Dr. Phillip Cantrell on Anglicans and Rwanda

In my previous post on “Playing an Away Game”, I referred to a document written by Dr. Phillip Cantrell called “The Anglican Church of Rwanda : domestic agendas and international linkages.” Dr. Cantrell was kind enough to comment on that post, and his insights are important. He has expanded on that comment a bit and given me permission to post it here. He welcomes dialog on the subject, so please give this a read. His concluding sentence should give PEAR USA, ACNA and GAFCON pause: “I have never been more fearful for Rwanda and the region.” Let’s hope that Anglicans can fulfill the role of Jeremiah in relationship to the government of Rwanda. Dr. Cantrell’s comments follow:

I’m Phil Cantrell, author of the above mentioned article “The Anglican Church of Rwanda: domestic agendas and international linkages.” I came across this blog and mention of myself from following Nkunda Rwanda on Twitter. I decided to write in order to clarify my own position, explain some issues raised here and invite further discussion. I’m a professor of African history at Longwood University in Virginia and I specialize in East Central Africa. I’m also a believer in Christ and was a member of an AMIA church for five years, and would be still if there was such an option where I now live.

In 2004 I undertook a mission trip with AMIA to Rwanda and knowing it was a Franco-phone country I brushed up on my French, only to find that the Anglican pastors and bishops I met with spoke better English than I. Finding this intriguing, I undertook my own research as a professional historian of Africa; research that resulted in the article. Let me state that like Joel, I have found the rank-and-file Anglican pastors and parishioners in Rwanda to be utterly sincere in their faith and desire for a better Rwanda. I have never questioned their faith in my writing and presentations on Rwanda. But I stand by my conclusions regarding the church’s relationship to the ruling RPF of Kagame. In a larger context, this should not be surprising in that mission-minded Americans fail to realize that the concept of separation of church and state as its understood in the West does not exist in Africa. I do not say that disparagingly of Africa; it’s a cultural difference. But it does mean that Rwanda’s Anglican hierarchy supports the RPF’s public face in Rwanda, perhaps unknowingly themselves but they do nevertheless. And their hierarchy certainly does knowingly.

As far as RPF members “infiltrating” the church, I think that is a complicated and arguable proposition. The RPF and the present Anglican hierarchy were born of the same Tutsi refugee diaspora in the camps of Uganda prior to the genocide and the RPF takeover of the country. They were a tight-knit diaspora and so some crossover is to be expected. I do contend however that the Anglican Church has failed to distance itself from the regime, with may contribute to a disastrous future for the country. I harbor no animus towards AMIA and its former relationship to the Anglican Church. As I said, I speak as a grieving member for the broken relationship and Rwanda’s plight.

In 2007, I made another research trip to Rwanda as an advisor to an ad hoc Rwanda Missions Board with AMIA. On that trip, I challenged my own conclusions before the article went to press. My research only confirmed my findings however and I published the article. I will also say Kolini and Rucyahana and other pastors and bishops I interviewed in 2007 were fully aware that I was a historian researching Rwanda and did not withhold talking to me. I suspect that at the time they were unaware of my knowledge of what was happening in the country. Because, after my return, the Mission Board was dissolved and I was disinvited from coming to Rwanda and will not return until the situation is changed. The full reasons for that are still somewhat unknown but it may have become apparent after my departure that I was asking the “wrong” questions. Some of my more outspoken and accomplished colleagues in the academic profession have been threatened if they return.

My concern always, as I was uniquely positioned as a professional historian and an AMIA parishioner, was that if American churches blindly provided aid to Rwanda vis-à-vis the Anglican Church of Rwanda, they would be de facto supporting an increasingly despotic regime which failed to enact the Arusha Accords of 1994, which promised a multi-ethnic and inclusive democracy, which the RPF itself signed in Arusha. Incidentally, the pre-genocide Anglican hierarchy in Rwanda did in fact support the genocidal actions of the previous Habyarimana regime. They were removed after the genocide and replaced with new leadership (i.e. Kolini, Rucyahana, etc) when the RPF took over, hence the close and troubling relationship presently. My fear, as someone who loves Rwanda and the region, is that the church is making the same mistakes the pre-genocide leadership did. And American missionaries must be wary of tacitly endorsing it too.

All that being said, I do not believe the rank-and-file of the church is behaving in an intentionally sinister way. The theological origins of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, born as it was from the English Church Missionary Society of the 1920s, gives it a tendency to avoid political engagement and critique, even as they collude with the false narrative of Rwanda’s history. As for the recent information concerning Kolini and Rucyahana and Rwanda’s actions in Congo, I think we must warily wait and see. I have met both men on several occasions and found them to be entirely sincere in their faith and intentions. I will need more evidence to convince me otherwise, but a connection to M23 is possible. Kolini after all is Congolese Rwanda. Other information was unwittingly provided to me in 2007, which raised my concerns about Rwanda’s intentions in Congo. For example, an Anglican pastor, whose name I will never reveal so as not to endanger him, tried to inform me that Eastern Congo had once been part of Rwanda. This is false but I felt it must have been coming from somewhere higher than him and its implications troubled me. I’m not sure of this clarifies or confuses but I felt like adding it to the debate here. I am happy to continue the dialogue. The things I have written about Rwanda and the AMiA relationship have caused angst and soul-searching for me but I have counseled with pastoral friends and I believe God has called me professionally to seek and speak truth, especially to power. I have never been more fearful for Rwanda and the region.

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