Churches failed in Rwanda’s genocide

Ethics features commentary by Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the genocide inspired the film, Hotel Rwanda. His comments on that period of Rwandan history came at a convocation at Middle Tennessee State University. The silence of the churches during that time contriibuted not only to the killing but left Rwandans feelng abandoned by God.

Rwanda’s genocide was in part a failure of the Christian church, a former hotel manager whose efforts to save the lives of more than 1,200 of his countrymen inspired the Academy Award-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda,” said in a Sunday interview.

Prior to 1994, Rwanda was described as the most Christianized country in Africa. Ninety percent of its citizens professed to be Christians. But that didn’t stop tribal violence from breaking out that resulted in the wanton murder of 800,000 people in 100 days.

Like other foreigners, American missionaries were evacuated when the killing started, Paul Rusesabagina told

“The Rwandan genocide took place in a hidden way, without any eyewitnesses from the international community,” Rusesabagina said. “When it comes to churches, all the churches kept quiet.”

“Silence, as we all know, is complicity,” he said.

Instead of opposing the violence, Rusesabagina said, churches were often complicit. People fled to churches for sanctuary, as they had in earlier conflicts. This time those same churches turned into death traps, as ministers either stood by or assisted in ethnic cleansing.

A Belgian court convicted two Benedictine nuns in 2001 of participating in the massacre of more than 7,600 people at the Sovu convent in Butare.

An Anglican bishop was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for the crime of genocide, specifically “for killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the Tutsi population with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a racial or ethnic group.”

Accusations were also documented against clergy of the Free Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventist churches.

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