The Great Slander: Using God's Name to Perpetrate Injustice
by Seun Kolade on Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 9:24pm
In one of the most significant tales of imperialist adventures, the account is given of the first encounter between Inca Emperor Athuallpa and Spanish General Francisco Pizzaro, on 15th November 1532. Pizzaro, we are told, represented the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, otherwise known as King Charles 1 of Spain. The entire army of the Indians, numbering more than 80,000, were exterminated by the rampaging Spanish. This slaughter, as striking as it is, is not very extraordinary as there have been similar account at different times and places in human history. But what is of immediate interest to us here are the words of the Spanish General Pizzaro to the Inca emperor: “I am a priest of God, and I teach Christians the things of God, and in like manner I come to teach you”. The General required “Athuallpa in the name of GOD and of the King of Spain that Athuallpa subject himself to the law of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the service of His Majesty the King of Spain”. This apparently missionary endeavour- or what is made to appear to be- would result in the killing of hundreds of thousands of the native Indians, and several millions more who perished to diseases and forced labour.
Now, it is not our purpose merely to re-open the ‘old wound’ of expansionist atrocities, because, as we have pointed out, similar atrocities, in various scales, have been committed by native peoples on one another and surrounding neighbours. We are more interested, specifically, on how, and why, the name of God was brought in, and with such bravado, to justify the atrocities that were then committed.
And there are several more examples, in different contexts, of how God was invoked in the course of history to justify wanton self-interest of the claimers. The Bourbon Kings of France, for example, claimed to rule by ‘Divine Rights’ and kept their subjects under the iron fist for several hundred years. The same apply for the emperors (Tsars) of Russia, where we are told that at one point the propertyless and penniless serfs constitute about 70% of the Russian state.
Fast-forward to the 19th century America. The southern Baptists broke away from their Northern Baptist brethren, mainly because the latter would not agree to the continued practice of keeping slaves. Even after the civil war and the emancipation that followed, for several decades after it in fact, racial segregation and discrimination persisted in the southern states, and the churches were either indifferent to it, or actively supportive of segregation and discrimination. For example, a fugitive slave, by the name of William Brown, testified that “Slaveholders hide themselves behind the church. A more praying, preaching, psalm-singing people cannot be found than the slaveholders at the south. The religion of the south is referred to every day, to prove that slaveholders are good, pious men”.
We would not confine ourselves to historical examples, however. There are contemporary examples in modern times where so-called Christian churches- impostors as we’ll determine- are involved in grave atrocities and acts of injustice to fellow believers. This warrants our utmost attention surely. Indeed, as I write this, a TV documentary was just aired in which certain African churches were involved in acts of torture and sexual abuse of children and youngsters, with a great deal of financial exploitation. The leaders- and some parents- are the main culprit, and all their acts they carried out with deviant claim of working for God!
From the foregoing, the question we’ll like to consider, in the light of the scriptures are: why is it so attractive, irresistible in fact, to invoke God’s name in the pursuit of blatant injustice? Is the strategy and the claims, from the standpoint of the Bible, right or excusable under any circumstance?
It’s a lie!
Let’s quickly turn our attention to one interesting story in the Bible. Sennacherib King of Assyria, known for his ruthless military tactics and expansionist ambitions, was laying siege to Jerusalem, and sent his officials ahead of him to taunt the inhabitants of the city to surrender. He declared, among other things, that God was unable to save the people of Jerusalem from him, and the other nations- quite a list- have tried resisting to no avail.
Now, this is classic military tactic- intimidating your opponent to submission. But there was one particular declaration that was peculiarly striking: “Have I now come up without the LORD against this place to destroy it? The Lord said unto me, go up against this land to destroy it” (2Kings 18:25). Here was a tyrant, in one breadth denouncing God as incapable of saving his intended victims, and in the same breadth laying claim to the support of God who had apparently instructed him to destroy. Of course, the story of how he fell under God’s judgement is instructive, but the highlight here is to underscore the point that the idea of oppressors and tyrants laying claim to divine approval is as old as human history, and just some careful thought will show that the claim of tyrants is always oriented in outright falsehood.
First, we know that God’s just character is evident, and his instruction very clear that “he who rule among men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2. Sam 23:3), and the prophet Amos, for example, told us of how God was aware of the “manifold transgressions and... mighty sins” of those who “oppress the righteous and take bribes”, and “deprive the poor of justice” (Amos 5:12-13). In spite of all these, they still come to worship and sing and offer sacrifices, but God’s rejection cannot be more damning : “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps” (Amos 5: 21-23).
This brings us to a more modern and more immediate problem of the exploitation and distortion that goes round in many churches, often carried out by people who are suppose to lead others to truth that should “set them free” and get them rooted and fruitful in spiritual maturity and earthly undertaking. The problem all boils down, as we shall see, to the fundamental issue of justice and fairness.
Of Pastors and Impostors
As mentioned in the foregoing, just few days before the writing of this article, there was a TV documentary, here in the UK, in which it was revealed that, among other things, one church pastor told one of her church members, a young girl of about 16, that God has told him to have sexual relations with her, in order to cure her of witchcraft! Yes, right here and now in the 21st century. In other related cases, pastors and leaders deprived members of money to the tune of several thousands, using threats of satanic attacks and sundry promises of spiritual protection. These are not exaggerated, infact they are not isolated cases, but we should hasten to add that there are many more pastors and leaders, honest and dedicated, who are teaching the truth, and making significant positive contributions to societal progress. It is infact also in the interest of the latter, and moreover of the integrity of the Christian Gospel, that it is important for us to turn the search light on these hordes of impostors and fraudsters.
And we begin with emphasising the fact that the advent of spiritual impostors and fraudsters is not at all a modern phenomenon. There are so many warnings in the Bible that it is safe to conclude that those who fall victim are victims of their own ignorance primarily, having failed to study their Bible to know how to discern the truth from error. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 11, the Apostle Paul warned about self styled “Super Apostles” who extort and lead the people astray with their high-sounding errors. Such men, he said “are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve”. (2 Cor 11: 13-15).
The entire Bible is filled with similar warnings and instructions about impostors and false prophets who take advantage and lead the people astray, to satisfy their own ego and self-interest. In Jeremiah 23:1, we read “ woe unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!”, and in Ezekiel 34: 2-3, the woe is even more specific: “Woe to the shepherds... who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock”
Thus we know the Bible is clear on matters relating to justice and fairness, and has warned sufficiently against those impostors who would use God’s name to perpetrate and perpetuate oppression and injustice. It only remain for us to make one final observation in the current discourse: that God is as concerned about those who overtly use his name for their selfish ends as he is about those who keep silent in the face of injustice, or secretly collaborate with, or provide spiritual comfort for, oppressors.
We shall examine this further in our subsequent enquiry, but it suffice to say, using the metaphor of the shepherd, that the one who positively refuse to care for the sheep is as guilty as one who stands silently aside while wolves help themselves with the sheep, or indeed, one who gives direction and prayer and blessings to wolves whose sole purpose is to oppress and take advantage of defenceless sheep.
The Bible on Social Justice: Amos Chapter 5, Micah Chapter 6, Luke 4:18-21; Matthew 23. New King James Version, New International Version, New Living Translation and The Message Translation Recommended.
Imperialism and Slavery: See Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel. Also see http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASreligion.htm for accounts of slavery and religion in America