Reviewing Laurent Mbanda’s Book, “Committed to Conflict”

Even in the 1994 genocide, I believe that there were people who followed whatever their leaders decided to do, without ever exercising their own minds. – Laurent Mbanda (Page 133)

I’ve previously written about some snippets of Laurent Mbanda’s book “Committed to Conflict, the destruction of the church in Rwanda,” 1)These posts: one, two, three, four and five. now I will take a look at the rest of the book. The book was written in 1997, long before Mbanda became a bishop in the Anglican Church of Rwanda and I suspect that it had something to do with the powers that be selecting him as a bishop, along with his work for Compassion International and Western connections.

Bishop Mbanda is well connected in the West. He currently sits on the board of Compassion International, the International Justice Mission, Food for the Hungry, the Mustard Seed Project, and the Kigali Institute of Education in Rwanda. He succeeded Bishop John Rucyahana in 2010, as the Bishop of the Shyira Diocese. Bishop Mbanda was at the center of the split between the Anglican Mission in America and the Rwandan Church with AMiA leaders making accusations against him of leaking communications to George Conger – charges which he denied at the “Sacred Assembly” in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The book was “assisted” by Steve Wamberg, who functioned as a Communications Specialist for Compassion International from 1992-97.

I have not seen any analysis of Mbanda’s book, and I doubt that many, if any, clergy of PEARUSA have taken the time to read it and think through its implications.

Mbanda correctly points out that the early Protestant missionaries and thus the Protestant communities in Rwanda avoided overt political connections:

The colonial administrators and the mission leaders had different views regarding the people of Rwanda, especially Hutu and Tutsi. The traditional structure used to accomplish colonial objectives was not favoured by the Catholic missionaries, who termed it ‘oppressive’, while the Protestants tried to remain apolitical. (Page 7)

This was partly due to the origins of Anglicanism in Rwanda, which was brought by missionaries who were steeped in Keswick theology and dispensationalism, both of which are often apolitical. Keswick’s emphasis in this regard is profoundly un-Biblical. Mbanda returns to the apolitical nature of Rwandan Protestants over and over:

The Protestant Christian missions were largely apolitical in their approach to the Rwandan sociopolitical structure. The first Protestant missionaries to enter the country supported the indirect German colonial approach and in so doing, raised no sociopolitical issues. A small minority in the country, they were not highly visible and had limited personal influence; their interest was in evangelism, leaving the social issues alone. (Page 49)

Note that in this case Mbanda suggests that “leaving the social issues alone” was a good thing when compared to the Catholic Church. He he launches repeated diatribes against the Catholic Church, such as this:

This favouritism, and its closeness and involvement with the colonial administrators, virtually married the Catholic Church to the state, such that under the leadership of Bishop Classe, it became a state church with a strong influence in matters of civil government. (Page 20)

Mbanda’s position on the Catholic Church is accurate, but as I cannot emphasize enough, this is the same situation that the Anglican Church finds itself in today! It is tied at the hip to Paul Kagame.

I am told by a former advisor of Kagame’s that he is an atheist who uses witch doctors and mocks Christians behind closed doors. He uses the churches as tools to propagandize the West with genocide guilt and a false narrative of reconciliation.

Mbanda says that the former colonial powers and the churches share a large part of the blame for the 1994 genocide:

The most recent genocide in Rwanda derives in part from the deep historic divisions in Rwandan society created by the colonial rulers and the churches. (Page 25) 2)Mbanda’s take on the colonial past meshes with the RPF “victor’s narrative.” Jennifer Melvin describes this narrative in her article, “Correcting history: Mandatory education in Rwanda.” She says: “In its most general form, this remit seeks to create a single set of conclusions about Rwanda’s past, present, and future. his interpretation is informed by a singular narrative of Rwandan history referred to in this article as the ‘victor’s narrative’. The term ‘victor’ refers to the RPF’s role in creating and disseminating this particular version of events. Like the term ‘victor’s justice’ used by authors including Tiemessen (2004), Sarkin (2001), and Waldorf (2010) to describe RPF impunity at gacaca, the ‘victor’s narrative’ denies RPF involvement in human rights abuses and violations in Rwanda and DRC. These allegations include: limiting the freedom of speech, press, and association; silencing journalists and political opponents through politically motivated accusations of ‘divisionism’ and ‘genocide ideology’; and contributing to conlict in DRC, such as the M23 rebellion. The ‘victor’s narrative’ emphasises pre-colonial unity, the detriments of ethnic identities, and the beneits of RPF-led programming. In the context of education camps and school classrooms, this narrative functions to limit critical analysis, bolster political support, and denounce criticism of the RPF regime.”

