Recent Violence in Cameroon Calls for International Action

The  west-central African country of Cameroon has been experiencing increasing violence. The underlying conflicts giving rise to this violence are protests by the minority Cameroonians whose primary European language is English (the Anglophones) against discrimination and persecution of various forms and violence carried out by the national government that is controlled by the majority Cameroonians whose primary European language is French (the Francophones). [1]

The time has long come for people around the world to demand that the Cameroonian government, with the assistance of other countries and international agencies, address the legitimate grievances of the Anglophones and with the cooperation of certain Anglophone separatists bring this discrimination, persecution and violence to an end.

Recent Events[2]

There have been at least three recent events that demand that the U.N., the U.S. and others expand their roles in Cameroon to end the discrimination against the country’s Anglophones and the resulting violence..

The first happened on October 30. As discussed in a prior post, on that date, a U.S. citizen was killed by gunfire in one of the English-speaking regions.

Second, on October 31, the separatists kidnapped 11 male students children from a Presbyterian secondary  school in the English-speaking North West Region of the country, but were released after the school had paid a ransom of the equivalent of $4,400.

Third, on  November 4, the separatists kidnapped 78 students and three staff members from that same Presbyterian school.  On November 7, however, the separatists released all of the children after warning them not to go back to school; the principal and one teacher were retained. A school official said no ransom had been paid, but the church was forced to close the school and send 700 students home because the state cannot assure their security

Reactions to These Recent Events[3]

On November 5, the national leader of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (the Moderator), Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, issued a statement on the recent events at one of its schools.

  1. It called on “whosoever has committed this grave act of inhumanity on these innocent children and the staff members of this institution to immediately and unconditionally release them.” [This] is an open serious crime against humanity that no one in his/her right senses, no government and organization would hesitate to vehemently condemn. We roundly and strongly condemn that intention, planning and execution of this act of kidnap with every iota of our energy!”
  2. “We call on both the Cameroon military and the Ambazonia militia to respect the right of children to education. This is a universal right that all governments and anti-government forces everywhere on earth respect and protect.”
  3. “We call on the government of the Republic of Cameroon to take very urgent measures to resolve the Anglophone crisis that has led to the killing of thousands of innocent children of God, be they military or civilians, and the destruction of overwhelming private and public property, homes of people and entire villages.”
  4. “ We call on both the Cameroon government and the Amazonia fighters to agree on providing maximum security for the innocent young Cameroonians to exercise their right to study. And that these innocent children and their teachers should not be used as baits and sacrificial lambs.”
  5. “We call on the international community to take note of these grievous cycle of acts of inhumanity that have become a daily occurrence in Anglophone Cameroon that puts the lives of over seven million people in harm’s way. We also call on the international community not to be aloof, but look for ways to urgently assist in ending this crisis.”
  6. “That we will suspend the education of young Cameroonians provided by the Presbyterian Education Authority . . . wherever there are security challenges.”

The Moderator’s statement concluded with “a call on all God-fearing Cameroonians and beyond to continue to pray fervently that God should take away this dark cloud of evil and wickedness that has descended on Cameroon, particularly the Anglophone community.”

On November 8, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a statement that called for various actions by U.S. Presbyterians, including  contacting “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to thank him for the State Department’s call for peaceful dialogue and unhindered access to humanitarian aid workers.”  In addition, ask “him to continue to monitor the situation and support a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

On November 6, the  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the kidnapping of the children and school staff members. He called for “their immediate release and return. . . .  There can be no justification for these crimes against civilians, particularly minors.” He added that the U.N. “stands ready to assist” in the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Cameroon.

On November 6, the U.S. State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, issued a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms, the November 5 kidnapping of [these]  students and staff and calling for their “immediate and safe return.” She also “expresses grave concern over the burgeoning Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions. We urge an immediate halt to the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and burning of houses by Cameroonian government forces and to attacks perpetrated by both Anglophone separatists against security forces and civilians. The systematic intimidation based on ethnic and religious affiliation, including in Yaoundé and Douala, must stop.” Finally she urged “all sides to end the violence and enter into broad-based reconciliatory dialogue without preconditions.”

