The Taser's Edge


Beyond “As We Forgive”

I have to admit that although I have long known the general details of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, I have not at all actively sought to learn more.  Last week, All Saints Church (my church, a parish of the Anglican Mission in America, itself a mission of the Anglican province of Rwanda), the Duke Center for Reconciliation, and the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies (here at Duke Divinity) organized two showings of the documentary As We Forgive, which follows specific stories of attempts at repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Rwanda in the years since the genocide:

After each showing, there was a panel discussion.  The first night the panel was officially made up of a Duke Divinity master’s student from Burundi, a Duke Ph.D. student whose project has to do with violence in East Africa (specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo), Dr. Ellen Davis, and Rev. Dr. Steve Breedlove (rector at All Saints).  Two native Rwandans in the audience also quickly became de facto panelists (and were conscripted as official panelists for the second showing).  I was lucky enough to sit down with one of the two for brunch the next day.

He is a student in the States, a Rwandan citizen officially, but he grew up in Uganda.  He’s also a movie fan, specifically of The Godfather, and he likened East African politics to Corleone family politics, telling me that he is among that minority of East Africans whose legal status in the US is not due to some variety of political corruption (although it is still due to political connections).

The documentary seems to be endlessly hopeful, even as it shows the difficulty of forgiveness in particular lives.  I left in disbelief.  I am still in disbelief: how can you forgive the man who killed your entire family?  Is that the power of the Gospel or is it ridiculously naive?  And the idea of government-facilitated reconciliation between murderer and victim makes my mind reel.  If the US prison system had any interest in rehabilitation of individuals, what would might reconciliation with their victims look like?  And should governments be in the reconciliation business at all?  (I am Western with Western assumptions about the separation of church and state after all.)

I didn’t recognize it until this week, but April 6th was the 15th anniversary of the assassination of President Habyarimana, the event generally considered to have ignited the genocide.  Plenty of major news organizations have been talking.

The BBC takes a decidedly pessimistic take (or perhaps it is only a starkly realistic about the ongoing problems in Rwanda, something which the documentary sadly seemed to leave out): “Rwanda’s ghosts refuse to be buried“.

And then there’s the April 13 edition of Newsweek‘s “A Message of Hope from a Pile of Bones.”  You really should read it, but it’s especially interesting to me because it follows Rwandan Anglican Bishop John Rucyuhana.  One thing which As We Forgive adds to the picture provided by the magazine is Rucyuhana speaking about how badly the Rwandan churches failed, and how much guilt they bear for the genocide.

I only pray that someday the American churches will repent of their guilt for not doing enough to get our government to do something in Rwanda (and in many elsewheres, past and present).  What would the American religious landscape (see also Newsweek’s newest cover story, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America,” for a decent-but-not-great picture of said landscape) look like if when we heard the word ‘church’ we thought ‘advocate on behalf of the poor, the suffering, the dying, the hungry, the wartorn, the broken-hearted’ rather than ‘pro-war, anti-freedom, judgmental, power-hungry political wolves in sheep’s clothing’?  (Okay, maybe people don’t think all of that, but that’s mostly because Christians have usually been political bunglers rather than cunningly strategic wolves.)

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2 Comments so far
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Compare the following two sentences:

“I only pray that someday the American churches will repent of their guilt for not doing enough to get our government to do something in Rwanda (and in many elsewheres, past and present).”

vs.

“I only pray that someday the American churches will repent of their guilt for not doing something in Rwanda (and in many elsewheres, past and present).”

And now these two:

“I only pray that someday the American churches will repent of their guilt for not doing enough to get our government to do something about the tragedy of abortion.”

vs.

“I only pray that someday the American churches will repent of their guilt for not doing enough about the tragedy of abortion.”

In each case, proponents of the former correctly diagnose a problem but assign the responsibility of the remedy to a third party, most commonly the government. And when asked, “Why is it the government’s responsibility?” in each case, proponents of the former argue that the problem is too big/too expensive/too out of control, etc. for any entity smaller than a government to make a difference.

So Rwandans get slaughtered, and abortions continue. And the cycle of complaint and inaction from those waiting on government intervention or sweeping legislation or judicial reform continues unabated.

And in each case – for some reason that defies logic – proponents of the latter are perceived to be without compassion.

Comment by T Jarrett

Yep. Took the words right out of my mouth.

Comment by Ben




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