Ingredients for Genocide

"Many churches during the genocide became places of death instead of places of life"
Bishop Samuel Kayinamera, Free Methodist Church of Rwanda

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 
I Corinthians 10:6-7

I recently spent two weeks in the beautiful country of Rwanda.  Its hills, lakes and people make it a visually stunning place to witness and a loving place to experience..  It is a small, densely populated land locked nation in Central-Eastern Africa that has an agricultural basis of life that is often resource challenged.  Subsistence living is the way of life for the vast majority of Rwanda's people.

Beneath the smiles, the tremendous hospitality, exuberant worship, and the sense of national hope, lies the horrific wound of genocide 18 years ago.  In this festering action from April through July of 1994, nearly 2 million of the 8 million inhabitants of Rwanda were systematically killed, tortured, raped, and maimed.  This was not done by an invading army or a colonizing nation, but neighbors.  Not ethnically different neighbors, or neighbors speaking another language, but real, next-door-our-kids-go-to-school-together type neighbors.  It is estimated that over 2/3 of the entire population of Rwanda was either killed or fled the violence into the neighboring nations of Congo, Burundi, or Uganda.

The events of the genocide did not "just happen" but were the result of divisive and dehumanizing practices, processes, and proclamations over the previous 90 years.  It was not spontaneous but a planned evil that had shown warning signs for 40 years previous to the genocide.

What is most frightening about this genocide is that Rwanda was known as a "Christian Nation".  Testimonies of the perpetrators shows an overwhelming identification as Christian.   Witnesses to the genocide noted that victims of the genocide often ran to churches for protection but that the gathering together often made it easier for the perpetrators to commit mass atrocities.

Shouldn't faith have made an difference?  Shouldn't the presence of the body of Christ and His spirit been able to overcome this evil?  

I want to suggest that there are three components that inform a genocidal people

1. A Divisive and Dehumanizing Ideology must be present:  The Belgian Colonizers at the turn of the 20th century painstakingly began to separate the local inhabitants into Tutsi (privileged class), Hutu (laborers), and Twa (nomadic).  These were not just descriptions of people physically, but descriptions that changed their identity and self-understanding.  It developed into a caste system.  Interesting in itself is that the ideology is expressed in distinct labels that allow dehumanizing.

2. A Corrupting and Co-opted Theology must be present:  The separation of Tutsi and Hutu was based upon a prevalent myth of that time called the "Hamitic Theory" which postulated that the people who had longer noses, taller stature, and more wealth were descendants of a privileged race of Hamitic origin that avoided the curse of Canaan (Gen 9:25).  This not only legitimized the differences, but gave divine support for the classicism.

3. A Scarcity-minded Economy:  A scarcity mindset is the acknowledgment that there are very limited resources for living and that there is competition among one another for those resources.  Many people do not realize that the initial Hutu uprisings were attempts to gain political and economic power.  The natural resources of Rwanda are extremely limited and competitive nature of the economy was like fuel on the flames of fear and mistrust.

The reason that is is worth reflecting upon is to ask yourself, could this happen again?  Could millions of people who claim to follow Jesus participate in wholesale genocide of their neighbors?  Could it happen in the US?

Nazi Germany developed a dehumanizing ideology (Aryanism and Anti-semitism) based upon the corrupted theology of the national church of Germany (Influenced by racist sentiments of Martin Luther towards the end of his life that were expanded and amplified) and when the economic collapse of post-world war I occurred, the ingredients were all in place for genocide.

Let us never forget!  Let us never allow nationalism or ethnocentrism to co-opt the church.  Lets critically examine ideologies that divide and dehumanize and ruthlessly clarify our theologies.  Lastly, let us not neglect the role that economic systems play in the perpetration of violence.  Not only are they connected, but part of the vision of the Kingdom of God was the understanding of peace as sustained provisions for life and liberty

He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. 
Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken. 
Micah 4:3-4

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor