The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that Nigeria is under threat of "disintegration" at the hands of extremist Islamist group Boko Haram, in a contribution to a Synod debate on recent violence in Nigeria.
Archbishop Rowan was responding to the motion:
'That this Synod, gravely concerned at the desperate plight of Christian communities in parts of Nigeria, as described in GS 1861, request the British Government to do all it can to support those in Nigeria seeking to protect religious minorities of all faiths and enable them to practise their religion without fear.'
Dr Rowan Williams urged the British Government to do everything possible to support those in the west African state seeking to protect religious minorities of all faiths.
"We are talking in Nigeria not simply about a few incidents of interfaith conflict - that is an easy strap line, so to speak - we are talking about a threatened disintegration of a society under pressure from one of the most extreme Islamist organisations in the world in the shape of Boko Haram," he told the General Synod of the Church of England.
Following debate, the motion was carried in a count of the whole Synod. There voted 344 for, 0 against, with 1 abstention.
Listen to the Archbishop's contribution to the debate [5Mb, 4mins] or read the text below:
I want first of all to thank the Bishop of Durham for the very courageous and dedicated way in which he has engaged with the Nigerian situation, he has visited more than once in the last couple of years, going to some of the most troubled and risky parts of the country.
And I know that that visit has been greatly appreciated as a sign of our solidarity. But I want to underline just a couple of things about the overall situation. One is that in common with many other contexts where Christian minorities are under threat, the issue is not simply the well-being of Christian communities, crucial as that is, it is the well-being of the entire community. We often find ourselves in the position of saying that for a state or society to flourish, the Christian church needs to be free to work and to do what it is called to do. And that where that is not the case, the entire society suffers severely and is greatly impoverished.
We’re talking in Nigeria, as Bishop Justin has rightly reminded us, about not just a few incidents of interfaith conflict - that’s the easy strapline so to speak. We’re talking about a threatened disintegration of a society under pressure from one of the most extreme Islamist organisations in the world in the shape of Boko Haram.
So our support is called for, for the entire people of Nigeria. As the motion says, we are asking our government to do all it can to support those is Nigeria seeking to protect religious minorities of all faiths. And that means we are asking our Government to support the well-being of Nigeria itself, whose strategic importance of the future is exactly as the Bishop of Durham has outlined.
Let me also just pick up, very briefly, the importance of diocesan and parish links. As Bishop Justin has said, the sense of isolation is one of the worst things afflicting Christian minorities under pressure, whether Pakistan or Palestine or Nigeria. Formal and informal links are of the greatest possible importance. I know that the Diocese of Guildford has played a very significant part here, and the Bishop of Guildford may very well like to say something later on about contacts and visits there, which have been very warmly welcomed. The churches in Nigeria will be delighted to see us and to hear from us. They need our prayers yes, they also need tangible tokens of our solidarity. They’re not asking for financial support, they’re asking for Christian fellowship, and that I think we can offer.
In various ways, we’ve been attempting, from Lambeth Palace, to intensify that support and our intention is that visiting Nigerian bishops will regularly be introduced to people in the Foreign Office here. We’ve already managed some contacts of that kind so that there can be very clear first-hand information provided to our Government. There are visits forthcoming from one or two people in that position. It’s also quite important for those of us involved in any kind of interfaith work to retain contact with those Muslim leaders who have some kind of leverage in the situation, and once again there are plans going forward to broker some meetings at that level. I might also at this point pay tribute to those in Nigeria who have continued that level of interfaith level at the most testing and difficult of times.
So members of Synod, I hope that you will wholeheartedly support this motion, I hope that you will also in your parishes and your dioceses ask what signs of solidarity and fellowship can be given, remembering, as I said at the beginning, that it’s not simply a question of seeking to protect ‘our own’. It is our contribution to the wellbeing of the whole of Nigerian society through the witness and the action of our fellow members of the Body of Christ in that place.
The General Synod briefing paper accompanying the debate includes the following introduction written by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York:
Recent violence in Nigeria
In view of the recent serious violence in Nigeria the Bishop of Durham travelled to the country at short notice on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet members of the Anglican Church in Nigeria and others caught up in the deteriorating situation there.
Following the Bishop's return we have decided, in the exercise of our powers under Standing Order 4 (b) in relation to urgent or other especially important business, to direct the addition to the agenda for the February Group of sessions of a short debate. This will enable the Synod to hear from the Bishop of Durham, to reflect on the attached briefing note and, if it agrees, to pass a short motion that the Bishop will move on our behalf in the following terms:
"That this Synod, gravely concerned at the desperate plight of Christian communities in parts of Nigeria as described in GS 1861, request the British Government to do all it can to support those in Nigeria seeking to protect religious minorities of all faiths and enable them to practise their religion without fear.”
3 February 2012