Israel was a nation guided by God as his own possession through the prophets. Israel was “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 4:6-8). Jerusalem, the capital of this holy nation means, the “City of Peace”. This is derived from the Hebrew root, “Shalom”. Because this city belongs to God, divination akin to other nations was condemned (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).God promised to speak to the people through the prophets: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your country men, you shall listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). The prophet in this “City of Peace” would condemn all weapons of human destruction because those who carry the sword shall die by the sword (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:12; Matthew 26:52).
According to Isaiah, the government will be on the shoulders of this Prophet. He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). These qualities are fully manifested in Jesus Christ. He had every reason and capacity to kill those who would crucify him in self-defence but preferred to die because he came so that human beings may have life in abundance (John 14:14). If Jesus had killed a single person for self-defence, Christianity would have been perceived as a religion that promotes violence. If Jesus had contributed to the ethnic hate speeches of his time, there would be no parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that teaches the value of ethnic solidarity, co-existence and love of neighbours not excluding enemies.
Presently, the world is inundated with hate speeches, violence and ethnic conflicts. There appears to be confusion at all levels in the world. Speeches of segregation, alienation and disintegration have become the order of the day as if darkness has engulfed the world. In Nigeria for instance, the enemies of progress and unity are distracting the citizens with ethnic and religious issues so that they would not demand a sincere account of governance and dividends of democracy from the political leaders. Some conversations today groom nothing but religious and ethnic suspicions. Education is being politicised with the debate on the secondary school curriculum with regard to Religious Studies and History with the aim of turning Christians against Muslims and verse versa. Instead of allowing this to happen, Christian and Muslim leaders could dialogue and insist that Islamic and Christian Religious Studies should stand separately and not be confused with civic education. Religion and History contribute immensely to the moral character of any nation that desires peace.
In this era of confusion, there is urgent need of a prophetic voice to give hope to the people who have suffered enough. Many people are still living in fear. In some part of our world some people only sleep with faith and hope of waking up the next day because the people of the dark world could strike at any time. Under this dread, many people are hungry and thirsty for the Word of God akin to the time of Prophet Amos:”Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.”People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord (Amos 8:11-12). This is why true prophets in these trying times must never join the enemies of progress in tearing this nation asunder with hate speeches. The prophet must take his role of proclaiming the words of peace and love. The prophets of our times must constantly persevere as comfort of the afflicted to the people in distress.
Instead of Religious leaders contributing to the phobia that the country is being made a Christian or Islamic State, they should rather intensify the proclamation of the Good-news and evangelize the people on the value of life, human dignity; the pains of hell fire and the gains of heaven. Ministers of God should remind the people of the ancient past and trace the history of our heroes and the errors of mischief leaders that have brought us this confusion and anarchy. People should be evangelized in a way and manner that they would see the danger of repeating the mistakes of yesteryears. The Church ministers should emphasize the Gospel values and what Christianity has contributed to the national unity and human dignity. Let the Imams and all Muslims highlight and proclaim the verses of the Holy Qur’an that teach peace and love to de-radicalize those who reference the same Holy Book for terrorist and criminal activities. The Muslim Clerics need to proclaim the Islamic values and what Islam can contribute to national unity. If the religious preachers and leaders do their work well to produce good Christians and good Muslims, the nation would be a “City of Peace”. There would be no fear of “Christianization” or “Islamization” because the nation would enjoy peaceful co-existence to the glory of God and joy for everybody.
If this is achieved, both the Christian and Muslim Religious leaders could come to a convergence of values that could promote national unity and human dignity. Faithfulness to the areas of scriptures that promote life and condemn the destruction of human life could bring out the tricks of mischievous political office holders who have hijacked religion and ethnicity to swell their financial pockets. Office holders who promote crime to this end should be made to submit to God through prayers and words that could ignite their consciences to repentance. The life of a human person has value in any revealed religion. According to the Holy Qur’an, if you kill a person unjustly, it is as if you have killed all mankind; and if you save a life, it is as if you have saved all mankind (Qur’an 5:32). Even if God is angry with a nation because of the sins of the citizens, it is the duty of the prophet to intercede for the people like Moses (Deuteronomy 9:13-14). He begged God not to destroy the people (Exodus 32:12-14)
When the priests and prophets go astray while the nation is on fire, the true prophet weeps like Jeremiah to direct the people and the straying prophets back to the right course. “Let my eyes flow down with tears night and day, and let them not cease; for the virgin daughter of my people has been crushed with a mighty blow, with a sorely infected wound. If I go out to the country, behold, those slain with the sword! Or if I enter the city, behold, diseases of famine! For both prophet and priest have gone astray in the land and have no knowledge. Have you completely rejected Judah? Or have you forgotten Zion? Why have you stricken us so that we are beyond healing? We waited for peace, but nothing good came; and for a time of healing, but behold, terror (Jeremiah 14: 17-19).
The Priests, Pastors and Imams should cry out to God for a complete healing of the land. Let the true Priests and Pastors pray for the conversion of some priests and pastors who are using hate speeches in their Churches. Let the true Muslim Clerics and leaders pray for the conversion of the Muslim leaders who teach their children and followers to hate people of other religions as infidels. Let the message of peace and love resound again in the Churches and Mosques. Like the Prophet Nehemiah during the reign of King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2), let the religious leaders reach the hearts of the political leaders for the reconstruction of the nation and not her dissolution. Like Nehemiah traversed the land of the enemies (Nehemiah 2:6-9) to plead for peace, let all religious leaders play the role of a true prophet who is not a stranger to any land but a missionary to all the nations (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). Oh Lord, have mercy on us and grant us your salvation!
Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja (firstname.lastname@example.org)