Skip to site content

To Curb Genocide, You Must Start at Its Simple Roots

We must sharpen our sensitivities concerning genocide, as few people have the word “genocide” in their everyday vocabulary.

Basically genocide is the deliberate, intentional effort to exterminate an entire group of people simply because of who they are.

Although we don’t realize it, there are at least four or five ongoing incidents of genocide in the world right now.

They have been going on so long and are so far away that they are no longer news. But genocide is not “there and then.” It is “here and now.”

A full-fledged genocide can take years, sometimes generations, to explode. But each incident of genocide probably has a small, simple beginning.

For example, genocide is bullying on a grand scale. Incidents of bullying in our schools, on our playgrounds, on our sports fields and courts, and in our places of work might well be the seed bed for genocide.

The matter becomes increasingly cogent, as our society becomes more diverse and our awareness becomes more global. It identifies many more vastly different persons to be bullied in a wider range of categories.

Add to bullying: name-calling, ridiculing, stereotyping, categorizing a group by its worst, rather than its best, examples.

Gossiping and rumor-mongering and demonizing one’s opponents whether in sports, politics or faith and religion are all along the road to genocide.

Bring into the mix a leader who is unrelenting in his or her ability to intimidate and threaten.

Then, let there be underground, subversive, widespread planning to eliminate opponents who are morphed into enemies. What is the plan? How will it be carried out? What weapons will be used?

By this time there is usually a key, but maybe secret, figure who is able to call the plays and has an extensive network of rapid communication.

The signal only needs to be given for pandemonium to break out and genocide to be ignited. Genocide is the ultimate hate crime.

What can be done to curb genocide? Obviously, eliminating bullying would be a place to start.

Then working to bring under control and eliminate those possible precursors of genocide, which I’ve already mentioned. Refusing to be involved in or to condone any of them will help.

My wife, Audrey, and I were sent to Jos, Nigeria, as Southern Baptist missionaries, and we founded the Baptist High School in 1961.

We knew we would have students from many tribes – in fact, at one time we counted more than 30 tribes represented in our student body.

Knowing that tribalism harbors the rudimentary makings of genocide, what could we do to keep tribalism in check, thereby helping to prevent genocide at least in this segment of the population?

We began by trying to foster a family spirit. In one sense, this was inherent in the school since many parents brought their children to us and simply told us, “These are your children. Teach them. Train them. Discipline them. Punish them. They are yours until you finish with them.”

So we became the foster parents. Teachers in the school considered themselves “older brothers.”

At a prominent place on the campus, we erected a large sign, which displayed the words of Psalm 133:1: “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.”

Unceasingly we recited this. We preached it. We modeled it. We prayed it. We admonished the students to remember “Who They Were and Where They Came From.” This was a motto of the school.

In the 56 years of the school’s existence, thanks be to God, we are unaware of any tribal incident at Baptist High School in Jos.

We were, unknowingly, anticipating one of Robert Parham’s axioms and a motto of Baptist Center for Ethics / EthicsDaily.com: “Challenging people of faith to advance the common good.”

In the first seven years of the school’s existence, Baptist High School students, themselves, established seven churches. In the next seven years, seven more.

It is highly unlikely that they have managed to establish a church a year since then.

However, Baptist High School in Jos has produced at least one governor, a university president, legislators, military officers, diplomats, pastors, physicians, attorneys, professors, professionals of many categories, corporate heads and officials and a host of good solid citizens who have remembered who they were and where they came from.

Our students were young people of simple faith, but, to God’s glory, we can humbly say, “It worked!” “God worked.”

William A. (Bill) Cowley was for 23 years an educational missionary and the founding principal of Baptist High School in Jos, Nigeria. For more than 16 years, he was a professor at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. Bill and Audrey Cowley were named EthicsDaily.com’s Baptists of the Year for 2016 and were recently honored at a dinner held at the National Woman’s Missionary Union Building in Birmingham, Alabama.

Editor’s note: The 1966 genocide in Nigeria and the heroic work of the Cowleys and other missionaries to save lives are the subject of EthicsDaily.com’s latest documentary, “The Disturbances.”

This article is part of a series focused on genocide for Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month (April). An introduction to and overview of the series is available here.

The previous articles in the series are:

When the World Acknowledges Genocide, Still Turns Away

The Srebrenica Massacre – When Churches Were Silent

Clergy Made Good, Bad Choices in Rwandan Genocide