Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rwanda and the Evils of Politicized Christianity


“What does it tell us about the UN that not a single official thought fit to resign over the first indisputable genocide since the UN Charter was signed?” asked human rights activist Alex de Waal following the 100-day orgy of mass murder in Rwanda that claimed up to 1.1 million lives.

An equally valid and little-considered question is: What does it say about the church (in the broadest sense of the term) that this genocide occurred in a nation in which 90 percent of the population identified themselves as Christians?

Here is yet another, perhaps even more poignant question Christians should consider: What moral lessons are suggested by the fact that when church buildings were being used as slaughter pens, Christians from the Tutsi ethnic group had to seek sanctuary in mosques?
The United Nations had a small “peacekeeping” force on the ground in Rwanda to administer a cease-fire agreement between the Hutu-dominated government and a Tutsi-led rebel group operating across the border in Burundi. That accord required the disarmament of all Rwandan citizens other than the central government, its military and police forces, and government-aligned militias. 

When the section of Africa now known as Rwanda and Burundi was colonized by Belgium, Germany, and France in the late 19th century, European officials placed the Tutsis – who tend to be taller, more slender, and have more “European” features than the Hutus – in favored administrative positions. For decades, the predictable resentments rooted in ethnic nationalism erupted in incidents of inter-communal mass murder.

In 1959, people claiming to act on behalf of the Hutus seized power. Tutsi nationalists, not content to be the “whom” rather than the “who,” organized a guerilla insurrection. This, in turn, gave the “Hutu Power” regime that most valuable of things – a self-sustaining external enemy it could invoke for the purpose of social control. 
Haunted: Dallaire returns to Rwanda.
Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian Colonel in command of the UN military force, learned in late 1993 of a plot within the Hutu-dominated government of President Juvenal Habyarimana to exterminate the Tutsi population, along with any Hutus suspected of insufficient loyalty to the ethnic collective.

In early 1994, Dallaire contacted his superior at UN Headquarters and sought authorization to raid government arms caches that were to be used in the assault. The head of UN Peacekeeping, future Secretary General Kofi Annan, instead directed Dallaire to share his intelligence with the same government that was planning the massacres. The assassination of President Habyarimana – apparently by Hutu Power radicals – in April 1994 was the signal for the genocide to begin.

"They have guns and knives and machetes, the people from the Government party, so we can't fight back," Jeanne Niwemutesi, a Tutsi refugee, later explained. "We don't have any arms."

The Rwandan victims had been urged to place their faith in the UN and its doctrine of “collective security,” as taught and administered by its “peacekeepers.”

As Australian attorney Michael Hourigan concluded in his 2000 inquiry regarding the UN's official actions during the genocide, "peacekeepers sent to protect [potential victims] ... either handed them over to the rampaging militants or ran way when fighting broke out." It is important to emphasize that Colonel Dallaire, whom I interviewed several years ago, was never accused of displaying such cowardice; the trauma of seeing hundreds of people – including soldiers under his command – hacked to pieces drove him into severe depression, alcoholism, and nearly to suicide. (Now a Canadian senator, Dallaire continues to struggle with the trauma he experienced in Rwanda.

Where many UN “peacekeepers” elected not to kill and die on behalf of strangers in a foreign country, many nominally Christian Rwandans actively participated in the slaughter of neighbors on the basis of a government-assigned ethnic identity. They were "Romans 13 Christians" par excellence.

 Colonial administrators “eliminated Hutu chiefs and autonomous Hutu kingdoms, effectively excluded Hutu from political opportunity. While listing of ethnic labels on identity cards issue to all residents served to eliminate previous flexibility in identity,” writes Timothy Longman of Vassar College in the Journal of Religion in Africa. By the early 1990s, Rwandan Christianity had become fatally tainted by the politics of ethnic collectivism.

“Church leaders were prominent public figures with considerable influence in the political arena, from the national to the local level,” Longman explains. “The leaders of the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches were all close associates of President Habyarimana and his government, and local pastors and priests were often closely allied with local burgomasters and communal councilors.”

Church leaders in Rwanda were not guilty merely of silent complicity in the slaughter; they “helped make genocide possible by making ethnic violence understandable and acceptable to the population,” continues Longman. This was “not simply because church leaders hoped to avoid opposing their governmental allies but because ethnic conflict was itself an integral part of Christianity in Rwanda. Christians could kill without obvious qualms of conscience, even in the church, because Christianity as they had always known it had been a religion defined by struggles for power, and ethnicity had always been at the base of those struggles.” (Emphasis added.)

