Hours after rampaging gangs of Muslims viciously attacked three Christian villages in central Nigeria on March 7, bereaved survivors wailed, sang hymns, and began burying their dead. A Nigerian official said the attackers killed as many as 500 people in the predominantly Christian region. Details were brutal: Witnesses said men with machetes swooped into the villages in the pre-dawn hours and began hacking to death the most vulnerable people: women, children, and the elderly.
Mark Lipdo of Stefanos Foundation, a Nigeria-based Christian organization that helps persecuted Christians, confirmed the reports to the BBC: "We saw mainly those who are helpless, like small children and then the older men, who cannot run, these were the ones that were slaughtered." Witnesses said one victim was a 4-day-old baby. An Associated Press reporter described a morgue filled with the bodies of children, including a diaper-clad toddler. The bodies were mutilated.
Officials said the attacks were likely retaliation for January fighting on the dangerous north-south border that killed both Muslims and Christians. The violence often stems from conflicts over natural resources. Other sources are religious, including growing Islamic extremism targeting Christians.
As the new acting President Goodluck Jonathan seeks to quell tensions before more violence breaks out, the Christians continued to bury their loved ones. "Jesus said I am the way," many of them sang at a mass funeral. "Jesus, show me the way."
As many as 15 armed militants stormed a World Vision office in northwest Pakistan on March 10, killing at least six staffers and wounding several others. The gunmen opened fire and lobbed grenades, seriously damaging the World Vision office in the district of Manshera. The Christian aid organization indefinitely suspended all operations in the country.
World Vision had been operating in Manshera since an October 2005 earthquake killed some 73,000 people in the region. The organization says it distributed food to more than 95,000 quake victims and worked in 87 Pakistani villages around the country to provide access to healthcare, education, and agricultural programs.
Extremists have targeted other aid organizations in the region. Dean Owen of World Vision told The Christian Science Monitor that the four men and two women killed in the March attack were all Pakistani Muslims.
'Political pep rally'
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts doesn't seem too keen on attending another State of the Union address after President Obama upbraided the court in his speech this year, condemning its ruling in the Citizens United case concerning campaign finance. Roberts spoke publicly about that speech for the first time recently when he took questions from law students at the University of Alabama. "To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there," he said. Roberts added that he welcomes criticisms of the court and its decisions. "On the other hand," he said, "there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances, and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court-according to the requirements of protocol-has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling." In response, the White House's Robert Gibbs reiterated the president's criticisms of the court's decision.
While the economy overall is still losing jobs-36,000 last month-one government project is on a hiring spree. The U.S. Census Bureau plans to hire about 1 million temporary workers this year to help with its once-a-decade population count. In February, the bureau hired 15,000 and will expand those ranks more aggressively this month, paying employees anywhere from $10 to $25 an hour. The Commerce Department estimated that the census hires could cut the unemployment rate by several tenths of a percent. Right now the unemployment rate is holding steady at 9.7 percent. When the last census was taken in 2000, the unemployment rate was at a record low of 4 percent.
Vice President Joe Biden made a high-level visit to Israel just 48 hours after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume indirect talks with Israel-the first formal negotiations in over a year. During meetings in Jerusalem, Biden declared there is "no space between the U.S. and Israel." But few Israelis are holding their breath for a U.S.-brokered breakthrough in their long battle with Palestinian extremists. Israeli officials leaked a classified report from the Foreign Ministry last week, warning that the Obama administration's focus on peace in the Middle East will be "limited" due to what it called Obama's "focus in the coming year on domestic issues that are expected to determine the results of the congressional elections." In the latest round of peacemaking, "proximity talks" will be headed up by U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, who plans to spend the next four months carrying out separate talks with each side in hopes of bringing both together over a formal agreement surrounding border and security issues.
