This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the massacre in Rwanda, a quarter-century since 800,000 people died at the hands of their neighbours. The Walrus recently ran recollections of survivors, and the tales are harrowing.
Two features of this story give the Canadian Christian particular pause.
The first is the well-known fact that Canadian general Roméo Dallairewas there in the bloody midst of it, commanding the last contingent of United Nations peacekeepers. Having been refused the few thousand soldiers he requested in order to stop the bloodbath early on, he in turn refused to obey the UN instruction to stand apart while Rwandans destroyed each other with machetes, guns, fires, and bare hands. He and his fellow soldiers, Canadian, African, and South Asian, were badly outmanned, but they did all they could to staunch the flow of hatred and death, and they probably saved upwards of 30,000 people.
This is one of the stories that prompted me to transition from a Christian pacifism to the ethical position often called Christian realism. Dallaire was convinced, then and now, that a small number of troops, properly deployed, would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives by stopping the wildfire while it could still be contained. Troops would do it. And Christian prayers didn’t.
How do I know that Christian prayers didn’t? Here’s the second feature. At the time, Rwanda was among the most Christian countries in Africa—indeed, in the world—with upwards of 90% of the population espousing Christianity. So when the butchery began, you can expect that lots of prayers went up. But for all the stories of people being strangely, even miraculously, saved from the slaughter, there was still a slaughter. A huge slaughter.
And how could there be, among Christians?
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