Thursday, January 03, 2008

Ethnic Cleansing and the Church

The battle between brothers is as old as Cain and Abel. Though the issue was not ethnic disagreement, the root motivation that caused the elder to kill his younger brother is with us millenniums later – jealousy, pride, and disobedience of the creation to his Creator.

I have personally observed the dark side of ethnocentrism for years. Idi Amin expelled the Asians from Uganda in 1977 because he felt the Indian population drained resources from the country. The minority Brahmin population in India subject the Dalits (untouchables) to bonded slavery because of a sense of superiority in a hierarchal caste system. In Bolivia Spanish church has hardly reached out to the indigenous Indian people, the Quechua, as they perceive them as inferior people. At long last, the Estonian’s have rule of their own country and can now oppress their former masters, the Russians, as they did to them for seventy years. The Shia and Sunni population of Iraq slaughter one another for no other reason except of ethnic/religious identity. My own country continues to suffer with racial tensions between white, blacks and now those coming into our country from south of the border. The snapshot of today’s ethnic hostility is just a carryover of centuries of brother hating brother.

When I first moved to Kenya in 1976 I quickly learned the lines of ethnic hatred. I worked with two tribes, the Pokot and Turkana, which historically have been enemies for centuries. The greatest ethic tension, however, was between the Kikuyu’s, the largest tribe, and the second largest tribe, the Luo’s.

When Kenya gained independence from England in 1963, it was a Kikuyu by the name of Jomo Kenyatta who became the first president. Kikuyu’s are, for the most part, industrious. Part of the reason for the success of Kenya as a nation is attributed to their work ethic and capitalistic market economy. Kenyatta’s rival, and the first vice president, was a Luo by the name of Oginga Odinga. Odinga wanted to fashion the Kenya government, as did Tanzania, after the model of Chinese socialism,. The present crisis in Kenya is due to this old ethnic rivalry. President Mwai Kibaki, is a Kikuyu and Raila Odinga (Oginga’s son) is a Luo. (Many Luo’s surnames begin with the letter “O.” Barak Obama’s father was a Luo.)

Kenya is a “Christian nation,” with eighty-five percent of the population claiming to be followers of Christ. In spite of their common faith, the clash between brothers is along tribal lines. Reminiscent of the tragedy in Rwanda, brothers and sisters were burned in church two days ago, (in a city I lived for four years) for no other reason than because of ethnic contempt.

Why do these ethnic clashes continue? The short answer is because of sin in men. The situation of ethnic hatred will never be eradicated, but I do believe the church needs to do a better job working with cultural diversity. Historically missions in Kenya, and many more places throughout the world, have concentrated on “church planting,” -- getting people saved, baptized and on the church membership role. Kenya is one of those places in the world where planting churches is relatively easy. What the church has not done well is crossing cultural barriers and discipling the church on how to serve Christ among their brothers. While ethnic bias and prejudice is a chronic disease that will never be totally abolished, the church should focus, not just on getting people into the kingdom, and spend more time teaching others that indeed, they are their brothers keeper.