Writing in the February 9, 2018 TLS, Julius Krein says:
…the culture wars, in a critical sense, were never real. The Right did not “lose” and the Left did not “win.” The true winners were Goldman Sachs, Amazon and Facebook, and their victory was inevitable. What was disputed all along were merely the terms under which a neoliberal political economy would be legitimated.
I first heard of La Luz del Mundo (LLDM) in 2018 when someone told me about a group trying to buy land in Flowery Branch, Georgia, which was creating controversy. Knowing nothing about them, I started doing some research. One great source of information I found was Native Evangelism In Central Mexico by Hugo and Jean Nutini. The basic history of the sect is as follows.
The Spanish La Luz del Mundo means “the Light of the World” in English. The full name is the Church of the Living God, Foundation, and Support of the Truth (La Iglesia del Dios Vivo Columna y Apoyo de la Verdad), abbreviated to La Luz del Mundo. The sect was founded in 1926 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. The founder was a man named Eusebio Joaquín González.
González was baptized by two Pentecostal prophets going by the names of Saulo and Silas, who had themselves converted to a sect founded by Carmen Valenzuela who became a Pentecostal while in Los Angeles. When González was baptized he was named Abraham, however, on April 6, 1926, “he heard God tell him, “Here is a man whose name will be Aarón.” The clamor made him tremble, and, being very disturbed by this, he awakened his wife, who said she had heard nothing. Eusebio Joaquín went back to sleep, and a thundering celestial vision told him, “Your name will be Aarón.” He saw a hand with the index finger pointing at him. With a great splash of brilliance, the celestial vision told him again, “Your name will be Aarón, and your blessed name will be known and famous throughout the world.” Amatulli Valente 1989:7–8 cited in Nutini, Hugo G.. Native Evangelism in Central Mexico (pp. 74-75).
González/Abraham/Aarón moved to Guadalajara, Jalisco where he tried out the Baptist and Congregational churches but eventually moved on to start his own church. As the church grew, “…Eusebio Joaquín realized that he had not been properly baptized by Saulo and Silas, who had done so in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but not in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. On July 18, 1927, he baptized himself by total immersion and took the name of Aarón, as henceforth he was referred to by his followers.” Nutini p. 75.
Mary Puckett describes what happened next: “In 1954, Apostle Aarón, founder and first Apostle of the Luz del Mundo (LDM), was granted a tract of land from the government of Guadalajara to establish a colony reserved for LDM members. Securing this grant was made possible thanks to Aarón’s indigenous Mexican background and the church’s origins in Mexico. The LDM was posited as an authentically Mexican church in contrast to the Catholic Church, accused of participating in the widespread government corruption which had inspired the Mexican Revolution. In return for the grant, the LDM agreed to contribute to the development of Mexico’s infrastructure…” Puckett, p. 10.
Aarón died in 1964, and his son Samuel Joaquín succeeded him as the next apostle.
I have been meaning to write for some time about LLDM because it is a cult putting down roots in the United States due to immigration. I will try to discuss its background and beliefs soon, but before I could write, a story emerged about sexual crimes on the part of it’s current leader:
The leader of La Luz del Mundo, a church with its headquarters in Mexico that claims to have more than one million followers worldwide, was charged Tuesday in Los Angeles with more than a dozen sex crimes, including allegations that he forced children to have sex and made them pose naked for photos, the authorities in California said.
Zaveri, Mihir. “Leader Of Mexican Church La Luz Del Mundo Charged With Sex Crimes In Los Angeles”. Nytimes.Com, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/04/us/la-luz-del-mundo-garcia.html.
Christians are familiar with religions like Mormonism and perhaps the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but these newer groups are worth paying attention to as well.
Our son just left for boot camp this week, and so we have been ransacking prayer books to find prayers for him. Although there are collects and prayers for the Armed Forces, branches of the same, wars, and remembrance days, we have not found much for someone in boot camp, which is arguably the hardest time for any new recruit.
