take up this responsibility in our name.
President Obama, as all presidents, has his hands full with a myriad of domestic and international issues – and God knows he has faced unprecedented partisan opposition. He is probably not looking for other crises to add to his list.

But the systematic genocide of innocent people, in the Nuba Mountains and elsewhere, should be at the top of the list of any leader and any nation who has recited the solemn promise we made to one another seventy years ago: “Never again.”

And we can be assured of God’s ancient promise to all persons who face the daily threat of death, sickness, rape, and homelessness:   
I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.

Mr. Obama, God and history are calling on you to be one of those shepherds raised by God.
Pictured above: The mosaic “Sheep in Paradise” dates to the sixth century and can be found in the Basilica of Sant Apollinare in Classe, Ravena, Italy. The skulls of victims of the Rwanda Genocide are displayed at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial.

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