New Cantrell Paper on PEAR

Professor Phillip Cantrell has just published a new paper that traces the East Africa Revival and its impact on the Anglican Church of Rwanda (PEAR) after the genocide. It’s called “We Were a Chosen People”: The East African Revival and Its Return To Post-Genocide Rwanda, published in Church History 83:2 (June 2014), 422–445.

Cantrell points out that the current Anglican Church of Rwanda is complicit with the RPF’s sanitized version of Rwandan history:

Although many contemporary clergy and parishioners in Rwanda are either unaware of it or deny it, the Anglican Church contributed to ethnic division in the past. And, it is doing so again in the post-genocide state. The leadership of the Anglican Church is largely comprised of Tutsi returnees. Its leaders accept and endorse a misleading portrayal of Rwanda’s history, a history endorsed by the ruling party which serves to mask ethnic divisions in the past and social tensions in the present. The church, at times, even builds upon some of the traditions of the Tutsi monarchy.

The RPF version of history (which I have seen parroted in books like Bishop Laurent Mbanda’s) has been debunked by recent historians:

But the remembrance of the Revival as a time of unity between Hutus and Tutsis is problematic in several respects. The official version of Rwanda’s history, endorsed by the RPF regime in Kigali, asserts Rwanda had always been a harmonious country with no conflict or differences between Hutus and Tutsis prior to the racialization of the country under Belgian rule in the 1920s. This author, though, is in agreement with numerous Rwanda scholars, such as Catherine Newbury, Alison Des Forges, and Jan Vansina, who claim the distinction between Hutus and Tutsis was firmly established by the end of the nineteenth century during the reign of Mwami Rwabugiri. Following their arguments, Johan Pottier argues the RPF’s version of the past is used by the Tutsi-dominated regime to mask past oppression of the Hutus and blame the genocide on Europeans.

Along with a revisionist history of the nation, PEAR has embraced a revisionist history of the East African Revival itself, one which claims that the Holy Spirit was virtually absent from Rwanda from 1959 to 1994:

More important than the recounting the Revival’s history through the colonial and post-colonial periods is the contention of this article that the Revival has become the focus of much attention as the Anglican Church has regained its status in post-genocide Rwanda. And along with the ascendency of the post-genocide Anglican Church and the Revival has come a renewed and often revisionist interpretation of the Revival’s history, meaning, and implications for the country.

This is explicitly stated in the following paragraph:

Central to the theology of the current Balokole Revival Movement is the belief that only the Holy Spirit can move people’s hearts to repentance, reform and ultimately revival. Thus, for the Balokole, the revival movement comes and goes with the Holy Spirit, which, as they explain it, left Rwanda in 1959 with the Tutsi refugees but returned with them, their descendants, after the genocide. A retired headmaster of a school in Shyogwe during the 1950s, who left for Uganda after the 1959 Revolution but who now lives in Gahini, claimed there was “no Holy Spirit in Rwanda during the 1960s but [the Spirit] was in Uganda,” presumably with the Tutsi Diaspora. This belief, that the troubles which beset Rwanda during the years from 1959 and until the genocide was over occurred because of the parting of the revival spirit with the Tutsi Balokole, is widespread and endorsed from the highest levels of PEAR.

Cantrell relates a story that retired Archbishop Kolini 1)Currently one of the AMiA’s “College of Consultors.” told him: “Former Archbishop Kolini explained to this author that when the Tutsis, of which he is one, left Rwanda for the refugee camps in Uganda in 1959, the Spirit left as well.” But contrary to Kolini’s theory, Hutus that were part of the Revival legacy stood up against the single party state and the genocide it inspired:

In 1986, three hundred members of the Abarokore and several other Christian sects were brought to trial for refusing to pay the state-required membership dues in the ruling MRND party and for failing to venerate the Rwandan state and its symbols of sovereignty. When the genocide began, a disproportionate number of the Abarokore, including soldiers and policemen, refused to participate. A number of witnesses reported to Longman how people sometimes saved Tutsis from the genocide because they were “umurokore,” a member of the Abarokore. So despite Kolini’s claims, elements of the Revival survived in pre-genocide Rwanda, questioning the policies of Habyarimana’s regime and their church leaders’ collusion with its policies. Interestingly, several interviewees admitted that some Hutus affected by the Revival spirit did not participate in the genocidal killings, and indeed the Anglican hierarchy today includes a small number of Hutu bishops, most prominently Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje, formally Bishop of Byumba Diocese.