This was why machete-wielding death squads “attended mass before going out to kill,” or, if the victims had been cattle-penned in a church, the killers would pause “during the massacres to pray at the altar.” Like the Aztec priests who personally slaughtered an estimated 30,000 victims during the 1487 dedication of a temple to Huitzilopochtli, the devout murderers in Rwanda “felt their work was consistent with church teachings.”

In Leave None to Tell the Story, the late Dr. Alison Des Forges, an historian and individual rights activist, points out that what happened in Rwanda was not “an uncontrollable outburst of rage by a people consumed by `ancient tribal hatreds,’” but rather the result of “the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power.”

Acting as palace prophets on behalf of the political elite, Rwanda’s churches made the slaughter “morally permissible,” Longman notes. Some individual congregants and clergy “took courageous stands, even risking their lives to save those threatened, but the majority of people in the churches gave tacit or even open support to the genocide. Church officials lent credibility to those organizing the genocide by calling on their members to support the new government.”

Some clergy “lured people into churches knowing they would be killed, turned over Tutsi to be killed, and themselves participated in or even led the security patrols that served as death squads,” continues Longman’s unbearable narration. “Many clergy did not participate directly in the violence but took part in the local and regional security committees that were set up to organize roadblocks and militia patrols.”

We have a distantly related program here in the United States: The Department of Homeland Security’s “Clergy Response Teams.”

Jean-Pierre Sagahutu, a Tutsi who saw his father and nine members of his family butchered by fellow Christians, was offered refuge by a Hutu Muslim family.

“I know people in America think Muslims are terrorists, but for Rwandans they were our freedom fighters during the genocide,” Sagahutu told a Washington Post reporter in 2002. “If it weren’t for the Muslims, my whole family would be dead,” insists Aisha Umwimbabazi, who – like Sagahutu – converted to that religion not only because of post-genocide disillusionment with the church in which they were raised but because there were no ethnic divisions among Rwandan Muslims.
"Dry run" for a pogrom? A "Christian Patriot" outside a Texas Mosque.
As a believer in the Christian gospel I don’t accept the truth-claims made by followers of the Islamic religion. We hear a great deal about the supposedly unique evils of "political Islam." Rwanda is an outstanding, but hardly unique, illustration of the evils of politicized Christianity.

I have come to the conclusion that the Creator gave us the gifts of freedom, faith, and fellowship, and that from those gifts men have forged the fetters of religion – apart from the only “pure” variety, which consists of serving the needy and afflicted (James 1:27).

The deadliest affliction in human history is what Arnold Toynbee called “the fanatical worship of collective human power.” Rwanda’s Christian church was thoroughly infiltrated by that deadly heresy. American Christianity enjoys no happy immunity to that infection – and at least some parts of the body are exhibiting very troublesome symptoms.

This week's Freedom Zealot Podcast deals with the real American Jihad:

Dum spiro, pugno!


Jay P Hailey said...

Very important stuff, here William.

Sadly, a lot of Americans don't see the possibility in themselves, despite the example of the "American Jihad" you describe in your podcasts.

You're always so silly and fluffy in your articles and podcasts. :P :P :P

Ronald Thomas West said...

Susan Rice, Obama's National Security Adviser, was up to her waist in Rwanda's revenge campaigns during her tenure with Clinton that led to millions of deaths in neighboring Congo or what could be called the Rwanda Genocide Act II. Rice keeps a relationship with Paul Kagame to this day, where complicit killers are running the present regime.

An aspect of the original Hutu murderers is the Catholic church hiding priests who'd egged on the killing from church pulpits by assigning them to parishes in France under false identities.

The worst part of the entire business is really nothing has changed. The enablers are either out of reach (serving in the USA 'national security' establishment) or given refuge (by the church)

Jaye B. said...

There is an excellent clarification of what Romans 13 really means in James Redford's article, Jesus is an Anarchist:

joyce said...

Have a wonderful holiday season, thanks for your work.

kirk said...

politics corrupts everything. everything today is politicized. that is why things are so very bad.

Boris Epstein said...

I wonder if religion was the key piece there. Perhaps tribal leaders simply posed as religious ones?

All religions can definitely be politicized to a deadly effect. Modern Islam is unreformed and as such likely more dangerous, globally, than modern Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Boris, It is modern day xtianity that is the most dangerous as it is being deceived by the Talmudic zionists.
If you don't believe me just take a look at our presidential campaign: filed with "xtian" zionist war mongering neo-cons. The warvangellicals in America have been seduced by the dark side: zionism/pro isrealhell propaganda.
Xtianity is curse upon the world as is judaism and islam.
Religion is a bundle of false promises and made up stories.
I watched with glee as Christopher Hitchens destroyed the Catholic Church for its role in the Rowanda genocide.