Rwanda. Genocide. Miroslav Volf.

This paper was given as the Henry Martyn Lecture at the 1997 EMA annual conference
Social Meaning of Reconciliation
Miroslav Volf
Professor of Systematic Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California
"The best cathechists, those who filled our churches on Sundays, were the first to go with machetes in their hands", said a Roman Catholic bishop from Rwanda. Observers take the comment to speak for most Rwandan churches in those fateful months of 1994 during which a million people were killed. There is absolutely no doubt that significant numbers of prominent Christians were involved in sometimes slaughtering their own church leaders, writes Ian Linden (Linden. 1997. 50). What particularly disturbing about the complicity of the church is that, as John Martin points out, Rwanda is without doubt one of Africa’s most evangelized nations. Eight out of ten of its people claimed to be Christians. Moreover, thanks to the East African Revival in the 1930s and a spontaneous movement of The Holy Spirit in the majority Roman Catholic churches in the 1970s, Rwanda has been held up as one of the jewels in the crown of charismatic Christianity (Martin, 1995, 1)
By singling out Rwanda’s churches, I do not mean either to deny that many Rwandan Christians courageously opposed the killings or to suggest that the complicity of Rwandan churches is an exception to an otherwise impeccable record of churches functioning as agents of peace. But Rwanda’s genocide demonstrates with particular force its disturbing propensity to be an accomplice in social strife. It was not a complicity of a church whose Christian commitments functioned merely as a cultural  resource, easily misused by politicians in a way that runs at cross-purposes to the deep grammar of these commitments, as in the case of Orthodoxy of former Yugoslavia. To the contrary, the Christian commitments of the Rwandan churches, like those of the Irish evangelicals, seemed strong and genuine: they were presumably a force that had shaped the lives of the believers.
The issue is not simply how could churches have been accomplices in the most heinous, crimes? Much more disturbing, the issue is how the members of churches which had emerged from what was described as a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of communion and the Spirit of life, could they either participate in the genocide or turn their eyes the other way during that genocide. I want to explore here some reasons for this kind of church complicity in social strife and propose an alternative way of approaching Christian social responsibility that would help churches function as agents of peace. Of course, many churches in diverse context have not been complicit, but faithful. To them I want to offer theological resources to better equip them for the arduous and treacherous task of peacemaking.
Churches and Conflict
Why are churches, the presumed agents of peace, at best impotent in the face conflicts and at worst perpetrators most heinous crimes? Some scholars, like Maurice Bloch in ‘Prey into Hunter’, argue that Christian faith fosters violence because Christian faith is a religion, and religions are by their very nature violent. The "irreducible core of the ritual process involves a marked element of violence or … of conquest … of the here and now by the transcendental" (Bloch, 1992, 4-5). In everyday life, ritual violence mutates into social violence, argues Bloch.
Other scholars like (by implication) Regina Schwartz in ‘The Curse of Cain’, try to explain the Christian faith’s complicity in violence by pointing not to the general features of the phenomenon of religion, but to the specific character of the Christian faith. Along with Judaism and Islam, Christian faith is a monotheist religion and therefore an exclusive religion that divides people into ‘us’ and ‘them’; monotheistic exclusivism is bound to have a violent legacy (Schwartz, 1997). ‘We’ have on our side the one true God who is against ‘them’, infidels and renegades.
This is no place to enter a debate with critics the violent character of religions in general or monotheist religions in particular. I just note that I remain un-persuaded. These proposals to explain complicity are unable to account for why the churches are often approached to mediate in situations of conflict, and even less why they are sometimes successful in their efforts. In my estimation, rather than the character of the Christian faith itself, a better explanation of why Christian churches are either impotent in the face of violent conflicts or actively participate in them derives from the proclivities of its adherents which are at odds with the character of the Christian faith. One way to describe these pernicious proclivities is to speak of confusion of loyalty. Though explicitly giving ultimate allegiance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, many Christians in fact seem to have an overriding commitment to their respective cultures and ethnic groups. Hence in conflict situations they tend to fight on the side of their cultural group and employ faith as a weapon in struggle. 

The words of the theologians and the philosophers, become, as so much, paint on the guns! 

About luckyme0

My First family, second marriage, bringing up my 18-year-old twins, boy, and girl. I am a third generation Humanist, who has some old handwritten information and notes; collected over many years. Someone may find the articles interesting, or helpful. They could bring back a little ‘reality’, after being ‘shocked’ and ‘brainwashed’, by some malicious group, or institution (REBT Therapy). People should know better, than to do this, to our very young, and the ‘obviously’ vulnerable! Go to easily accessible, non-superstitious knowledge that is not charlatanism! The blog has given me an incentive to order my thoughts, learn, and read up again, after a few non-thinking years of (very silly) imagination and passion. Why not, get your own key to a ‘door’, customise it to suit you, and it can be, all of your very own! Don’t believe, or be led by someone else’s; inherited, stupid, and a very likely (past, and not of today’s) ‘totally preposterous reality’s’. Only some interest in the ‘really big questions’, keeps life above the level of a farce, and very little else! KEEP THINKING! Some of the posts may need some correcting. Interests: REBT Counselling, Atheism, Secularism, Humanism, Psychology, Reading, Popular Science, School Ethos, Philosophy, History, Family, Parenting, Psychology, Horse Riding, Sailing, Rescue Boat Driver, Skiing (Teppichswinger), TV Documentaries, Motorbike Cross Country Riding, Volunteer Sports Stewarding, Writing, Primitive Man, Pre-history, Social Anthropology, British Humanist Association, BHA, Meaning of Life, The Big Questions, Where am I, What am I, Why am I, Hippie Love, Knowledge, Education, Globalisation. Favorite quote: “The world belongs to those who, at least to some degree, have figured it out.” Carl Sagan, ‘The Demon Haunted World’, ‘Contact’, and other famous books DVD ‘Cosmos’. The warning of another and horrendous, “Age of Superstition”. “Isn’t there something deeply absurd in the presumption that children ought to inherit beliefs from their parents. It can be deeply damaging, even lethally divisive. A ‘them’, with an ‘against us’, mentality” – Professor Richard Dawkins. “The will to believe is stronger than mere reason in the vast majority of people” – Dr J.Brown, Army Psychologist of the 1960′s. Humans will believe in almost anything, in fact, they seek it! Why? “98% of us, trained to be just good consumers, let’s train our children to be the 2% who have their very own creativity and discernment”; quote by a famous surreal artist. “The lack of reason brings forth monsters”. “Global interconnectedness is lethal against mass religion, nationalism, racism, and other destructive memeplexes. Let us connect everybody they hate it in restrictive regimes”; from the ‘meme learning group’, Richard Brodie’s book, ‘Virus Of The Mind’ (Richard Brodie a designer for ‘Microsoft Word’). Following on, J.Bronowski, and ‘The Ascent Of Man’ TV series, and a book with the last DVD in this series, ‘The Long Childhood’ being especially revealing. ‘Prehistory’ and the ‘Making of the Human Mind’ by Colin Renfrew, with P.Wilson’s, ‘The Domestication of the Human Species’, and Nigel Spivey’s, TV series and book, ‘How Art Made The World’, offers some further explanations. Latest reading: Jared Diamond
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