This U.S. Citizen’s Response

As a U.S. citizen of  European-American heritage, I have been blessed to have many Cameroonian-American friends through our mutual membership at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church as well as many Cameroonian friends through our church’s partnerships with a Presbyterian Church in Kumba Town in the Southwest (Anglophone) Region of Cameroon and with an HIV-AIDS non-profit organization in Douala, the financial center of the country in its Francophone area. These connections have led to my participation in a Westminster mission trip to that country and to fellowship this past May with a Cameroonian delegation to our Minneapolis church.

I, therefore, appreciate the preceding comments by leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon and the U.S and by officials of the U.N. and the U.S.

But their words are not enough. There needs to be action with at least the threat of the use of military force by the U.N., the African Union and/or the U.S. to broker an enforceable agreement to stop the Cameroonian government discrimination, persecution and violence against their own citizens whose primary European language is English and to stop the violence perpetrated by those Anglophones whose patience has been exhausted.

A copy of this blog post will be sent to Cameroon President Paul Biya; U.S. President Donald Trump; U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; U.S. Ambassador to  Cameroon Peter Henry Barium; U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith; U.S. Representative Keith Ellison; U.S. Represntative-Elect Ilhan Omar; Rev. Denise Anderson and Rev. Jan Edmiston, Co- Moderators of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon; the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Jeria; Paul Kagame, Chairperson of the African Union; and Emmanuel Macron, President of France.

==================================

[1] Previous posts about Cameroon are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com–Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] Assoc. Press, Separatists Kidnap 79 Pupils in Cameroon’s Restive Northwest, N.Y. Times (Nov. 5, 2018); Searcey, Cameroon Students Have Been Released, Officials Say, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2018); Assoc. Press, 79 Kidnapped Cameroon Students Freed, Says Church Official, N.Y. Times (Nov.7, 2018); Reuters, Cameroon Child Kidnappers Warned Victims Not to Go To School, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2018).

[3] Assoc. Press, UN Chief Urges Speedy Release of Kidnapped Cameroon Pupils, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2018); U.S. State Dept, U.S. Concerned Over Violence Uptick in Cameroon (Nov. 6, 2018); Moderator, Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, Communique on Successive Abductions at Presbyterian Secondary School (PSS), Nkwen, Bamenda (Nov. 5, 2018); U.N., Secretary-General Condemns Kidnapping of Students, School Staff in Cameroon (Nov.6, 2018).

The Confession of Belhar Is Adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

PCUSA

On June 23, 2016, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) overwhelmingly voted (540 to 33) to include in its Book of Confessions the 1986 Confession of Belhar from South Africa.

Let us examine that Confession, its adoption by the PC(USA)’s General Assembly, the PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions and the recent use of the Belhar Confession at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, a member of the PC(USA).

 The Confession of Belhar[1]

The Belhar Confession emerged from the era of apartheid in South Africa, 1948-1994. That doctrine and practice of racial segregation was embraced by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRC) for whites and imposed upon its racially segregated offshoots: the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) for colored or mixed-race people, the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa for blacks and the Reformed Church in Africa for people of Indian descent.

After the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, the 1964 convictions and imprisonments of anti-apartheid activists Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, the 1976 Soweto Uprising and the 1976 condemnation of South Africa and apartheid by the United Nations, the Synod of the DRMC in 1978 concluded that apartheid was anti-evangelical and a structural and institutional sin.

Eight years later, in 1986, another Synod of the DRMC met in Belhar, a colored suburb of Capetown, South Africa, and adopted the Confession of Belhar. It has the following primary confessional statements:

  1. “We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.”
  2. “We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.”
  3. “We believe that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
  4. “We believe that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people.”
  5. “We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.”

