The Feast Day of the Martyrs of the Sudans
The Martyrs we honor today are the Christians in Sudan and South Sudan who refused to abandon their faith in the face of a fundamentalist Islamic government which demanded they do so. On May 16, 1983, a civil war began there that lasted twenty-two years. Over a million members of the Episcopal Church of the Province of the Sudan died. Survivors remain displaced in Sudan and South Sudan or exiled in Africa and the U.S. But South Sudan, which was only 5% Christian in 1983, is now 85% Episcopalian or Roman Catholic. “A faith rooted deeply in the mercy of God has renewed their spirits throughout the years of strife and sorrow.” (from the proposal before the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church)
There are many things we could reflect upon in this story. What leads people to stand by their faith in the face of the threat of physical harm or death? What would lead me to do this? What about being Christian was so appealing to the people of South Sudan that they embraced it in spite of the threat? How can I be that sort of a Christian? All these are good questions, worthy of extensive pondering.
But I want to focus on a different matter. I want to look within my own heart. There is a fundamentalist who dwells there. I am only conscious of her in those infrequent moments when she leaps out of the secret place where she abides, shouting, “kill, kill.” She does this when I feel threatened by someone’s strange religious practices – when I feel like something of mine will be taken away. . . somehow. It’s not very rational.
Usually I am so appalled by this voice within me that I freeze up and cannot act, for good or ill. I go away, and maybe I think about it. Sometimes I take it upon myself to learn more about the alien religion, but often the incident and its implications are buried in the onslaught of daily life demands.
Which way would I jump if a fundamentalist government began persecuting these aliens of whom I am afraid? It might be easy to just go along, out of my own fear. But God reveals God’s self to humans in all sorts of ways, and I cannot persecute others and remain true to my understanding of the mercy of the God I serve.
No, it’s important that I do not lose my sense of the humanity of my neighbor. This means learning about their religious practices. What makes their heart sing? What moves them to awe and wonder? How does God speak to them? How do they manifest the mercy of God?
The threat to all of us in our pursuit of spiritual understanding and growth is not manifest in the particular religion which has given us our start. It is rather in the fundamentalist outlook of every religion. God, who is closer to us than our own heartbeat, will lead us into deeper understanding of God no matter what, if we allow it. God desires relationship with us and will use any language to get it. God is very persuasive.