There are 80 billboards dotting Georgia with the message, "Black children are an endangered species." The billboards direct drivers to toomanyaborted.com, where viewers learn that although blacks comprise only 30 percent of Georgia's population, a disproportionate number (58 percent) of Georgia's 35,000 abortions are performed on black women. Although blacks make up 13 percent of the population nationwide, they account for 39 percent of the abortions.
Catherine Davis, minority outreach director for Georgia Right to Life, says the abortion industry deliberately locates its centers in urban populations where many blacks reside, marketing them to reach blacks. Davis said as a black woman herself, her purpose is not to "degrade or belittle or dehumanize black women. . . . It's about the industry and how they have chosen to target certain populations."
Freedom & folly
Four years ago Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq, and his parents held a private funeral service for him at St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster, Md. The notorious pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps Sr., appeared outside the funeral with some of his family members to protest, holding up signs that read "Matt in hell," and "Thank God for dead soldiers." The group's adherents picket all over the country, believing that soldiers are being punished for the United States' tolerance of homosexuality. The Marine's father sued Phelps and won a $5 million award, but a federal appeals court turned back that ruling because it argued that Phelps' speech was protected under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed on March 8 to review the case in its next term, which begins in October.
Hitting the books
Tis the season of political memoirs. Karl Rove, a top adviser to former President George W. Bush, just released his memoir titled Courage and Consequence, defending the Bush administration and denying that it purposefully misled the country about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Mitt Romney also released his book, No Apology, which is perhaps more forward-looking than reflective. The book release tour ran through Iowa and New Hampshire, suggesting Romney's presidential aspirations. Former President George W. Bush announced he will be publishing a book this fall, tentatively titled Decision Points, reflecting on his presidency. Upon announcing his plan, he joked, "This is going to come as quite a shock to people up here that I can write a book, much less read one." His wife Laura Bush is writing her own memoir, Spoken from the Heart, which is due out in May.
Together and apart
Living together before marriage will give your marriage less chance of survival, according to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics. Cohabiting is becoming the "first co-residential union" for more and more couples, the study said: Half of women and 48 percent of men ages 15-44 have cohabited with someone. In just 15 years, the number of women ages 35-39 who have cohabited with someone has doubled. The study suggests cohabitation has negative consequences, though. If a couple cohabited before getting married (and 28 percent of couples do), the likelihood of their marriage lasting 10 years decreased by 6 percentage points. Cohabiting couples also report lower levels of relationship quality, lower income levels, and don't experience the same health benefits that marriage gives. The 2.9 million children living in cohabiting households also don't fare as well academically or behaviorally, but an estimated two-fifths of children will live in a cohabiting household sometime before age 16. The study found that marriages were more likely to survive if the couple was 26 or older when they married and if they had a child eight months or more after marriage.
As spring training games began this month (see "Spring in their step"), Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was giving former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine the state's "Sachem" award for helping to break racial barriers in baseball and bring the handicapped into the mainstream of life. (Sachem is an Algonquin Indian term for wisdom, judgment, and grace.)
Erskine, now 84, was a star Dodgers pitcher who retired from baseball in 1959 and became a banker, baseball coach, and civic leader in Anderson, Ind. He was one of the Dodgers who welcomed Jackie Robinson's breaking of major league baseball's color barrier, and he also joined a quieter civil-rights movement for the handicapped: The same year Erskine retired, his son Jimmy was born with Down syndrome.
Erskine still recalls the ominous words he heard at the hospital: "The Erskine baby is mongoloid." He reflected, "When Jimmy was born, the world was no more ready to accept him than it was ready to accept Jackie Robinson in baseball. . . . We didn't accept people who were different in those days."
But in Erskine's Christian understanding, Jackie Robinson was made in the image of God. Erskine treated him with a dignity and respect then unusual across racial lines. Erskine and his wife Betty looked at Jimmy in a similar way-made in God's image: "She said he's not going to an institution. He's coming home with us."
Jimmy, now 50, works at a restaurant in Anderson. His father has a World Series ring from 1955, but he sees great value in Jimmy's Special Olympics honors. -by Russ Pulliam