The contradiction at the heart of Mbanda’s book is that he condemns the church for its involvement in politics, but turns around to blast the church for silence in the face of injustice! He is correct about the problem of silence, but speaking up about injustice is an inherently political activity. In the following quote Mbanda condemns Christian silence:

The policy of Iringaniza (total exclusion of one ethnic group) in most cases was not different from the colonial discriminatory school system executed at the expense of Rwandan children of the time. And the silence of many Christian missions in the face of such injustices was deafening. (Page 43)

Yes, this silence was deafening, as is the silence of Anglicans today when their government tortures and kills its own citizens!

Calvin teaches Christians that resisting evil authorities is salutary: “For earthly princes lay aside all their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy of being reckoned in the number of mankind. We ought rather utterly to defy than to obey them whenever they are so restive and wish to spoil God of his rights, and, as it were, to seize upon his throne and draw him down from heaven.”

Bishop Mbanda seems to agree with Calvin’s sentiments in this book, and yet, in authority as a bishop he has only praised the wicked rule of Kagame and has maintained silence in the face of evil. He has in fact gone beyond silence and has openly praised Rwanda’s leadership as “visionary.”

This is in clear contrast to his past self, who decried silence in the face of injustice:

It is important to protect people and strive for unity in the nation, but without true justice there can’t be sincere unity. Under the previous government, killings and other social injustices went unchallenged. (Page 105)

And again, Mbanda says the role of the Church:

Hopefully, the new Kigali government will keep its hands clean in the matters of the Church, just as they have so far. My prayer is that the Church can divorce itself from the kind of church-state relationships that seek favours from politicians in exchange for the Church’s prophetic voice. The former Vice President of Kenya, Mr Mwai Kibaki, put it well while addressing members of the National Council of Churches of Kenya : “The church leaders should not spend their time praising politicians; we have enough people to praise us. Your task is to correct us when we go wrong and need to be reminded of the justice of God, and to pray for us.” Respect for church leaders does not come from their association with political leaders, but from their relationship with God, a relationship proven in non-conformity to ungodly things. Christian leaders are often caught in the political trap of their countries; this has been the case for Rwandan church leaders. David Gitari in his book Let the Bishop Speak wrote:
A position of active and positive support for the state is obviously the easiest position for the Church to adopt; however, it is also the most unfortunate posture in which the Church can be found. Churches which are favored by the state find it very tempting to respond by giving full support to their patron; but they tend to suffer most when the regime they support is removed and replace by a new government.
It is likely that Bishop Gitari was well aware of the Rwandan situation; at least his insight describes exactly where the Rwandan church leadership has been. (Page 116)

Mbanda says:

Remembering the Kinyarwanda saying, ‘Wibuba uhetse ukabawigish uwo mu umugongo’, meaning if you steal when carrying a youngster on your back, you are teaching the youngster to steal, could this be what happened as a result of Catholic involvement in power politics while they were simultaneously preaching good news and its message of unity, love and peace? (Page 48)

Some say that the Anglican Church today is not involved in “power politics” like the Catholic Church was before, but the role of her bishops on government bodies such as NURC and the praise they speak for Kagame’s leadership shows a dangerous degree of affinity for the current regime. As American Bishop Steve Breedlove pointed out, “In Rwanda, the church’s program IS the community program, and in many places the government yields the platform of developing and transforming communities to the church.” According to Mbanda’s own reasoning, being aligned with a police state that oppresses Hutus and Tutsis who speak up against it is a terrible witness to the Rwandan population.

