Is the church helping? Christians and the conflict in South Sudan

Only two years ago South Sudan was celebrating its independence from the repressive Sudan regime. After 20 years of civil war, a beleaguered yet hopeful people had overcome internal tensions to establish a new state. Churches helped usher in a new era of South Sudan state politics, encouraging participation in the independence referendum and educating South Sudanese on the particulars of voting.

But the spirit of celebration came to an abrupt halt in December 2013 when virulent and sudden violence broke out. At least 10,000 people died, and over 800,000 people were displaced. As the conflict continues, some Christians are resisting the violence while others are complicit in it.

At the center of the crisis are President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar, both former rebel leaders in Sudan’s civil war. Both men emerged in the 1980s as leaders of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army, which fought for southern autonomy from the largely Islamic northern Sudan government. In 1991 Machar, then a senior rebel commander, tried to oust Kiir and SPLM/A chair John Garang from power. When the coup failed, Machar formed his own movement, and brutal conflict ensued.