Christian leaders in the war-ravaged country of Central African Republic (CAR) earlier this month reiterated condemnation for the violence and repudiated media claims that the fighting pits Muslims against Christians, according to World Watch Monitor (WWM).
In a declaration signed Feb. 4, the leaders of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches and the Episcopal Conference in CAR pointed out that the fighting was political in nature, not religious.
“All Anti-Balaka are not Christians and … all Christians are not Anti-Balaka,” the declaration said. The Anti-Balaka are civilian militias from Christian communities that have retaliated against the now-disbanded Muslim rebel group, Séléka. Led by rebel leader Michel Djotodia, Séléka drove out former CAR President Francois Bozizé in March 2013, and the Islamist rebels targeted Christians with violence for months.
“It is the same for ex-Séléka and Muslims,” the declaration pointed out. “Incorrect terminology that labels Anti-Balaka ‘Christian militias’ must be corrected. This amalgam propagated by national and international media has given a religious connotation to a crisis that is in its core political and military.”
The declaration also said Christians “are called to reflect God’s light in our political, economic and social engagements,” and condemned the murder of Muslims by mobs.
The church leaders’ statement came out of a meeting of 170 Catholics and Protestants, and four prominent Christian leaders, including Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, signed it. This is the second declaration Christians leaders have signed since the fighting began, according to WWM.
“We and other faith leaders have repeatedly urged the international press and peacekeeping forces not to present the violence this way,” Abbot Cyriaque Gbate Duomalo, a signer of the document, told the Catholic News Service. He also called it “completely false to imply religious leaders have played some part in it.”
In a policy statement on the CAR conflict, Open Doors said it shares the view that Anti-Balaka militia are not Christian, pointing out that “Anti-Balaka leaders have rejected calls by the Church and its representing bodies to cease from violence.”
Setting an example, Nzapalainga partnered with Doumalo and Muslim Imam Omar Kobine Layama to show that the different religious communities can stand together against the violence. “Our main challenge is to live together when we’ve been shattered by violence,” Nzapalainga told Caritas International. “Reconstructing the social fabric will take time. Disarming people is one thing, disarming hearts is a much harder task at hand.”
While underreported, William Stark of International Christian Concern said stories of interfaith cooperation in CAR are plentiful. For instance, Religious News Service reported that a Roman Catholic parish in Baroro is caring for thousands of Muslims, while hundreds of Muslims are being sheltered by Catholic sisters in Bossemptele.