There are some common objections to the facts that I run into when talking to other Anglicans about Rwanda. Other arguments could be added to this list, but I will mention a few commonly deployed arguments here.
The first argument is a form of relativism, which uses abortion as its example.1 It goes something like, “Sure things in Rwanda might be bad, but the US government condones abortion and the church here is silent about it, not wanting to offend congregants.” The point seems to be, “how can we criticize the Rwandan government for evil when our own government is also evil?” It is a quotidian example of ethical relativism, and you would hope Christians would be better thinkers than to use it. The refutation of this weak argument can be made as follows:
- One key difference between Rwanda and the United States is that in the USA, the Church of all stripes *does* speak up about abortion (perhaps not enough for these individuals liking) whereas the Rwandan bishops are publicly silent about State evil in their nation.
- When Christians in the USA speak up about abortion, they do not have to worry about imprisonment, torture, death and “disappearing”, whereas, if you speak about evil in Rwanda, you do need to fear this.
- American bishops can go to Rwanda and talk about the evil of abortion in the United States. I have yet to hear of a Rwandan bishop in America mentioning one negative thing about the Kagame dictatorship.
- A moral evil in our nation does not mean we cannot point out moral evils in other nations. Two wrongs do not make a right.
- God’s moral law applies uniformly to all nations, moral standards are not different for nations because they happen to be on the African continent.
- American bishops do not go to Rwanda and say things like, “Due to the visionary nature of American leaders, our nation is united and moving forward, our government’s reproductive laws are an example for you to follow.” Whereas, Rwandan bishops praise a tyrant’s leadership as “visionary” and promote the false narrative of Rwanda as some sort of shining city on a hill.
- American bishops typically do not appear on stage with abortion-supporting politicians, lending them their support. Rwandan bishops and clergy regularly appear often with the dictator, who sheds innocent blood like Manasseh of Judah.
In sum: the evil of abortion in America does not disqualify us from criticizing the State-led evil in Rwanda. An addendum to these points is that if someone objects that clergy in America are afraid to speak about abortion, then maybe the clergy voicing the argument should himself speak up about abortion more!
The second argument I hear has something to do with Westerners applying democratic standards to Rwanda, as if this is wrong. This is an essentially racist and colonialist argument rearing its head. It runs something like, “You can’t judge Rwanda by Western standards of democracy.” Why? Because it’s Africa? Because it’s okay for those folks to live in fear every day whereas we would never endure such conditions?
We have rightly rejected the State as god in the West (or had until recently). We rejected the “boot grinding the face of man forever” that 1984 so vividly displays. Are our concepts of the dignity of the human body, the freedom from unjust arrest and trial, the illegality of torture and murder simply relativistic concepts unique to the West, or do they apply to all humankind? The answer for a Christian must be obvious, we cannot endorse State sanctioned evil, and this is not some Western fancy that Rwandans just can’t grasp or that is unfair to judge them with. If ACNA / PEAR bishops had to live in a nation where they could not discuss politics without the fear of ending up in jail, they would certainly not like it, but they are silent about this in their partner nations in GAFCON.
Finally, and perhaps most weakly, is the “it’s complicated” argument. It was once put this way: “There are webs of complexity that entangle politics, history, church, and personal relationships.” Well, yes and also emphatically no. Almost any subject is complex once you start peeling back the layers and going beyond a surface-level understanding. But no, because evil is evil and it is not hard to say that killing, kidnapping, and ethnic demonization are evil. You don’t have to know who all the players are to make a call on these issues.
Some of this is simple lack of time on the part of PEAR USA clergy who are canonically Rwandan clergy. They do not want to spend the time reading histories, studies and reports about Rwanda, they would rather read other things. This is understandable, and one of my primary arguments about any jurisdiction under African leadership is that it is of necessity too complex. Joe Pastor in Altoona, PA should not have to understand the complexities of Rwandan history (or Nigerian history) in order to do his job, yet because of being enmeshed with quiescent leaders in Rwanda, he is now forced to do just that. But because PEAR USA has made its bed with Rwanda, it must now lie in it.
These arguments are usually accompanied by comments traducing blogs, which is ironic given how Bishops and other ACNA leaders embraced blogs when they were exposing problems with TEC, or in the case of PEAR USA, when PEAR clergy were happily fighting Chuck Murphy via the internet. Once you question “the brand” however, these same folks will talk down about “the internet” in a very Episcopalian manner.
At bottom, I suspect that Anglican clergy do not want to rock the boat on Rwanda, they have a good thing going and want to maintain it. They won’t look too deeply into matters that will only cause them grief and would require them to walk back a decade plus story about being “Rwandan missionaries.” The failure to speak about evil in Rwanda means that the Nairobi Communique is not worth the paper it was written on. It said:
We repudiate all such violence against women and children and call on the church to demonstrate respect for women, care for marginalized women and children around the world, and uphold the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.
Each member nation could apply these words to itself, but I doubt that the courage to do so exists.