I did find a good prayer on this website by Priscilla Carroll, but it wasn’t quite Anglican enough for us, so I have modified it a bit to bring it more in line with the Prayer Book tradition. I hope this helps others:
O Gracious Father, We bring to you name who you gave to us. How quickly the time has passed. Hehas grown up to be an adult. We thank you for choosing us as his parents and giving us the privilege of raising him under your watchful care. Many prayers have been said for him by us and others and we thank you, that you have heard them all and answered them according to your own wisdom and the direction that you have always had for him.
O Lord, our heavenly Father, we come to you again in prayer, as name undergoes training in the Armed Forces of our country. You have guided him in pursuit of this goal and we pray that the good work you have begun in name will be overseen with your supervision and love of him as he completes this training.
We beseech you to help him in every expectation the military has of him. We ask you to make all things possible for name as he faces the standards and goals that the military has for him. If anything seems impossible to him, we beseech you to strengthen him with your power in order for him to achieve whatever is expected.
We pray you to put name in the company of Godly influences who show him Your ways of excellence. We ask that you will use these people to impress upon him the importance of following and obeying your blessed will to be successful as a member of the Armed Forces and as your child.
We ask you to place name into your protective custody so that he may finish all that is required without any delays. We pray that Your angels would be assigned to keep him in all the ways you have planned for him to follow.
We turn name completely over to you for all of your good works in him to be secured. We trust that our prayer will be answered to your glory as we await name’s graduation and his official recognition as a member of the Armed Forces in service to you and his country; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all glory and honor, world without end. Amen.
Russians are always inclined to take things in a totalitarian sense; the skeptical criticism of Western peoples is alien to them. This is a weakness which leads to confusion of thought and the substitution of one thing for another, but it is also a merit and indicates the religious integration of the Russian soul. Among the Russian radical intelligentsia there existed an idolatrous attitude to science itself. When a member of the Russian intelligentsia became a Darwinist, to him Darwinism was not a biological theory subject to dispute, but a dogma, and anyone who did not accept that dogma (e.g. a disciple of Lamarck) awoke in him an attitude of moral suspicion. The greatest Russian philosopher of the nineteenth century, Solovev, said that the Russian intelligentsia professed a faith based upon the strange syllogism: man is descended from a monkey, therefore we ought to love one another.
In order to understand the meaning of the sociological determinism of Marxism and of the illusions of consciousness which it exposes, one must turn one’s attention to the existence of an entirely different side of Marxism, which is apparently a contradiction of economic materialism. Marxism is not only a doctrine of historical and economic materialism, concerned with the complete dependence of man on economics, it is also a doctrine of deliverance, of the messianic vocations of the proletariat, of the future perfect society in which man will not be dependent on economics, of the power and victory of man over the irrational forces of nature and society. There is the soul of Marxism, not in its economic determinism. In a capitalist society man is completely determined, and that refers to the past. The complete dependence of man upon economics can be explained as a sin of the past. But the agent which frees humanity from slavery and establishes the best life, is the proletariat. To it are transferred the attributes of the chosen people of God; it is the new Israel. This is a secularization of the ancient Hebrew messianic consciousness. The lever with which it will be possible to turn the world upside down has been found. And there Marx’s materialism turns into extreme idealism.
The BBC did the world a service earlier this year when it produced the documentary called Rwanda’s Untold Story. Nothing in the documentary is new, it has all been said before, but in print, and sometimes in academic publications or other out of the way places that most nice Western Christians don’t read. For many people, until they watch something on a screen, it isn’t real (see the Ray Rice situation in the NFL).
A measure of how this documentary struck home is the paranoia with which Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame has been trying to eliminate it. In his own country, someone who produced something like this would disappear, be tortured, killed or never heard from again. But Kagame does not control the entire world, as much as he would like to, so he stirs up all kinds of nonsense, equating history and truth telling with genocide denial. Merely labeling something as denying the genocide is enough to silence it for many Westerners who don’t invest time in researching Rwanda.
