It is over thirty days now that our church communities in Gulak, Shuwa, Kaya, Michika, Bazza… were sacked by the callous and nefarious attacks of the Boko Haram terrorists… Thousands displaced, many killed, and others forcibly conscripted… We have almost two hundred deserted church communities by worshipers, most of which have been razed down over the last few weeks.
The effects of such intimidation are easy to imagine. Reading scripture and history, Christians might accept that martyrdom is a possible consequence of faith, but it takes a truly heroic believer to risk that peril for him — or herself, or to place one’s children in jeopardy. Is it worth the risk of attending a Christmas midnight mass if the celebration is likely to be bombed or machine-gunned? Numbers attending services have fallen disastrously, and many churches stand shuttered, waiting for the restoration of security. That could be a very long wait. Nigerian authorities show little willingness or ability to eradicate the terrorist menace, which consolidates and grows daily.
In the face of such a crisis, Christian numbers are likely to contract rapidly, mainly through forced migration or exile, or even conversion to Islam. A few heroic diehards will linger, but the long-term fate of Christianity in Borno and neighboring states looks very tenuous. As in Northern Iraq, much of northern Nigeria could become a Christian-free zone. After that, we can only speculate how much more widely the Islamists will advance, until they threaten the country’s Christian heartlands.
What is happening in Maiduguri today could foreshadow events much further afield. Western governments and churches have to formulate a response while there are still Christians to protect.
Philip Jenkinsis a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor Universityand author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.