Genocide In Rwanda: 25 Years Later

Apr 20th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

In April 1994, an aircraft bearing Rwanda’s president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down and Rwanda’s majority ethnic group, the Hutus, blamed the Tutsis and began a systematic massacre of the Tutsis, killing over 800,000 in three months.  The Tutsis then rebelled, killing many Hutus and thereby conquering most of Rwanda by mid-July 1994.  This egregious slaughter on both sides is one of the great horrors of the 20th century.  How did this happen?

The Christian History Institute, in its Daily Story” for 6 April 2019, offers a salient summary of the Rwanda horror of 25 years ago:

“Although the Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda spoke the same language, shared the same culture, and could not always be identified by differences in appearance, ethnic tensions were strong between them in the twentieth century. These were aggravated by land shortages and past rivalries, by earlier colonial discrimination—and by faulty church policies.  The minority Tutsi had ruled the country when European missions first arrived, and the missions sided with them. When the Hutu came to power (partly through the efforts of individual Catholic priests), the top hierarchy of the mainline churches realigned with the Hutu. Discrimination against Tutsi became strong within Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Seventh Day Adventist churches. (By contrast, the fast-growing Pentecostal movement rejected any power alignment and its members were less prone to join in racial rivalries.)

The majority Hutu in Rwanda massacred groups of Tutsis several times in the decades following Independence from colonialism. Tutsi exiles formed an army in nearby Uganda and attacked Rwanda several times, aggravating tensions. In neighboring Burundi, where Tutsis held the upper hand, they massacred 200,000 Hutus in 1972. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Hutu government of Rwanda, under fire for corruption, staged acts of violence that it blamed on Tutsis. According to international agencies, it also fomented violence and chaos that it then claimed was the result of multi-party efforts to reform the government. In this way it exploited and ramped up ethnic tension in a desperate gamble to retain power.  Although Rwanda’s mainline churches often spoke out against violence, they did so in general terms without identifying specific culprits. They urged support for the Hutu government. Many churchgoers took this as assent for Hutus to target Tutsis.

On 6 April 1994, someone shot down the airplane of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, and Hutu radicals rounded up and killed Tutsis and moderate Hutu in Kigali, the national capital. Over the next few days, Habyarimana’s successors sent operatives across the country in a pre-planned and coordinated effort to exterminate Tutsis. Government radio broadcasts incited killing.  What made the resulting genocide more horrifying was that killers and killed had worshiped together. In fact, many Hutu priests not only egged on the murders, but identified Tutsi parishioners and manned barricades to capture any who tried to escape. At Ngoma parish, Hutus went to the church each morning to pray before heading out to participate in the day’s slaughter.  The government’s method was to encourage Tutsi to gather for sanctuary in churches and schools (where in previous massacres Tutsi had been spared) and then to slaughter them en masse. Ten or twenty thousand Tutsi might be killed at a single church. So many were killed in the church at Nyamata that survivors later converted it into a memorial for the murdered.   Over a period of three months, about 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered, often with great cruelty. Tutsi survivors who had hidden in swamps spoke of drinking muddy water ‘enriched with the blood of the dead.’ They told of Hutus hacking open pregnant women to kill their babies before their eyes. Attackers hacked off Tutsis’ limbs, rather than kill them outright, laughing and singing all the while; then left the wounded to die in agony over the course of two or three days.

The genocide did not cease until commander Paul Kagame’s Tutsi army invaded Rwanda from neighboring Uganda where it had been training. Kagame drove out the killers, toppled the Hutu regime, and established a new government with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president. However, Kagame soon jailed Bizimungu on accusations of instigating ethnic killing. Over a million Hutus fled to the Congo where international opinion tended to take their side. Violence continued because Rwanda warred against the Hutu refugees, many of whom had been involved in the massacres and were armed and militant.   Since the restoration of peace in Rwanda, Tutsis and Hutus worship together again, but not without suspicion. As one survivor remarked, ‘I know that all the Hutus who killed so calmly cannot be sincere when they beg for pardon, even of the Lord. For them the Tutsi will always be the enemy.’”