In Rwanda, discussion is not allowed. Free speech does not exist. Debate cannot happen. The one party state rules all, and exerts its control down to the lowest level. So it should be no surprise that this week, retired Bishop John Rucyahana showed up as part of the dog and pony show Kagame has put together to condemn the BBC documentary. According to reports on Twitter, Rucyahana “testified” to the Inquisition Inquiry Committee that the documentary “poisons the minds of the people” and all kinds of other bad things.
Why Rucyahana has any expertise on this subject is not apparent. As I have shown repeatedly on this blog, he is a stooge for the regime, a man who says “how high?” whenever Kagame says “jump.” He has no credibility and should be publicly disowned by American bishops and clergy, but instead, they embrace this man. He is a Micaiah to Kagame’s Ahab, if you know what I mean.
While Rucyahana’s support starts with PEARUSA, it by no means ends there. He sits on charities and boards all over the place. Take the Shyira Trust for example, it is a UK charity that works with the Shyira Diocese in Rwanda to fund various development projects. In February, members of the Trust from the U.K. met with Rucyahana — long after the United Nations conclusively showed his support in fundraising and recruiting for M23. You can see their meeting below.
I contacted the Trust in March, after this meeting with the “amazing man.” The responses I received are typical of the shallow thinking, lack of reason, and lack of theological wisdom that are hallmarks of western interaction with Rwandans. I wrote:
Hello, Are you aware of Bishop Rucyahana’s support for M23? In light of that, are you comfortable continuing to work with him?
The answer I received was:
Thank you for your question Joel. We have been working with Bishop John for 14 years now, and have come to respect him as a former diocesan bishop and as a Brother in Christ. Whatever the truth of your statement we see no reason to break our friendship with him – it would not achieve anything.
See what they did there? Who cares what he did? It won’t stop us from being friends. I responded:
Well, Romans 1 says that we should not “approve of those who practice them”, and the group he raised funds for practiced child kidnapping, rape, torture and other atrocities. I think this would reflect poorly on the Trust.
To this, I received the standard “do you know this man?” type of reply. Also, the fact that Rucyahana served on NURC, an Orwellian instrument of oppression in Rwanda, counts as a plus to the Trust:
Joel, I wonder if you have ever met Bishop John and got to know him as a man. I worked with him for the benefit of the people of Shyira parish while he was Bishop of Shyira. Since then I have simply known him as a friend, someone I trust and respect and visit when I am in Rwanda. In Rwanda Bishop John has done outstanding work on reconciliation, including being chairman of the reconciliation Commission. For those and other reasons I completely accept his public letter of 24th July 2012.
So because these nice Westerners have met and “know” Rucyahana, whatever he says must be true, evidence be damned. This is the same response I received from Bishop Breedlove of PEARUSA. As we have seen recently with Bill Cosby, our capacity for self deceit in the face of evidence is a massive weakness in our character.
The Charity Commission might want to investigate the Shyira Trust, to see why they have no problem working with a man who helps send boys off to die for M23, raping and slaughtering all the while. A man who now helps smear the BBC for doing journalism, something that is not allowed in Rwanda.
Why should American Anglicans care about what is happening in Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Why should we care about Rwandan President Paul Kagame or a rebel movement called M23? I have written endlessly about the subject on my blog, to little avail, and why do I do so? Ultimately, the reasons we should care are (a) theological, and (b) relational. Theologically, we must care because:
If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. – Ezekiel 3.18
William Ames in his The Marrow of Theology says that “Consent or communion with others in their sins is opposed to admonition, Eph. 5:7, 11.”
Those who give approval to murderers are guilty of great wickedness.
St. Paul in Romans 1 says:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Rwandan Anglican bishops give approval to Paul Kagame, who practices murder. We give our approval to these bishops. Further basic axioms of Christian theology include:
It is always wrong to kill innocent human beings.
a. Wars must be just.
b. In a time of war, killing innocents must be avoided whenever possible.
It is always wrong to rape.
This is not very complicated, and I would think it would be agreed to by all Christians of good faith.
Next, consider our relational ties to Rwanda:
PEARUSA is directly part of Rwanda.
Our clergy are technically Rwandan clergy. Our bishops are part of the Rwandan House of Bishops. That connection could not be clearer.
