Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Plowshares to Swords

In the spring of 1994, half a world away in the heart of Africa, some 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis were killed (butchered might be a better word, with most of the work done by machete) for the rather simple reason that they were Tutsi. At the time we ignored it. Today we call it genocide.

Something that's not mentioned too often for reasons that are beyond me is that Rwanda is the most Christianized nation on the African continent. Before the genocide, some 75% of Rwandans called themselves Christians. The Catholic Church had been at work in Rwanda for nearly 100 years, but the country had a growing Protestant population in its western provinces. Although Catholics outnumbered Protestants 4-to-1, religious differences played little part in the genocide. Rather, the Rwandan Hutu majority (Catholic and Protestant) reacted with a carefully manipulated act of violence against the Tutsi minority. The reasons for it are many, and had everything to do with social inequalities, the polarization of Hutus and Tutsis under Belgian rule, a rise in post-colonial tensions between the two peoples, border attacks from without by Rwandan rebels, the propaganda and racism of the Hutu elite, massive amounts of weaponry imported from France and the French government, overpopulation, extreme poverty and a recent economic collapse (just to name a few).

The killings happened across religious lines. Catholics hacking Catholics. Protestants raping Protestants. (Did I forget to mention that? Many Tutsi women and girls were raped, the men tortured, losing their limbs, before they were allowed to die.) This -- out of everything that hardens my heart and brings bile to the back of my throat -- this is what scares me the most: That a people of faith were overcome by racial tension and nationalistic fervor, turning on friends and neighbors because their government told them to.

Many try desperately to compare Adolf Hitler's policies in the 1930s to our own government's policies today. But we need not look back to WWII to find a time when nationalism took the place of religious fervor and mutated into something new and old and dangerous and more than just a little bit evil. We need only look to Rwanda to see what happens when tenuously fragile ethnic and political tensions explode, causing Christians to turn against each other in blind hatred.

In early April of 1994, not long after the genocide started, almost 2,000 Tutsi refugees sought sanctuary in a hospital run by a local Protestant denomination. For a few days they had money enough to pay the police to protect them. The local doctor, a Hutu and son of the local head pastor for the region, refused to treat the wounded because they were Tutsi. When the money ran out, the police left and the genocidaires surrounded the hospital. Seven Tutsi pastors appealed to the regional head pastor in a letter for some measure of support in their time of need.

Our dear leader, Pastor ------ -----------,

How are you! We wish you to be strong in all these problems we are facing. We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. We therefore request you to intervene on our behalf and talk with the Mayor. We believe that, with the help of God who entrusted you the leadership of this flock, which is going to be destroyed, your intervention will be highly appreciated, the same way as the Jews were saved by Esther.

We give honor to you.

Two Tutsi eyewitness accounts give the pastor's response as follows: "Your problem already has a solution. You must die....God no longer wants you."

The next morning, armed Hutu militiamen stormed the hospital with guns and hand grenades. Local citizens followed behind armed with machetes and clubs. The Tutsi refugees, weakened by the siege and a lack of food and water, couldn't even fight back. They were slaughtered -- killed by their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Call it what you will -- nationalism, patriotism, political ideology -- any system of pride in country that is stronger than our faith in Christ is an idol. The Bible, even the covenant found in the New Testament, is clear that idolatry is an offense that God does not suffer lightly.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

What we need isn't simply a "separation" of Church and State. What we need is for Christians to prioritize their loyalties in such a way that faith is not confused with patriotism -- where faith overcomes ethnicity, politics, ideology, and social standing, and does not suffer to make such divisions worse.

Our country does not come first. Our national security, while the priority of the State, is not he priority of the Church. Americans are not a people favored by God. The United States is not a nation upon which God blesses above all others. In fact, due to our political bickering and racial injustice, we most likely fall onto God's "unfavorable" list. For all our soup kitchens and quilting clubs and relief organizations, we're nearly an assassination away from full-scale civil war -- pitting red state against the blue state, faith and religion be damned. If you don't believe me turn on talk radio for a few minutes, where the hate and rhetoric are so fierce that it makes otherwise sane men dizzy with superiority.

Faith, overrun by hate and patriotism, is no real faith at all. It is a false idol, waiting to explode under the guise of loyalty to god/country.

"Your problem already has a solution. You must die...God no longer wants you."

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