We Didn’t #bringbackourgirls – So Now What?

In May there was an uprising on social media of celebrities and nobodies raising our call for social justice in a cry for the voices of the oppressed in Nigeria be heard.
What happened to #bringbackourgirls? Celebrities took cute photos. Wrote hashtags on poster boards and rallied their twitter followers. We were so gung-ho on this campaign we all put up pictures, hash-tagged all our posts, and linked to news articles.
We rose to the fad, until we got tired.
I think part of having a correct view of the word “biblical” especially when it comes to biblical justice is figuring out how to sustain our empathy and concern for the long haul.
It has been more than 3 months since the kidnap of more than 200 school girls – and THEY STILL HAVEN’T BEEN FOUND. But we, in America, lost interest. Perhaps that’s not fair – I don’t think I could say anyone I talk to has lost interest, we’ve just lost steam. We’ve become overwhelmed with how to figure out how to actually do something about it.
They weren’t brought back and we had no idea what to do after that.
In June, Boko Haram kidnapped 60 more girls – and we became even more paralyzed – and some of us didn’t even notice because we had removed ourselves from the heartbreak of the story. According to many news outlets and analysists – #bringbackourgirls has failed.
This issue is much bigger than even the #bringbackourgirls campaign. New York-based Human Rights Watch says more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Nigeria this year by Boko Haram. The deaths occurred in around 95 separate attacks in more than 70 towns and villages in the north-east, where Boko Haram launched its insurgency in 2009 (Guardian News).
The Nigerian Government says it knows where the girls are – but they are fearful of retaliation against the girls in captivity or other civilians if they were to launch an operation to rescue them. It is indeed a messy and scary situation.
I fear Boka Haram thinks that was the extent of our response. They aren’t the least bit afraid of a hashtag. Which isn’t to say they’re useless – but we can’t stop at posting a witty 140 character thought provoking responses on twitter.
And many have given up hope. “Privately, some Western diplomats have already begun to play down expectations that the girls will ever be rescued…What may happen is that from time to time, some may seize a chance to escape, or a deal may be done with one particular local faction that is holding some of the hostages. Over the course of a few months or years they may begin to reappear” (The Telegraph).
But I’m not here to make you feel guilty (really!) I just want to convey that this is something we should STILL care about. And that I understand it’s very tricky. Advocating and caring for those caught up in violent oppression is a whole different kind of justice.
So….what do we do now?
  1. Keep Praying. As my father used to always say, “Prayer is not a preparation for a greater work, prayer is the greater work.” You can see repeatedly throughout scriptures that the prayers of righteous people immediately impacted situations (Amos, for example, in chapter 4 praying against his visions, three separate times, and the Lord relenting and sparing Israel).
  1. Continue conversations about this. I know it is uncomfortable and horrific – but pretending it is not happening won’t make it any less real. Bring it up with your leaders at church. Request to have small group discussion and sermons preached on a theological response to violence against women. Bring it up with friends – talk through the frustrations and your helplessness. Simply bringing the conversation back alive is a step in the right direction.
  1. Take it a step further and use these conversations to then begin confessing and shattering the silence of violence against women without our own context. “In the United States one out of ever four women has experienced domestic violence and one out of six has experienced attempted or completed rape” (NCADV). Stop the cycle of violence, stop the shame, open the church to conversation and make it a place of safety for healing and restoration.
  1. Use the political influence you have. There is a separation of church and state – but the Church is a large entity here in the States and can be a powerful voice for steering responses to injustice in our world. Make your voice heard with your representatives that this is not some issue “over there” but one you believe the United States needs to step into to care for our Nigerian neighbors. I am sure there is much more going on politically than you or I know – but simply letting your representatives in government hear that this is an issue they can’t forget about and have to continue pursuing is helping bring the voice back to those suffering waiting to be found.
  1. Become aware of the resources available to help victims of violence. What programs exist in your community that are providing a holistic look at the cultural, political, religious and social environments of the women in their care. What can you learn about violence that would make you a better stranger, friend, mentor or neighbor to someone who has experienced violence that you may be in relationship with now or in the future?
  1. Don’t wait for someone else to do all of the above things. Don’t think “my pastor will do it” or “those in politics will take care of advocating” or “the social justice team at our church will take care of it.” YOU. You are responsible to do your part and become a voice for the change God desires to bring to our broken and hurting world.

The Christian church today is guilty of the sin of omission when it comes to seeking justice against violent oppression in the world. We’re not the ones oppressing – but we’ve turned a blind eye and decided the mission of God for the dignity and flourishing of human beings can be handed over to our political officials. It’s time to take it back. It’s time to recognize who is our neighbor and that, as Martin Luther said, “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”
The education and dignity of women is a human and theological issue. As Elizabeth Gerhardt in her WONDERFUL book The Cross and Gendercide reminds us, “There is no optimistic, utopian hope for a kindgdom of God on earth. There is only the Christ that encounters us and call us to be for the other” (p. 166).

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