Mbanda goes on to blasts the Church for not defending the rights of all, but again, the current Anglican Church is silent about oppression:

Somewhere in the process, the Church lost its prophetic role. It could have been an instrument of positive change as a witnessing, worshipping and serving community – by acting as salt and light. But the Church in Rwanda failed to give warning, or even advice, concerning the actions of its own people, while playing political power games. The Church failed to defend the rights of all, whether the attack came through abuse of power or through dehumanizing propaganda. (Page 52)

Today there is a diaspora of Rwandans — Hutu and Tutsi — who have fled to the DRC, other African nations and the West to escape imprisonment or death at the hands of Paul Kagame. The Anglican Province of Rwanda has said nothing about this that I am aware of. But Mbanda critiques the Church of the past for not speaking up for Tutsi refugees:

Unfortunately, it does not seem that the Church wanted the Tutsis back, and if it did, there were no clear steps taken by the church leadership to address the refugee problem, or even condemn the evil acts that led to thousands of deaths and sent hundreds of thousands into exile. Was the Church in Rwanda in a position to plead for the return of the Rwandan refugees in exile? Given its status at that time, and the role it played in the bloody massacres, I believe it could have contributed significantly. Even if there had been no government response, if the Church had done its part, the international community would probably have echoed the message. But the Church’s silence contributed to the perception of its previous political involvement, thus indicating its support of ethnic distinction and separation. And if the Catholic Church’s militant spirit regarding social issues during the German colonial rule and politics of the 1950s was a sincere response to social injustice and oppression, surely the Church would have spoken up for the gross human rights abuses of the period from the 1960s to 1994. What do we say of the Rwandan church’s theology regarding God’s creation of humankind? Is this an issue for Hutu and Tutsi alone, or an issue that Christians around the world need to address? (Page 58)

Mbanda is critical of the pre-genocide Church’s adaptation of the government’s agenda:

Even though the Church tended to be sympathetic to the social status and conditions of the surviving Tutsis in general, both the Catholic and Protestant churches (and more so the leadership) were politicized enough to keep in line with what the Rwandan government wanted. It did not matter about belief, the biblical teaching of love and unity, or one’s view of humankind; the Church chose to listen and move with the political agenda of the country. (Page 59)

Mbanda points out that the pre-genocide Church was silent, that is published the government’s agenda in its journal, that favoritism blinded it, and that prestigious positions manipulated its leaders:

By 1961, the Catholic Church was profoundly connected with the Hutu-dominated republics; Kayibanda’s proclamation of the ‘Country of the Battutu’ received wide support from the Church, which knew that the government’s aim was to promote Hutu solidarity against what it called ‘Tutsi feudalism’. The identity card introduced by the colonial rule was retained and the Church said nothing about it. The newly formed government managed to use the Church for furthering much of what had been started and propagated through Kinyamateka, the White Fathers’ journal. Favouritism and the prestigious position of both the Church and its leaders served to blind the Church. As the Burundi people’s saying goes, ‘Na Umugabo uvugana irya mukanwa’, meaning ‘No man talks with food in his mouth.’ The favours and prestigious positions were used to manipulate the church leaders, who, for fear of losing these, could not address real issues. (65-66)

Is any of this different today? The evidence says no:

Mbanda shows that the Rwandan government imprisoned or disappeared those who stood against it:

In 1973, the Protestant Church was still unprepared to participate in the conflict or take a pastoral role. The missionaries had left by then, and Protestant church leaders were not courageous enough to stand up and speak against the evils of the Rwandan leadership and Hutu extremists’ acts. Nothing had been done to address the Church’s political involvement against the Tutsis in 1959-61, much less the public acts. This would not be the time either. Instead, Tutsi priests suspected by the government (or anyone else who wanted them to be killed) of having contacts with outside Rwandans were imprisoned. Others disappeared. (Page 67)

It is hard to read this and not be struck with the paradox that Mbanda himself is now silent when the Rwandan government of Paul Kagame imprisons, tortures and disappears Rwandans. You can read examples of this here, here, and here.

