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Do These Black Lives Matter?

As American cities burned in the summer of 2020 due to “non-violent protests,” in which billions of dollars of damage was inflicted on businesses and property, demonstrations began to take place all over the world. An unarmed black man, George Floyd, had been violently arrested in Minneapolis and had died; the police officer, Derek Chauvin, was later found guilty of murder. This sad and inexcusable event caused the explosion of violent demonstrations, accompanied by the slogan “Black lives matter.” In tandem with these displays, a new gesture was used to symbolize the slogan: ‘taking the knee.’ 

Adopted initially, perhaps, in a spirit of repentance for real or imagined wrongs against all black people, it quickly became the ‘go-to’ virtue signal for the ignorant, the opportunist, and the cynical. A person’s refusal to bend the knee invariably leads to condemnation by self-appointed guardians of new moral absolutes in the media. From this emerged a modern form of excommunication known as ‘canceling.’ This is happening to those who now refuse to wear symbols celebrating aberrant sexual activity. 


Persecution in Nigeria

During the outbreak of this moral frenzy, I was speaking to a friend of mine, who had just begun a new job in a northern city in the United States. She is a young Nigerian doctor and a Catholic. It just so happened that, as BLM protests were spreading, she had heard that more Nigerian Christians had been killed at the hands of Islamist militants. Martyrdom in Nigeria is an event so frequent that it rarely makes the news. But perhaps that is not the real reason it is not reported on. My friend told me how shocked she was that there were no marches or protests about the mass slaughter of Nigerian Christians, a crisis that has been steadily growing in the last ten years. “Do these black lives matter?” she asked. 

As a priest advocating for persecuted Christians, I relate the huge number of Nigerian martyrs—men, women, and children—from the last few years alone in parishes in the United States and England. People are always horrified, shocked that they have never heard about this from the media or the Church. I always get asked “what can we do?”

On Good Friday of this year in Benue State, Fulani ‘herdsmen’ attacked an IDP (internally displaced people) camp and killed 35 people, mainly women and children. The murders were mainly attributed to climate change. The Muslim Fulani herdsmen ‘need’ to kill Christians, as they have been for many years, to find grazing land for their cattle. This ‘necessary’ depopulation for the sake of climate change apparently involves, burning churches that are filled with worshippers, the destruction of villages, rape, kidnapping and, as on Pentecost Sunday last year, shooting more than 40 people attending Mass.

According to Fr. Remigius Ihyula from the diocese of Makurdi in Nigeria—one of the most affected areas, with more than two million IDPs—the claim that ‘climate change’ is the cause of this violence is false. As he points out, climate change is affecting the whole world, and yet the violence in Nigeria is unique. “Our interpretation,” he said, “is that there are terrorists who use these herdsmen to displace the local population.” Yet many governments, including the UK, continue to deny the specifically religious character of the violence, and instead refer to climate change.

In a ‘condolence note’ for the Pentecost massacre, the president of Ireland, Michael Higgins, referred to the contributory factor of climate change in the slaughter. I spoke to Bishop Jude of Ondo, the diocese where that massacre took place, about Higgins’ execrable claims; Bishop Jude’s fiery eyes and forceful words told a different story.

There is always a danger that the figures of martyred Christians might cause numbness, or ‘compassion fatigue,’ if the MSM reported them with any frequency. Perhaps death lists do no good, but the world needs to acknowledge the intensity of the persecution—which many argue has developed into a genocide. According to a report by Intersociety, last year alone, at least 5,000 Christians were martyred in Nigeria, with more than 3,000 kidnapped. Intersociety’s report included the claim that since 2009, more than 52,000 Nigerian Christians had been killed, and those figures may be too low.


Which lives matter?

With all this violence directed against one religious group, the Biden administration’s November 2021 decision to remove Nigeria as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ from its list of countries with religious freedom issues is incomprehensible. Apparently, the death of 52,000 people in just over ten years is no reason for concern, especially as the Cato Institute reported that since 2009 the U.S. has sold Nigeria $130 million worth of weapons, and $155 million worth of “security assistance.”

Similarly, Great Britain, according to a Freedom of Information request by the Campaign Against Arms Trade, has licensed £43 million worth of armaments to Nigeria. Linked with the arms sales is the issue of trade; as a recent piece in The Washington Times noted, China is now “out-trading” the U.S. in Africa by 400%. As the religious freedom expert Nina Shea has noted, the issue of trade is one clear reason why the Biden administration is overlooking persecution in Nigeria.

It appears the time is now long past for a papal encyclical on the crisis of the worldwide persecution of Christians, addressing both the causes, theological issues, and the need for aid and advocacy. This was called for during the intense persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq, a persecution which is ongoing, but to no avail.

At a local and diocesan level, the Church must listen to Aid to the Church in Need and other religious freedom experts and organizations that are calling for the crisis in Nigeria and other parts of Africa to become a high priority. Once more, as in Iraq and Syria, many Christians feel forgotten by their brethren in the West, despite the good works of many Western Christians.

While it seems important for the Western Church to highlight the ‘climate crisis,’ for those dying for their faith in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, India, Syria, and so many other places, the appropriate use of air-conditioning tends to be lower down their list of priorities.

Is consistent prayer for the persecuted a feature of life in most parishes? Not a monthly mention in the intercessions, but a sustained program supported by bishops and clergy. If not, it must be. Pressure must be put on legislators by voters to address the issues of trade and aid and make them significant bargaining chips in relation to the government of Nigeria and others.

It might be naive to imagine that governments will place the care of Nigerian Christians above national profit, but the appeal must be made. No one has taken the knee for the thousands of martyred Nigerian Christians killed in the last ten years, but prayer, aid, and advocacy will be a far more effective witness to the fact that those black lives really do matter.


Fr. Benedict Kiely is the founder of, a charity helping persecuted Christians.

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