Three of these statements also set forth additional detailed belief statements and rejections of any doctrine and ideology which:

  • “absolutizes  natural diversity or the sinful separation of people;”
  • “explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church;”
  • “sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race or color;”
  • “would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.”

The PC(USA)’s Adoption of the Belhar Confession [2]

As previously noted, on June 23, 2016 (30 years after the DRMC adoption of the Confession of Belhar), the General Assembly of the PC(USA) voted to add that Confession to the U.S. church’s Book of Confessions.

Rev. Godfrey Betha
Rev. Godfrey Betha

Immediately after the vote, the General Assembly was addressed by Rev. Godfrey Betha, the Vice Moderator of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, which was formed by the DRMC and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa for blacks. Betha told the General Assembly, “It is important to seek solidarity with South Africa. We’ve come a long way with the PC(USA). We are grateful to have you as partners in service to the Lord. Today we offer gratitude, we salute you as the PC(USA) for your historic decision to adopt the Belhar Confession as a standard of faith for your church. I bow in humility to God and thankfulness to you … I’ll never forget this date.”

Betha added: “Your decision affirms that, like those other historic standards of faith, the Belhar Confession transcends its historic circumstances as a standard for faith in all places and times. Your decision affirms that Belhar does speak against ideological and theological attempts to justify specific historical forms of injustice. Your decision affirms to your church, [and] to all, when you come looking for the demon of racism, don’t come to us.”

Rev. Allan Boesak
Rev. Allan Boesak

Also present at the General Assembly was Rev. Allan Boesak, a co-author of the Confession of Belhar and the moderator of the DRMC when it was adopted in 1986. He said, “I thank God for what happened here tonight. I thank God for your faithfulness. I thank God for your acknowledgement of our common humanity in doing this … I thank God, and I thank you, and because of Jesus and because of God’s faithfulness, we shall overcome.”

Rev. Denise Anderson
Rev. T. Denise Anderson

At that point the commissioners linked hands throughout the plenary hall and spontaneously broke into “We Shall Overcome,” the famous song of the U.S. African-American civil rights movement, led by the General Assembly’s Co- Moderator, Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Pastor, Unity Presbyterian Church, Temple Hills, MD.

Earlier that same day, and before the General Assembly action, Boesak had addressed a breakfast meeting at the General Assembly. He said the Belhar Confession “stirs us, humbles us, and inspires us … It’s a unifying document. We cannot yet foresee the consequences of the Confession. No other Confession has been so clear in its intentions: not only unity, but its foundationality; not just reconciliation, but its inescapability; not only justice, but its indivisibility.”

“Today is a defining moment for the PC(USA), as it was for the Dutch Reformed Mission Church 30 years ago as we finally adopted the Belhar Confession,” Boesak continued. “But the defining moment  was  not  just  the  adoption  of  the confession, as stunning as it was. In the years between 1982 and 1986, my friend and colleague and co-author Jaap Durand offered crucial prophetic insights that inspired and haunted the church in ways we couldn’t imagine in 1982, saying, ‘A  confession does not and cannot engage in mere trivialities. It can only be an extension of the ancient confession that Christ is Lord… I’m convinced that the Confession of Belhar will outlive apartheid and the heresy that formed it.’”

Recalling the struggles of black South Africans to remain faithful and pursue unity in light of terrible oppression, mass detention and cruel policies, Bosack said: “The church became directly involved in the efforts of freedom and justice in South Africa. The Jesus we worship and confess as Lord in the sanctuary is the Jesus we take into the street. Our people were slaughtered. Everyone was touched in one way or another.”

“By 1986 we saw no sense in, and had no desire for, unity with the white church, or with white people in general,” he said of the general despair that afflicted the DRMC. “But we had Belhar, [which] . . . understood [John] Calvin as he spoke of Holy Communion. ‘Christ has only one body of which he makes us all partakers.’”