Mbanda correctly says that clergy serving in the ruling party of Habyarimana signaled to a watching public that the Church agreed with the government.

The seating of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Rwanda on the Central Committee of the ruling party of ex-President Habyarimana’s government was like putting a stamp of approval on the politics and policies of a government that discriminated against its own people. The Archbishop’s position and relationship to the government identified the Church with the position of the government on the social and political issues regarding the Tutsi population. […] In later years the goal for many Christian church leaders, as they competed for relationships with Rwandan authorities, became clear. Each not only desire to be a close friend of the president, about which they bragged, but also sought to become a powerful voice of whatever church they were leading. (Page 68-69)

How is this different from bishops such as Rucyahana, Kolini, and Gasatura serving on government bodies? How is it different from Kolini and Rucyahana hosting meetings for the CNDP/M23? How is it different from Pastor Antoine Rutayisire laughing it up with Kagame at annual prayer breakfasts in Kigali? How is it different from the Archbishop penning a letter to the United Nations attacking the Group of Experts on the DRC in line with the government’s position? How is it different from Bishop Mbanda calling Paul Kagame’s leadership “visionary?” The answer is, it is not different. Mbanda is now part of something he condemned in this book.

Mbanda discusses how the government influenced who was picked to lead the churches prior to the genocide:

Among the Protestant bishops, Episcopal Archbishop Nshamihigo and Bishop Sebununguri (even though some say that he had fallen out of grace with Habyarimana) were very close confidants of the president. […] Many sources have indicated that most church leaders had been bought off by the government officials through favours. The government’s patronage of top church leaders had strings attached to it, and church leadership selection was one among many. Within the Rwandan Christian Church, among Protestants as well as Catholics, tensions always arose when there was an election or selection of church leaders. Scandalous situations and acts were observed more in the Episcopal Church of Rwanda. The selection of the very first bishop was a more political than spiritual matter. After dealings that were characterized by corruption and deceitful acts, the church ended up selecting a bishop based on ethnic criteria to satisfy the government’s unwritten policy; the president of the country had to give his approval to the selection. Where ethnic distinction was not an issue for the top government authority, geographical origin could play a key factor, especially in the lay leadership of the Habyarimana regime. (Page 70)

I could also remember hearing stories of the Episcopal Church fights involving the late Bishop Ndandali, Bishop Sebununguri and Archbishop Nshamihigo. There were serious fights were weapons were carried into meetings and special bodyguards hired on suspicion of life-threatening plans. (Page 82)

He shows how the Church gave up its prophetic role to be involved in national politics:

It is no secret that the church leaders in Rwanda responded to two basic and related situations: the possible advantages of having extremely close ties to the colonial interests, and the pursuit of such ties with the first and the second Rwandan governments (the Kayibanda and Habyiramana regimes); these caused church leaders to compromise their prophetic and pastoral roles in exchange for being power-brokers of national politics. (Page 72)

He shows that when some in the Catholic Church did speak out in 1990, it was a good thing, but far too late:

When the Catholic priests formally spoke out on ethnically sensitive issues in March 1990, it signalled a change in the thinking of the Catholic church leadership. The voices involved may not have been high enough in the hierarchy to be heard immediately as in past political involvements (such as those from 1916 to the 1960s), but they definitely provided a significant, if belated, warning. These priests spoke against the ethnic quotas in education and in civil service that limited Tutsi participation. Whether this was God’s Spirit at work or the result of an intellectual analysis of the political situation (or both), I can’t judge. Still, the warning should have been voiced at least some 30 years before. (Page 73)

The fact today is that Tutsis run every level of government, and are often “twinned” with Hutus who serve as puppets for a Tutsi boss behind the scenes. The United States government knows this, as this leaked State Department cable shows. So why isn’t the Anglican Church speaking out against the ethnic discrimination going on in Rwanda today?

Mbanda shows how the dictator Habyarimana eliminated his opponents, which is exactly what happens with Paul Kagame’s opponents today:

(Habyarimana) had political enemies both inside and outside the country and was basically ruling through a gun in his opponents’ backs and ‘suspicious’ car accidents. The whereabouts of his identified enemies was top secret; human rights abuse had become a way of life, and his own conscience bothered him. (Page 74)

Kagame in fact boasted about an assassination at a prayer breakfast in 2014, with Mbanda in attendance. The Anglican Church was silent about Kagame’s boasting.