ACNA is fraternally related to PEAR via PEARUSA and the FCA (GAFCON).
ACNA may be at a remove from the direct connection that PEARUSA has to Rwanda, but Archbishop Duncan is frequently seen with Rwandan bishops and Rwanda is central to the FCA movement.
Even the AMiA is connected
Even the shattered remnants of AMiA are connected to Rwanda via Archbishop Kolini being on the absurd “College of Consultors.” Thus, American Anglicans bear a direct witness to what goes on in Rwanda, for good or ill. So what is wrong with Rwanda and Rwandan Anglicans? I will briefly summarize here, but the information is so voluminous that I can only scratch the surface in a post like this.
The Reconciliation Narrative is False.
Perhaps the most prominent story that Rwandans have told American Christians over the past nineteen years is that of reconciliation between the primarily Hutu killers and their Tutsi victims. PEARUSA constantly uses the word ‘reconciliation’ about Rwanda and the example that it is supposed to serve for American Anglicans. There is one simple problem with this, it is not true!
Theogene Rudasingwa, former Kagame insider, puts it this way:
The issue of ethnic identity is very very strong…and so…the RPF in public could say ‘we have overcome’, I recently heard a bishop who said, “Oh, we’ve achieved reconciliation up to a tune of about 80%, the other remaining 20% we shall achieve in the shortest possible time.” Thats a lie! The fact of the matter is that even when I was part of the establishment, when Kagame called a kitchen cabinet and all of us were military guys, we were all Tutsi and we had a preoccupation of thinking how we could survive in a sea that is populated by Hutu. So during the day Kagame and us would be talking about all these things but the fact of the matter was that this is a regime where you have a tiny minority within an ethnic minority and that kind of minority tends to rely on force, on coercion, on brutality in order to survive.
Rather than reconciliation, the government is run by a Tutsi elite who are loyal to Paul Kagame. The US government said this in 2008:
An analysis of the ethnic breakdown of the current Rwandan government shows Tutsis hold a preponderant percentage of senior positions. Hutus in very senior positions often hold relatively little real authority, and are commonly “twinned” with senior Tutsis who exercise real power. The military and security agencies are controlled by Tutsis, generally English speakers who grew up as refugees with President Kagame in Uganda.
Susan Thomson has extensive documentation on what life is like in Rwanda today, and she includes this quote in one of her papers:
Because of the hardships, I lost my whole family. What is the point of forgiveness anyway? The Hutu who killed, they know who they are but are they able to tell their truth? No, and I understand why not. If they say anything, they go straight to prison. I understand their problems; I blame this government for its lack of fairness. If we could all just get along, I know we could find some way to co-exist. Reconciliation is never going to happen. At least not for me, I am alone because of genocide. It is better to remain distant than to get mixed up with the ideas and plans of this [post-genocide] government (interview with Vianney, a 25-year-old umukene Tutsi man, 2006).
Personal stories of reconciliation have probably happened in Rwanda, that is what the Gospel does in any culture. But this is not because of a culture of reconciliation promoted by government institutions or church slogans. It is in spite of it.
The Rwandan Government Commits Heinous Evil.
Rwanda tortures its citizens, it kills, imprisons and bans dissidents. It is a one party state with a few other sham parties that are puppets of Paul Kagame. It is a totalitarian nation that has spies everywhere and micro-manages its citizens down to the local level. It requires young people to attend mandatory indoctrination camps in order to hold jobs or go to college. It launched two wars in the DRC that killed 5.4 million people and involved many other African nations. It wiped out Hutu men, women and children who had fled Rwanda after the genocide, with no regard for their guilt or innocence, all the while denying that anything happened.
Rwanda recently sponsored a Tutsi rebellion in the Eastern Provinces of the DRC called M23. This group commited acts of intrinsic evil. These acts included man-stealing, rape and the murder of those young boys who attempt to flee from M23 after they have been kidnapped into service. For example:
Two former combatants told the Group that sanctioned individual Colonel Innocent Zimurinda ordered the torture and killing of deserters. One of the soldiers from Zimurinda’s position observed how two deserters were executed, while four other deserters were buried alive. Another former M23 soldier witnessed the severe beating of one deserter who was thrown in front of the others as a dissuasive example. M23 commanders starved two other deserters to death. The RDF caught one former M23 soldier of Rwandan nationality, who attempted to flee to Rwanda at Kinigi, and brought him back to the rebels and then forced him to rape a girl in front of the others.