Calling the unity of the church both a gift and command, Boesak said it was difficult in those years to find points of unity or reconciliation with those who were actively opposing the rights of black South Africans. The Belhar Confession, however, understood from Isaiah that God is not only a God of justice, but that God is a God of indivisible justice,” he said. “So against our self-absorbed instinct for self-absorbed victimhood, the black church confessed God as a God who wants to bring forth peace and justice in the world, and that God calls the church to follow in this, that the church must stand next to people in any form of need or injustice.”

This teaching of Belfar also challenged the DRMC when it faced the issue of the rights of LGBTQI and eventually affirmed those rights. Boesak said his denomination had “to face the consequences, not only with the white Dutch Reformed Church, but within itself.”

“In following Christ, the church must fight against those who use their privilege to oppress and put down any people,” he said. In asking the PC(USA) to “witness against any form of injustice,” Boesak turned his attention to Palestine, asking the denomination to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – similar to those used to end apartheid – to place economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation and expansion of territories. “Kairos Palestine is a cry from the heart of suffering,” he said. “Unless it rolls down for Palestinians, it will not roll down for others. Indivisible. Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”

In conclusion, Boesak said of Belhar and its broader implications: “It is a confession that stirs us, humbles us, and inspires us … It’s a unifying document.”

The PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions

The Book of Confessions is a collection of confessions and creeds that declare to the church’s “members and to the world who and what [the church] is, what it believes and what it resolves to do.” Prior to the addition of the Belhar Confession, the Book contained 11 confessions and creeds starting with the Nicene Creed of 325 and ending with A Brief Statement of Faith– Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of 1983.[3]

According to the church’s Book of Order, These creeds and confessions are “subordinate standards . . . subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him” that “identify the church as a community of people known by its convictions as well as by its actions,” that “guide the church in its study and interpretation of the Scriptures,” that “summarize the essence of Christian tradition,” that “direct the church in maintaining sound doctrines” and that “equip the church for its work of proclamation.” They also give “witness to the faith of the church catholic” while identifying “with the affirmations of the Protestant Reformation:” “grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.”[4]

Westminster’s Recent Use of the Belhar Confession

One of Belhar Confession’s central themes was adapted for use by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church as its July 17, 2016, Call to Worship (in call and response mode):[5]

  • One: This we believe.
  • All: God longs to bring justice and peace among all people.
  • One: This we believe.
  • All: God teaches the church to do what is good and to seek the right.
  • One: This we believe.
  • All: God sees a day when all people – black, white, red, yellow, and brown – will live together in harmony.
  • One: This we believe.
  • All: God calls the church to follow Jesus, to lift up the poor, to heal those who hurt, to feed those who hunger, and to comfort those who grieve.”

==============================================================

[1] PCUSA, Confession of Belhar (English translation); PCUSA, The Belhar Confession (paper about the history of the Confession); PCUSA, 30 Days with the Belhar Confession: Reflections on Unity, Reconciliation and Justice (this book weaves together Scripture passages and the Confession’s timely themes of unity, reconciliation and justice; it is written by a diverse collection of scholars, theologians and church leaders and is a great resource for individuals, study groups or entire congregations wanting to familiarize themselves with the Confession through prayer and reflection; the Confession itself is included).

[2] PCUSA, Allan Boesak commends Belhar Confession (June 23, 2016); PCUSA, Belhar added to PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions (June 23, 2016); Duffield, Adopting Belhar, the 222nd General Assembly Makes History, Presbyterian Outlook (June 23, 2016). The Confession previously had been adopted by Namibia’s Evangelical Reformed Church in Africa, Belgium’s United Protestant Church, the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church of North America. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, however, has not adopted the Confession in a manner acceptable to the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa and, therefore, has not merged into the latter.

[3] PCUSA, Book of Confessions.

[4] PCUSA, Book of Order, Ch. II (1983-85 edition).

[5] Westminster, Worship Bulletin (July 17, 2016).