Mbanda returns again and again to the silence of the Church:

In Rwanda, certain denominational leaders were close friends and strong supporters of the Habyarimana regime. Among them were all the bishops of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda (except one non-diocesan titular bishop formerly in Kigeme, a Tutsi and survivor of the genocide), […] Some of the church leaders’ reputations became widely blurred as they appeared in political scenes, advancing political agendas, leading political party demonstrations, and making inappropriate political declarations in public support of the corrupt regime – including the justification of both genocide and the mass killing of Hutu moderates. The Anglican leader Augustin Nshamihigo, the former Presbyterian head, and the Catholic Church’s Archbishop Nsengiyumva acted like competitors. The silence and role of the top church officials during the 1994 massacres made them accomplices in the genocide. (Page 75-76)

And yet today, John Rucyahana was a government puppet in the Rose Kabuye matter, Emmanuel Kolini relayed Kagame’s orders to America to cancel a speaking engagement of Paul Rusesabagina.

Mbanda says that Western partners of Rwanda from before the genocide were confused and did not know what to believe about Rwanda:

Some Christians around the world were disappointed in the Rwandan church leadership, while others were morally and financially behind them. From my discussions with executives of Western-based Christian non-government organizations and mission agencies, I have come to learn that many were confused and did not know what to believe about the Rwandan situation. So they continued working relationships with church other indigenous Christian organizations in the country, based on the relationships and trust developed over the years prior to the 1990 war situation. (Page 76)

This is identical to today’s situation, with the additional factor that many Westerners aligned with Rwanda are so ignorant that they do not even realize there is a problem.

He relates stories of Evangelical Christians who participated in the genocide or later interahamwe killing:

Honest Christians, godly people, the ‘saved’ (in the Kinyarwanda language, ‘Abarokore’) were holding evening and weekend meetings characterized by groups engaging in prayer, fasting, confessions of sins, predictions of what might come, rich Bible studies, willingness to entertain deep thoughts, singing heavenly songs and concern for one another. Both Hutus and Tutsis participated with no fear of each other, even though there was an atmosphere of suspicion in the country. The meetings developed into large public gatherings where political issues were addressed, and the involvement of church leaders in the political scenes was condemned. There was a call to pray, to love each other and to pursue peace and unity. Christian survivors of the genocide who participated in these evangelical meetings tell stories of church members and testifying Christians who, having attended the same meetings, were later seen in the uniforms and activities of Interahamwe (militia). During the killings, many were also seen at roadblocks with machetes. It is hard to believe, but reported by trustworthy individuals. (Page 77)

Mbanda says that most Christians behaved no differently from the average Rwandan:

The behaviour of most church members, including their leaders, was outwardly no different from the non-Christians’ conduct and therefore lacked the Christian testimony that would have made a significant difference. (Page 112)

Mbanda discusses how returnees from the Tutsi exile took over leadership of many denominations in Rwanda. This was true of the Anglican Church, which has turned heavily to those born outside the country to run it in the years after the genocide:

To the surprise of many people in Rwanda, including some Christians, church services resumed immediately following the RPF’s takeover of the country, certain churches being packed to their maximum capacity. Initially, most people found in the capital city of Rwanda were new faces to Kigali. Faces in most churches were also new, then, with few old church members, and among new faces in the churches were old Rwandan refugees. In some churches, the initial church service organizers were from among the returnees who targeted the denominations they were connected with in countries of exile. The new organizers were either elders and ordained pastors in refugee resettlements where they lived, or church pastors in the national churches of their countries of asylum Returning into the homeland, some had actually been eyeing the takeover of local church leadership situations as they thought that most of the former leaders would not want to return to Rwanda due to accusations of involvement in the genocide and compliance with the whole killing situation. (Page 112)

He ominously refers to innocent Hutus who fled the country, believing that RPF forces would take revenge on them when they took over. Mbanda implies that this was not the case:

As churches resumed their responsibility (in most cases with new service and church activity organizers) the newly established government did not waste time in calling upon recent refugees to return home and participate in the rebuilding of the country. The call to return went hand in hand with an assurance of bringing justice to the murderers and planners of the genocide. Those with no direct involvement in the slaughter had nothing to fear and therefore no reason to live in exile, but were being called home. The government knew that there were many innocent people who followed the killers into exile believing that the RPF would exact revenge for murdered Tutsis immediately after it reclaimed the country. (Page 113)

However, this did happen, as documents like the Gersony Report show. The Report said in part:

Local residents, including entire families, were called to community meetings, invited to receive information about “peace,” “security” or “food distribution” issues. Once a crowd had assembled, it was assaulted through sudden sustained gunfire; or locked in buildings into which hand-grenades were thrown; systematically killed with manual instruments; or killed in large numbers by other means. Large-scale killings which did not involve such “meetings” were also reported. House-to-house killings, and attacks on villages and displaced populations.

I have no evidence that Bishop Mbanda has ever spoken about these killings.

Mbanda describes the chaos of the post-genocide environment, where funds were diverted and mis-spent:

Relief and rehabilitation funds have been diverted to hire youth fighters from marketplaces to come and drag pastors from church pulpits, disrupting services and even beating individuals who resist. These thugs have pulled a bishop out of his chair, have cleared sanctuaries filled with worshipers and have overturned tables with communion elements. Pick-up trucks purchased from Christian organizations with church-donated funds have been seen transporting these young fighters to wherever a certain ‘self-imposed’ bishop was to be. (Page 129-130)

Mbanda calls on church leaders to monitor the Church-State relationship, so he should thank me for this blog! See below:

The Hebraic model of theocracy, which would link spiritual leaders with political power, failed to become reality in Rwanda, but made a significant impact on the political leadership. Church leaders in Africa, and elsewhere, have to be careful to avoid combining religious and political functions. Church and mission leaders must watch the relationship between church and state, as these can be dangerous for the Church. In Rwanda they have demonstrated patterns of manipulation within the Church, and the abuse of governmental relationships by the Church. (Page 138)

Mbanda’s summary of the pre-1994 Church rings just as true today when related to massive human rights abuses in Rwanda and the DRC:

The Rwandan church failed to challenge social injustices. It is sin to allow social injustice anywhere, especially in the Church; and yet there are places where Christian missions and churches have actually sought to justify the drawing of lines according to their view of the human race. The Rwandan genocide is a typical example of what can happen when we draw lines and view others as less than people made in God’s image. (Page 139)

To summarize, the Bishop’s book is disappointing. The very things he castigates the old Church for doing, he is now involved in himself. The players have changed, but the song is the same.

References   [ + ]

1. These posts: one, two, three, four and five.
2. Mbanda’s take on the colonial past meshes with the RPF “victor’s narrative.” Jennifer Melvin describes this narrative in her article, “Correcting history: Mandatory education in Rwanda.” She says: “In its most general form, this remit seeks to create a single set of conclusions about Rwanda’s past, present, and future. his interpretation is informed by a singular narrative of Rwandan history referred to in this article as the ‘victor’s narrative’. The term ‘victor’ refers to the RPF’s role in creating and disseminating this particular version of events. Like the term ‘victor’s justice’ used by authors including Tiemessen (2004), Sarkin (2001), and Waldorf (2010) to describe RPF impunity at gacaca, the ‘victor’s narrative’ denies RPF involvement in human rights abuses and violations in Rwanda and DRC. These allegations include: limiting the freedom of speech, press, and association; silencing journalists and political opponents through politically motivated accusations of ‘divisionism’ and ‘genocide ideology’; and contributing to conlict in DRC, such as the M23 rebellion. The ‘victor’s narrative’ emphasises pre-colonial unity, the detriments of ethnic identities, and the beneits of RPF-led programming. In the context of education camps and school classrooms, this narrative functions to limit critical analysis, bolster political support, and denounce criticism of the RPF regime.”

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