Cantrell says that despite public protestations that there are no more ethnic divisions, privately all Rwandans know this is not the case (something that the current ndi Umunyarwanda campaign proves even the government knows good and well). The current Archbishop of PEAR is forced to disown his own ethnic background in totalitarian Rwanda:

In a perhaps unexpected way, the contention by many Anglican Church figures of the Revival bringing unity between Hutus and Tutsis serves to undermine the official version of Rwanda’s history, a version that PEAR does not challenge otherwise. Church figures publicly contend there are no more Hutus and Tutsis, only Rwandans. Privately, they know otherwise, although it’s technically illegal in Rwanda to even ask. At a dinner conversation in Byumba Diocese with Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje, this author was corrected and gently chastised on this point when he used the terms “Hutu” and “Tutsi.” Later, and privately, Rwaje admitted he “used to be a Hutu,” the only bishop in Rwanda, incidentally, of whom this is true.

Archbishop Rwaje says, “I used to be a Hutu”

Much of PEAR’s political quietism can be traced to the influence of the Keswick Revival in the U.K. Cantrell has some interesting points about this, which are not directly germane to politics in Rwanda, but are of interest to Anglicans in the West. For example, he says that Rwandan Anglicans are unsure if Pentecostal “sign gifts” were evident in the East African Revival in Rwanda:

Another prominent theme in the church’s recounting of the Revival’s history was the alleged harmony between Hutus and Tutsis. Nearly always, when asked what the Revival means for Rwanda, the first point made was the unity it brought between the two groups and the same revival spirit would unite Rwanda again. In actuality, the supposed unity brought about by the Revival was remembered far more than the specific practices of it. For example, several interviewees were unclear and in disagreement about whether the so-called “sign gifts” of the Holy Spirit were practiced by the Balokole at the start of the Revival.

He says that Keswick’s legalistic codes were imported into PEAR:

The Revival’s new-found impact on the post-genocide Anglicans is evident outside of church gatherings as well. The use of alcohol and tobacco products and gambling is strictly prohibited and formal Western dress-codes are adhered to closely, especially by men.

He shows how Simeon Nsibambi, a pioneer of the Revival in Rwanda, came under the dreadful influence of Charles Finney’s theology:

Nsibambi, born in 1897, was an officer in the public health department of the Ugandan civil service. Educated at CMS schools in Kampala and at King’s College in Budo, he served as a sergeant in the African Native Medical Corps during World War I, which interrupted his career. Nsibambi, in a 1952 interview, claimed his first conversion to Christ was on a ship bound for Zanzibar during the war. Nsibambi further claimed to have a “second conversion” by the Holy Spirit in 1922, a direct reflection of the Keswick teachings and the Higher Life Movement.
Throughout the 1920s, Nsibambi was involved in church matters and teaching, often leading Bible study groups in the evenings. In 1929, he resigned from his post in the Ugandan health department and devoted himself to full time evangelism. According to Richard MacMaster, based upon interviews he conducted among the participants, Nsibambi was impressed with American evangelist Charles Finney’s 1835 book Lectures on Revival. Finney’s ideas influenced the Keswick holiness movement and the Anglican revivalists of Uganda and Rwanda.

This is yet another article that should be required reading for PEAR USA clergy and ACNA bishops.


References   [ + ]

1. Currently one of the AMiA’s “College of Consultors.”

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