Such egregious, horrific evil has a deep, penetrating darkness to it and, when it comes to the personal motivation of those who do evil, there is an almost impenetrable wall that defies investigation.  Perhaps that is why we use terms such as “irrational, indescribable and unspeakable” when we discuss it.  The 1994 Rwanda acts of premediated, dreadful evil raises even more profound questions:  Could God have stopped this from occurring?   Did He have the power and authority to prevent such dastardly acts?  Where was God in all this? I believe we must go back to the Creation Ordinance of God, recorded for us in the early chapters of Genesis.  They provide a valid starting point for thinking about evil, its origin and its resolution in Jesus Christ.

  1. PROPOSITION #1:  EVIL, SUFFERING AND PAIN RESULTED FROM HUMANITY’S REJECTION OF GOD.  One of the primary themes of Scripture is that we live in a fallen world.  What exactly does that mean?  The Bible makes it clear that God is trinity and theologians define God as trinity in this manner:  God is one essence of three persons who differ relationally (Father, Son and Spirit) and functionally (e.g., see Ephesians 1:4-14).  According to 1 John 4, “God is love.”  Since this is a predicate nominative, this declaration says something about the character and nature of God.  For all eternity, the Father has loved the Son, the Son the Father and so on (see the Gospel of John, especially 5:19-24 and chapters 14-17).  Within the godhead there has always been eternal love and communion.  According to Genesis 1, God made the decision to create and the crown of His creation was the creation of humanity, created in His image (see Genesis 1:26ff.)  At the least, bearing His image means that human beings have the capacity to not only express love and communion with one another, but more importantly with God.  So, what the godhead has enjoyed for all eternity is now possible for the image-bearers of God.  But are humans robots or automatons that bow down and love God at His command?  Or did God create His world to be populated with image-bearers who would voluntarily love Him?  For that to occur, He needed to take the risk that those humans would reject Him, which is exactly what they did (see Genesis 3 and the rest of Scripture).  According to Romans 1:18-3:20, that rejection is total and complete, for it involves the rejection of  His revelation in creation, conscience and moral law.  And, Romans 1:18-32 details the natural results of this rejection.  There we see recorded the downward spiral of self-destructive choices that result from that rejection.  This horrible downward spiral is evidenced in Rwanda in 1994:  Both Hutus and Tutsis validated their respective slaughters in the name of God.  Such perverted rationalization has nothing to do with God.  Evil has its origins in humanity, not God.  Since God created a universe with His moral law as its foundation, there are natural consequences in rejecting that moral law.  But God did not abandon His creation nor His image-bearers.  He began a plan, first mentioned in Genesis 3:15, to win them back—to reconcile them to Himself.
  2. PROPOSITION #2:  GOD’S SOLUTION IS THE CROSS.  God’s plan was to have the second person of the Trinity, the Son, add to His deity humanity and die for rebellious image-bearers.  According to the prophecies detailed in Isaiah 52 and 53, He would die for His people and God the Father would pour out His wrath upon Him.  The Gospels detail the execution of God’s plan, its completion at the cross and the resurrection.  God paid the price of the rebellion, death, and thereby defeated the chief rebel, Satan.  Christ became a victim of monstrous, horrific evil to eradicate evil from this world.  In short, God’s justice and His grace meet at the cross.  That is how God has defeated evil and how He will vanquish evil from this planet.  And He will populate the new heaven and the new earth with His image bearers who choose to place their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words, God has chosen to eliminate evil by becoming its victim and thereby, in what seemed like a defeat, was actually an astounding triumph of His grace and His compassion.  Jesus did indeed “pay it all.”  The cross, then, is the vital center of genuine, biblical Christianity, for through it God has reconciled humanity to Himself.  Those who choose to love Him do so in faith.  As John says, “we love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
  3. PROPOSITION #3:  Christ’s return and eternity will restore what was lost in the Fall.  Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21 and 22 speak of the new heaven and new earth, the destiny of those who love God.  What was lost by the human choice of rebellion will be restored when Christ returns for those who have chosen to love Him.  The love and communion that the godhead has enjoyed for all eternity will now be enjoyed by all humans, created in His image and now redeemed by His grace.  The fellowship and communion that the first humans knew in their walk with God will be restored.

See “Daily Story,” Christian History Institute (6 April 2019).

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