Unity: A political Headache and Religious Worry

In grand scheme of things, Christians choose to think that Christ’s prayer for unity of all faithful offers hope that one day all mankind will bend at worship before the altar of One, Holy, Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church in homogenous liturgy. Imagine Rome, Washington, London, Moscow, Paris, Cairo, Islamabad, Kabul and Tehran coming together as a single moral community with common theological orientation! Imagine again Jerusalem and Mecca as cities of deities agreeing on liturgical rites and pilgrims swap. Imagine further the gays, the straight, the lesbians, the transsexuals, the pro-abortionists, the liberals and conservatives in the rank and file of Christendom finding a common scriptural base that satisfies each ethical orientation without diluting Christ’s message! Think of Pope Benedict XVI canonizing Archbishop Gene Robinson and his catamites without incurring anathema!
For the safety of our faith, that unity is possible; although our idea of the form it will take may be entirely wrong. But, either way, it is not yet here; and sadly, the signs on ground offer no consolation that is in the offing. Global come-together is not just religious worry, it is also a political headache.
Inspired by Alexander’s Hellenization, America and her western allies live on the pleasant falsehood that one day the world will arrive at a homogenous culture-democracy and free economy, liberal ethics and common military front. Globalization is the nickname for that utopia. With a touch of irony the possibility of a truly globalized world is being frittered away; and its ripples continually boomerang in the birth of global terror. The fallout has further contracted the size of hope of arriving at Christian unity.
Globalization robs people of their honor, dignity, identity, beliefs, moral convictions and shakes their traditional structures. Groups are being forced to dislocate or live nearby other neighbours. In the continual dislocation, people are having little patience with the problems of others. They develop intolerance, political, moral, religious and otherwise; and express that intolerance through anger. The anger may take the form of a Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan who believed in human rights and fought within the law. It may also take the form of Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, who ignited the passion of fighting outside of law in Islamic circle.
Unfortunately, terrorism has rekindled flames of old hatreds. An average Muslim sees a Christian as an enemy and Christianity as an extension of western mindset, a puppet ideology hence the ignoble tag Euro-Christianity. This notion is not helped by the unholy alliance that once existed between the colonialists and early missionaries especially in Africa. The increasing non-involvement of citizens in the economy and political process in the third world democracies brings further mistrust of any structure linked to the West.
African church suffers more in the hands of radical Islam because the insincerity of the indigenous monarchies and transplanted western organ of governance. With bad governance, poverty becomes a commonplace. The idle, angry and unfulfilled Africans feel that only way to free nerves is to blame religion and the west for their economic misfortunes. In Africa, religion is a nickname for ethnicity. Ethnic agenda is always executed through religious violence; in this regard our Muslim brothers are the worst offenders. For instance, to keep record of religious violence in the continent is as hairsplitting as writing the continent’s traumatizing political history. Chronicling recent memories solves twin puzzles- it gives clue to the distance we have come for a historian-researcher and it is an escape route for a novice historian-narrator of the continent’s religious struggle.
Nigeria church for instance is a church of catacombs not in the hands of emperors and Caesars but fanatical imams and their Boko Haram sect. A documentary of the sect’s attack in the church is provocative and may require a book of its own to be able to chronicle. Take for instance, in late October 2012 tens of worshippers were killed at St Rita’s Catholic Church, Kaduna. Earlier in June, hundreds of attackers armed with guns and pangas stormed 12 Christian villages in Plateau State and left 58 people dead. Who talks again of Madalla Christmas day bomb-blast or Maiduguri, Mubi, Damaturu, Kaduna, Taraba church bombings?
Nigeria church is not alone in her suffering. The community of brothers all over the world is suffering same. In the June 2012, several hooded men attacked worshippers at the African Inland Church and Our Lady of Consolata Catholic Church in Garissa in north-eastern Kenya hurling grenades into the churches and opening fire indiscriminately. By the time they disappeared to an unknown location, 17 people were already dead. Last year in Abera in northern Ethiopia, over 4,000members of local Protestant denomination were displaced by religious violence when Muslims staged a week of attacks in the area. Local imams said that the violence was sparked off when a word came that Muslim workers at a construction site at a Protestant church claimed to have found pages from the Qur’an used as toilet paper. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have become prey to their Muslim brothers. While Ethiopia may have largely lived together peacefully, there is a simmering tension of larger conflict erupting between the Muslims and Christians in Ethiopia, the population of which is 60 per cent Christian and 30 per cent Muslim. Who mentions Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey etc.
But radical Islam is one of the many obstacles against the unity which Christ prayed. A household that is divided against itself, so says Christ, never stands. Division within Christendom is a fact to contemplate. For instance, The World Christian Encyclopedia says the number of Evangelical Christians in Africa has grown from 17million in 1970 to over 400million today, with many foreign-funded churches recruiting from Africa’s swelling ranks of youths. And if that inquiry is further stretched, the number may be understated. What is happening in Africa is also seen in Europe to with smaller number of faithful. Every family is fast becoming a church of her own.
More worrisome is Christian fundamentalism which has also begun to rear its head because of globalization. If freedom is not tethered to moral truth and ordered to human goodness, it becomes self-cannibalizing (Centesimus Annus, no.42). This is what has rocked Christian West and other Christian corners imbibing liberal values. This has heightened conservatives’ position of pre-Vatican II and given birth to Christian fundamentalism. Witness the violent responses to any suggestion of the legislation of homosexuality in Uganda and Ghana, for instance- almost all grounded in Christian scripture. The wave of condemnation is only going to get louder as many liberal values are being appropriated by commercial evangelists within the Christendom. The church once divided by doctrines now faces ethical debate.
To solve the obstacle posed to our oneness by the proposals of globalization and radical Islam, in 1991, the Blessed Pope John Paul II published a social encyclical Centesimus Annus (C.A), to mark the centenary celebration of Rerum Novarum, and to launch the church’s social doctrine into a new century and millennium. In the encyclical, the Pope articulated two blueprints that will guide the new age by proposing a free and virtuous society, blueprints which if divorced will frustrate man’s quest and enthrone new forms of tyranny (C.A, 42, 51) The blueprints which the church proposes are composed of three interlocking parts- a democratic political community, a free economy and a robust public moral culture.
While free politics and free economies let loose tremendous human energies, vibrant moral culture is necessary to discipline and direct those energies so that they serve the ends of genuine human flourishing.( CA, no. 46) Since democracy and free economy are not machines that can run themselves, it needs a certain kind of people, possessed of certain virtues to run so that they do not self-destruct. The task of the moral-cultural sector is to form these habits of heart and mind in people. And this is the primary public task of the church. The church is no longer in the business of proposing technical solutions to questions of governance or economic activity; rather, she is in the business of forming the culture that can form the kind of people who can develop those solutions against a transcendent moral horizon.(CA, no. 44-52).
But the unity which Christ prayed for is more than uniting the West and Islam and arriving at socio-political and economic El Dorado. How does the church plan to put her house in order. None of the challenges against this unity should be taken for granted. I am afraid if we have really understood the import of the prayer. If our current understanding of it is anything to go by, the credo-racial unity may be possible, but it seems safe to accept that we will be saddled with distracting factors for 100 years hence and beyond.

(2012). Published in The Nigerian Messenger, No. 35, Dec. 2012- Dec 2013, PP 3-4