Is the Tigray crisis the judgment of God or that of the government? Ethio …… | News and reports
There is one thing all evangelical Christians in Ethiopia can agree on: Three years ago, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power, their country was transformed.
The transition to an ethnically Oromo leader marked a break with the 27-year reign of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF). And in a country historically dominated by Orthodox and Muslim believers, Abiy became the first openly evangelical head of government Ethiopia has ever had.
But since a bitter and violent conflict erupted between Abiy’s government and the former ruling TPLF in the northern Tigray region in November 2020, evangelicals – who represent just over 18% of the population – were divided on how to react.
The majority, according to Ethiopian Christians and ministry workers in Ethiopia I interviewed, support the military operation. Their support has continued even as reports of civilian deaths, ethnic cleansing, horrific human rights violations and widespread hunger inflicted on the Tigrayan population increase in scale and urgency.
Earlier this month, the UN announced that more than 350,000 people in the Tigray region are already living in conditions of famine, and 1.7 million people are approaching famine. As the national government this week unilaterally declared a ceasefire after the Tigrayans recaptured their regional capital, the TPLF vows to continue the fight.
Mazaa (a pseudonym), a 44-year-old woman who runs a K-8 school with her husband outside Addis Ababa, has tried to share her concerns about the grave suffering of Tigrayans with other evangelicals. She asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against the families of her students.
His school near the capital welcomes a number of Tigrayan families; she saw with her own eyes how the fathers of her students were “disappeared” and then how the surviving widows and children are socially and economically isolated. The response of his friends? âThese people brought him on their own. It is not without reason.
“I don’t care about the cause,” Mazaa told me. âJesus said we are to love one another. Love does not take any conditions. The love we offer and give must be unconditional.
She also thinks war is unnecessary. The dispute between Abiy and the TPLF âshould have been resolved in another way. The fighting could have been avoided if there had been dialogue, reconciliation or the will on their part to take many steps. “
But Mazaa is a relatively small minority. Among non-Tigrayan evangelicals, the justification for war goes back decades. Under the TPLF, Protestantism was treated as a second-class religion. Muslims and Orthodox Christians have received preference in multiple ways, from political access to venue options for worship services. This is in addition to the large-scale oppression perpetrated by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling TPLF-dominated coalition, which has routinely jailed dissidents, censored the Internet and the media, and restricted individual freedoms. .
Before the TPLF, when Ethiopia was under imperial and then communist rule, the oppression against evangelical Christians was even worse, with regular executions and imprisonment. But that all changed with Abiy’s unexpected rise to power. He freed thousands of political prisoners, unblocked hundreds of websites, facilitated an end to a schism in the Orthodox Church, and promoted long-awaited fairness for evangelical Christians.
In Ethiopia, the term âSlopeâ, which began as a nickname for Pentecostals, has come to refer to evangelicals and most Christians outside of the Orthodox Church. The Prime Minister attends a Pente church whose denomination is part of the Community of Evangelical Churches of Ethiopia.
“Right now the evangelical Christian is getting more attention, getting rights, has more opportunities to be part of the political movement because we are led by an openly evangelical Christian,” says Eshe (a pseudonym), who works for two evangelical ministries and attends a Mennonite affiliated church in Addis Ababa.
She does not support the way Abiy is handling the conflict and she was concerned that her views would label her as part of “the opposition”. But for many other evangelicals, Abiy is a gift from God, an anointed leader, and even a prophet.
Abiy’s many political and social reforms have been widely celebrated across Ethiopia and the world. Until last year, Abiy was best known as the man who made peace with his longtime nemesis and neighbor Eritrea, which earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
But the gain of evangelicals has been the loss of Tigrayans, including evangelicals living in the Tigray region, which is home to a greater concentration of Orthodox Ethiopians and their holy places. According to a recent statement from the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Tigray Region:
Tigray has been ravaged by a war of revenge, destruction and death. The damage done to the people of Tigray is immeasurable and the enormity of the needs of millions of people is great and urgent.
One of the unforeseen and unexpected experiences of the current conflict has been the fact that the leadership of the Evangelical Ethiopian Church has supported this evil war against the people of Tigray. The Ethiopian Evangelical Church has provided unwavering financial and spiritual support to the Ethiopian government through false guidance prophecies and prayers for the success of the military mission against the people of Tigray.
This evangelical support seems to be rooted in a particular interpretation of what God is doing in the current conflict. Many evangelical Christians, like the theologian and preacher Paulos Fekadu, have publicly declared that âwhat is happening in northern Ethiopia (Tigray) is the judgment of Godâ. Several of the Ethiopian Christians I interviewed said their friends and family readily say that Tigrayans “deserve what they get.”
Biruktawit Tsegaye, a 27-year-old volunteer with an evangelical collegiate ministry, believes the TPLF laid the groundwork for the current conflict.
âThe TPLF has corrupted the nation, the people, on the basis of ethnicity. The TPLF has sown a bad seed based on ethnicity, so that the nation is divided. The TPLF is based on the differentiation and division of the nation over the past 20 years, âshe explained to me. âAfter that, with the arrival of the new government, they refuse to participate and accept the new change. This is the main reason for the division and the war.
His friend Desalajn Assefa Alamayhu, an evangelist who is himself Tigrayan, agrees. And he accuses the Christians of Tigray of being active contributors to the conflict.
âChristians in Tigray are participating in bad things with TPLF. They participate fully in the TPLF. They said: ‘In [the] Bible, we can oppose the federal government because we need freedom. In contrast, he asserts, “Most Christians in Ethiopia agree with the federal government because Dr. Abiy teaches and preaches from the Word of God.
But for Eshe, a just response to past infractions and the TPLF’s current insubordination shouldn’t have been a full-scale conflict.
âIt was just between two political parties. The leaders are the ones who are in conflict, âshe explains. Eshe estimates that the former TPLF leaders who committed serious crimes are less than a hundred. Abiy’s government should have simply attacked these individuals instead of âtaking war as a solutionâ.
The question that many evangelical Ethiopians seem to grapple with is, who would Jesus side with – the charismatic evangelical leader bent on defeating his enemies, or the mostly non-evangelical Tigrayans who suffer greatly?
Their final destination is complicated by the fact that media reporting and even interpersonal communications from Tigray have been tightly controlled; disinformation and propaganda abound. And under a government that has shown itself increasingly willing to punish dissidents, there is a real threat that vocal war opponents could be jailed – or worse.
For Kofi (a pseudonym), his loyalty is clear.
âFor me, as a Christian, our allegiance is first with God. The Bible says we must ally with those who are injured, âsaid the 26-year-old, who declined to be named to protect his mission agency, which partners with churches and evangelizes in Tigray.
âThis is one of the things Christ said to the disciples: Weep with those who cry, share with those who have nothing. We must be with those who are suffering. Whatever the political explanation, I don’t care. This is not the main need. There are many who suffer and need our prayers and help. “