Bishops Rucyahana and Kolini supported M23 by fundraising and the recruitment of politicians. Rucyahana also wrote an editorial calling for these provinces of the DRC to vote for who they should belong to. This is in accordance with Rwanda’s lebensraum theory whereby Rwanda wants to annex the Eastern DRC to itself.
The Anglican Church has been Co-opted by the Government.
Anglican bishops fundraise for M23 as part of what Paul Kagame called a “Tutsi self protection campaign.” Anglican bishops shut down a Rwandan dissident who was to speak at an AMiA parish in Chicago because Paul Kagame wanted them to. Anglican bishops authored a letter that protested a UN report about M23, accusing it of lies and inaccuracies, totally in line with their government’s policy of vicious attacks on truth tellers. Anglican bishops function in government roles such as the President and Vice President of NURC, the head of the HIV/AIDS Commission, and the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD) – an NGO tightly aligned with the government. Theogene Rudasingwa told me that Bishop Kolini was “very pro Tutsi” and that we (meaning Kagame’s inner circle) considered him to be “one of us.” An Anglican bishop wrote in Christianity Today defending the murderous invasions of the Congo which we know included pogroms against Hutus. He said, “The peace we enjoy today in our country is mainly a consequence of that action.”
The Rwandan Anglican Church is seen as a tool of the state. Minister of Justice and Attorney General Gerald Gahima said of Anglicans in Rwanda:
The Anglican Church in Rwanda, one cannot even say it has been compromised by the State, it has basically made itself an arm of the State. It has…you remember what the, the role that the Catholic Church had during the Colonial period and the time of the monarchy? How the Catholic Church was very close to the State and how this continued even during the post-independence period? The Anglican Church has basically taken the role of the Catholic Church as being the chief apologist of the RPF and that has taken away a lot of the credibility that the Church should have and because of this the …I don’t think the Anglican Church would be a viable, a useful contributor to the process of reconciliation in Rwanda because it has taken sides.
Has the Anglican Church produced any martyrs against Paul Kagame? When Rwandan Anglicans visit the United States, do they tell us about how oppressed they are and ask for our prayers and assistance, or do they rather praise Rwanda as a model of excellence with visionary leadership and tout reconciliation? The later of course. Have Rwandan Anglican criticized their government in any way, at any time, over any issue? Not that I am aware of. Instead, they have quietly acquiesced to it or enthusiastically supported it.
I could go on about how the Rwandan economy is supported by aid money, minerals stolen from the occupied Eastern DRC and UN funded peacekeeping missions, but I won’t. The bottom line here is that once again, the Church in the West is silent in the face of a dictator. No rigor of any kind has been put into examining the true nature of the regime and the relationship of Anglicans to it. Instead we are treated to peans to an imagined reconciliation. Short term tourist missionaries see what their hosts want them to see at Sonrise school, genocide memorials and in Kigali. Mountains of reports, books and evidence are ignored by naive Americans who think they know something because they are friends with a bishop. If we are to obey what God has commanded us, as reflected in 2,000 years of theological history, we must speak up about these things.
This is part of a work in progress and I will expand it later.
A Selected Bibliography on Rwanda and the Anglican Church of Rwanda
Begley, Larissa. “The other side of fieldwork: experiences and challenges of conducting research in the border area of Rwanda/eastern Congo.” Anthropology Matters [Online], 11.2 (2009): n. pag. Web. 9 Feb. 2015
Cantrell, Phillip. “The Anglican Church of Rwanda: Domestic Agendas and International Linkages.” Journal of Modern African Studies 45.3 (2007): 333-354.
Cantrell, Phillip. “We Were a Chosen People”: The East African Revival and Its Return To Post-Genocide Rwanda. Church History, 83, pp 422-445, (2014).
