In the past week or so I’ve read several stories that illustrate the dangers of Christians becoming too close to political leaders. First, there has been a lot of news coverage commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. This is one of the most shameful events in recent memory, and the world’s passivity added sins of omission to the brutal sins of commission. Worst of all, this slaughter of innocent people occurred in a country in which over 90 percent of people claim to be Christians, and takes pride that the East African revival of the early 20th century was born there.
Fr. Schutte points out the embarrassing actions of Rick Warren:
The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has led the country since the genocide. He has been embraced by many Christians in Rwanda—as well as around the world—as a strong, courageous leader who is, essentially, on God’s side. Prominent American Evangelical pastor Rick Warren, who serves on Mr. Kagame’s advisory board, recently hosted the Rwandan president at his Southern California church, and praised him, saying, “I have never met a leader like Paul Kagame, he is an uncommon leader in an uncommon country.” He went on to say, “God chose a nation the world turned its back on during its darkest hour to give the world a new model.”
He correctly observes that Kagame’s regime has been incredibly wicked:
The problem, however, is that Kagame’s tenure in office has not been without serious problems. A recent Wall Street Journal article points out that Kagame’s armies systematically killed thousands of Hutus in recrimination, shut down critical news outlets, and launched military attacks in the Congo, which continue to this day. A recent New York Times editorial, while acknowledging the progress made since the genocide, observes that “civil and political rights in Rwanda are severely restricted. Dissidents and opposition political leaders are subject to harassment, detention and torture. Several have disappeared or been killed.” So, while it is important to honor the victims of the genocide, lament the failure of the international community to intervene, and celebrate the amazing progress Rwanda has made over the last 20 years, we must be careful how our embrace of political leaders might tacitly communicate support for all of their actions.
He then turns to the close relationships between Rwandan Anglicans, American Anglicans and the Kagame dictatorship, and he draws salutary conclusions that other Anglican leaders have failed to draw:
As a Christian, and specifically as an Anglican Christian, I find myself in a difficult place. The Anglican Church in Rwanda has a close relationship with President Kagame and his ruling party, and the Church of Rwanda has had an instrumental role in the founding of the Anglican Church in North America, of which our congregation is a part. So, while I want to honor the Rwandan leaders who have been so gracious to us. I also feel that, in good conscience, I cannot embrace Mr. Kagame in the way that many of my brothers and sisters both in Rwanda and the United States have done because I do not want to give the appearance that he is above reproach.
Our denomination, and the congregation that I serve, have a deep connection to the Anglican Church of Uganda. Their leadership was essential to our founding, and the relationships we have in the gospel are an important part of our life today. In addition, Anglican Church in North America shares many of the concerns around the move to redefine marriage. This relationship, rooted in common commitment to the gospel, makes it difficult to implicitly criticize these brothers and sisters, but on this issue I believe that Christians must speak out.
Although I don’t agree with his entire line of thinking, his conclusions regarding the witness of American Anglicans are spot on:
However, when Christians uncritically embrace political leaders who act in ways that are inconsistent with the gospel, and when Christians tacitly support laws that stigmatize groups of people, our capacity to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and his heart for the world is compromised, sometimes irreparably.