Rwanda is a tiny Central African country about the size of Maryland with a population of approximately 7.8 million people. Roughly 10 percent of the country has AIDS, and the average life expectancy is 39 years for those who don’t.
In 1994, more than 12 percent of the population, just over 1 million women, children and men, were massacred in one of the worst genocidal conflicts in human history. When they ran out of bullets, Rwandans used machetes and kitchen knives to slaughter one another.
All of this is common knowledge. What rarely gets acknowledged, however, is that Rwanda is considered the “most Christian” nation in Africa. Ninety-three percent of the population belongs to a Catholic or Protestant church. What does that massacre say about the kind of faith that our missionaries brought to Rwanda?
Will Campbell is a Southern Baptist pastor who called himself a Southern liberal back in the 1950s and ’60s when he was fighting segregation. There is a fascinating story in his autobiography, Brother to a Dragonfly.
Campbell tells of a conversation he had in the late 1960s with a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. This elderly white man insisted that the KKK stood for peace, harmony, and freedom. When Campbell asked who defined those noble words, the man declared, “I define them.”Cam
pbell then asked, “And what means are you willing to use to achieve those noble values?”
“Ah,” said the old Klansman, “I see where you’re headed. Well, I’d use murder, torture, blackmail, intimidation, cross burnings, or whatever means necessary to achieve those principles.”
Campbell assumed that he had set a trap for him and simply let him snap it, but then the old man said, “Now preacher, let me ask you a question. What noble principles do we stand for in Vietnam? And by what means are we willing to achieve them?” (You can substitute Iraq for Vietnam.)
I suddenly realized that we are a nation of Klansmen. We stand for principles like peace, harmony, and freedom, and we are willing to use whatever means necessary to achieve those principle or impose them on others. It was from that conversation that my faith compelled me to oppose the war in Vietnam.
We can shake our heads at Rwandan Christians, but it seems that our faith doesn’t always have the effect on America that Jesus desired either. We are still a nation that resorts to whatever means necessary.