Cooke, Jennifer G. “Rwanda: Assessing Risks to Stability: A Report of the CSIS Africa Program.” Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2011. Print.
Gersony, Michael. United Nations. UNHCR Emergency Repatriation Team. “Summary of UNHCR Presentation Before Commission of Experts.” New York: 1994. Print.
Ghai, Yash. “Rwanda’s Application for Membership in the Commonwealth – Report and Recommendations of CHRI.” Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, 2009.
Khan, Shaharyar. United Nations. “Gersoni “Report” Rwanda.” New York, 1994. Print.
Lemarchand, René. “Power and stratification in Rwanda: a reconsideration.” Cahiers d’Etudes africaines 6.24 (1966): 592-610.
Lemarchand, René. “The politics of memory in post-genocide Rwanda.” After genocide: transitional justice, post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation in Rwanda and beyond (2008): 65-75.
Longman, Timothy. Christianity and genocide in Rwanda. Vol. 112. Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Melvin, Jennifer. “Beyond the veneer of reconciliation: human rights and democracy in Rwanda.” Opinion: Commonwealth Advisory Bureau (2012).
Newbury, David. “Irredentist Rwanda: ethnic and territorial frontiers in Central Africa.” Africa Today (1997): 211-221.
Olsen, Ted. “Bowing to Kigali.” Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 05 2007. Web. 11 Nov 2012. <http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/2007/november/18.20.html>.
Pottier, Johan. “Re-imagining Rwanda: Conflict, survival and disinformation in the late twentieth century.” Vol. 102. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Purdeková, Andrea. “‘Even if I am not here, there are so many eyes’: surveillance and state reach in Rwanda.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 49.03 (2011): 475-497.
Purdekova, Andrea. “Rendering Rwanda Governable: Order, Containment and Cleansing in the Rationality of Post-Genocide Rule.” L’Afrique des Grands Lacs: Annuaire, 2012-2013, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013.
Purdekova, Andrea. “Rwanda’s Ingando Camps.” Working paper no. 80. Oxford: Oxford Department of International Development, 2011. Print.
Reyntjens, Filip. Political Governance in Post-genocide Rwanda. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. Print.
Reyntjens, Filip. “The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. eBook.
Reyntjens, Filip. “Constructing The Truth, Dealing With Dissent, Domesticating The World: Governance In Post- Genocide Rwanda.” African Affairs. (2010): 1-34. Print. African Affairs. (2010): 1-34. Print.
Rwanda: Shrouded in Secrecy: Illegal Detention and Torture by Military Intelligence. Rep. no. AFR 47/004/2012. Amnesty International, 8 Oct. 2012. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.
Smith, Stephen W. “Rwanda in Six Scenes.” London Review of Books 33.6 (2011): 3-8. 11 Nov. 2012 <http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n06/stephen-w-smith/rwanda-in-six-scenes>.
Stanley, Brian. “East African Revival: African Initiative within a European Tradition.” Churchman 92 (1978), 6-22.
Stearns, Jason. “Examining the Role of Rwanda in the DRC Insurgency.” House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights Testimony, 112th Cong., 24-34 (2012) (testimony of Jason K. Stearns). Print.
Stearns, Jason. “From CNDP to M23 Kivu: The Evolution of an Armed Movement in Eastern Congo.” London: Rift Valley Institute, 2012. Print.
Thomson, Susan. Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Postgenocide Rwanda. Madison: U of Wisconsin, 2013. Print.
United Nations. Security Council. “Addendum to the Interim Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2012/348) concerning Violations of the Arms Embargo and Sanctions Regime by the Government of Rwanda.” By Agshin Mehdiyev. New York: United Nations, 2012. Print.
Van Hoyweghen, Saskia. “The Disintegration of the Catholic Church of Rwanda: A Study of the Fragmentation of Political and Religious Authority.” African Affairs. (1996) Vol. 95, No. 380, pp. 379-401.
Zorbas, Eugenia. 2004. “Reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda”, African Journal of Legal Studies 1, 1: 30–52.
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 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
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.”