In light of the assassinations and the attempted coup that happened in Ethiopia this weekend, I want to share an open letter I’ve been writing to Ethiopian pastors. Whether you’re in Ethiopia or another part of the world, I pray this letter encourages you to be a defender of human life and respect for all people. The image is of Ethiopian elders who got on their knees last year to plead for peace after terrible violence struck their community. Please join me in praying for peace, justice, and comfort in Ethiopia.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Greetings in the love of Jesus Christ, our Prince of Peace.
Our beloved Ethiopia is facing a time of severe ethnic conflict. Around three million people have been driven from their homes. We have seen people killed in public by lynching, stoning, and burning. Rape, maiming, destruction of homes, and other atrocities are reported. This Saturday, Gen. Seare Mekonnen, chief of the military, and Dr. Ambachew Mekonnen, president of the Amhara region, were assassinated. Many fear that violence may increase as the national election approaches. We all feel the heaviness, grief, and uncertainty of this crisis.
In this critical moment, Christian leadership is urgently needed for the peace and common good of all people in Ethiopia. As ministers of the gospel, you have a unique platform to raise your voices and peacefully defend the God-given value of all human life across every boundary.
Thus, I plead with you to preach sermons that soak your communities in the living water of these four biblical truths, which can put out the fire of hatred and conflict.
- First, God has created all people and made every person in God’s holy image without exclusion (Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1; James 3:9). This means that God has stamped each person with God’s own value and dignity. When we meet another person, we don’t simply meet them; we meet the God who made them just like God made us. Prejudice, hatred, and violence against others are attacks on God himself as our Creator (Genesis 9:6). Let us recognize and respect the image of God in each person.
- Second, God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves without exclusion (Leviticus 19:18, 34-35). Our Lord Jesus Christ makes clear that every person is our neighbor, regardless of their ethnic identity (Luke 10:25-37). In Jesus’s famous parable, he highlights the Samaritan as the true neighbor who does God’s will by loving his suffering enemy. The Samaritan’s love was shocking in Jesus’s context, because Samaritans were often seen as ethnic others, religious heretics, and political enemies. This Samaritan embodied Jesus’s command, “Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36). Here Jesus gives us his amazing promise, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Prejudice, hatred, and violence against others are explicit rejections of God’s “greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:36-40). Let us love our neighbors as ourselves like the Samaritan.
- Third, Christ invites all people to become members of “one new humanity” freed from ethnic hostility (Ephesians 2:11-18; Galatians 3:28). The Apostle Paul declares, “[Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier” between us (Ephesians 2:14). This “new humanity” was the original purpose of Pentecost: God wants to speak to every person and to reconcile them in a new multiethnic community by God’s Spirit (Acts 2:5-12). The ethnic others that we see as “unclean” are seen by God as temples fit for his Holy Spirit (Acts 10:27-29). Thus the Apostle Peter declares, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation” (Acts 10:34-35). Prejudice, hatred, and violence against others are attacks on Christ’s body. Let us be filled with God’s Spirit and remove the walls that divide us.
- Fourth, multiethnic community is God’s final will for humanity in heaven (Revelation 22:1-2). Again and again, the Book of Revelation teaches that heaven will unite “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 14:6; 15:4). Multiethnic community is God’s final plan for humanity and our ultimate hope. Prejudice, hatred, and violence against others are hellish rejections of God’s destiny for us in heaven. Let us point to heaven by making peace on earth.
Sisters and brothers, let this be our time to passionately and peacefully preach these four truths again and again in our communities. All people are made in God’s image. All people are our neighbors. All people have been invited by Christ into a reconciled humanity. All people are offered hope in God’s heavenly community. Prejudice, hatred, and violence have no place in God’s kingdom and are not options for God’s children.
Now is the time for us to boldly abandon ethnocentrism in speech and action. Now is the time for us to celebrate and defend the dignity of all people. Now is the time for us to see the image of God in each person, to love the other as our neighbor, to foster a reconciled humanity, and to create signs on earth of our multiethnic hope in heaven.
This is not a human philosophy but the inspired teaching of God’s holy Word. So let us be courageous doers of God’s Word in practice (James 2:14-26).
- Let us humbly confess and repent for our complicity in prejudice, hatred, and violence. When we confess our sin, we don’t lose our authority to lead. Instead, we begin repairing our authority by setting an example for others to follow. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
- Let us speak with love and respect toward others and reject language that demeans others with stereotypes and insults. Let us stop the spread of unverified rumors and fake news, which only fuel hatred. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry… With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 1:19; 3:9-10).
- Let us actively build relationships with other people who are different than us and welcome them into our community. Let us attentively listen and humbly learn from one another, even when we disagree. “Practice hospitality [philoxenia=love of the other]. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge” (Romans 12:13-19).
- Let us stand up for the rule of law and defend the vulnerable regardless of their ethnic, religious, or political identities. Let us be like the Good Samaritan who saw his enemy’s suffering as a call to love rather than an opportunity to rejoice, walk away, or do more harm. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, to set the oppressed free?Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
The Lord warns us that if we see evil but say nothing, he will hold us accountable for that evil (Ezekiel 33:7-9). Let us not be silent. Let us speak and act for peace and human dignity before it is too late.
Imagine if our churches – across denominations, regions, languages and ethnicities – were embassies of love, justice, and reconciliation for all people. I am on my knees praying for God to give us conviction and courage to be ambassadors of neighbor-love in this critical moment. Jesus promises us, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Let us take him at his word and be agents of life.
With prayer, love, and respect,