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Reflections on the Rwandan Genocide in the Light of James 3:7-9
John Barber, Ph.D.

Most of us know of the genocide in Rwanda that began in April, 1994. The Hutu tribe, in a mission of ethnic cleansing, committed itself to thoroughly wipe out the minority Tutsi tribe that had ruled Rwanda for many years. In a period of 100 days the Hutus killed one million people: 800,000 Tutsi and 200,000 Hutu sympathizers. To accomplish that required the death of one person every second for 100 days!

rwandan genocide - skulls of the victims

In August of 2013, I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to Kigali, Rwanda to conduct a 3-day pastor’s conference on the Cultural Mandate. Before I arrived, I read widely on the genocide, watched “Hotel Rwanda”, and a movie my son suggested, “Sometimes In April.” Although my reading and movie-watching helped set things in context, none of it answered the fundamental question that bewildered me. How? How could marauding bands, led by the Rwandan government, systematically slaughter one million men, women, and children with such a thorough resolve and with seemingly no conscience? HOW could such a thing happen?

Certainly there was tribal tension leading up to the 1994 genocide. For one, the majority Hutu tribe didn’t like being subjugated to the minority Tutsi. But that’s no reason for genocide. So people have looked to all sorts of lateral reasons, including historical, social, and economic, to explain the human liquidation.

What I would like to do at this point is to turn to the New Testament book of James. For here we find an important truth about human nature that just might point us in the right direction in our search for an answer to the perplexing question.

Referencing the human tongue, James 3:9 says “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” Here James affirms that that all people are created in God’s likeness.” So for James the Genesis account of creation is historically true. Genesis 1:26 records,Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”

For James, and by extension for us, that means two things. (1) That people have a spiritual dimension which animals do not. (2) That people should not therefore treat other people like an animal by cursing and degrading them. In East Africa I didn’t like the sound of men whipping and cursing their mules to get them to bring carts of produce to market faster. Much less are people to be treated like this. Problematically, as James also points out, we do often use our tongue to bless God and to curse people made in God’s image. In v. 9, James says that to do that is sheer hypocrisy.

Such hypocrisy was a controlling factor leading up to the Rwandan genocide. In straightforward terms, the roots of genocide lay in Darwin’s theory of evolution. That theory of course denies James’ point that all people, tribes, and tongues are created in God’s image. Only a brief historical survey of the situation is possible here.

After WW 1, Belgium took full control of the Congo region, which then included Rwanda. Looking to Darwinian science and social Darwinism, Flemish scientists declared the Tutsi to be the superior race compared to the Hutus whom they subjugated to the Tutsi. What struck the Flemish was that the Tutsi looked European. They had long narrow noses, high brows, were tall, thin, and had other European characteristics. The only explanation the Flemish could contrive was that the Tutsi were once Europeans who migrated south to Ethiopia, then down to the Congo region where they settled.

The colonial minister in Rwanda in 1925 reveals the Darwinian outlook on the Tutsi people.

The Mutusi of good race has nothing of the Negro, apart from his colour. He is very tall, 1.8 m at least, at least 1.9 m or more. He is very thin, a characteristic which tends to be even more noticeable as he gets older. His features are very fine: highbrow, thin nose and fine lips framing beautiful shining teeth. Batutsi women are usually lighter skinned than their husbands, very slender and pretty in their youth, although they tend to thicken with age…Gifted with vicious intelligence, the Tutsi displays a refinement of feelings which is rare among primitive people. He is a natural born leader, capable of extreme self-control and calculated goodwill. [1]

Now this statement is as racist as it gets. In fact, the reader may have seen pictures or film footage of Flemish scientists measuring the length of Rwandan’s noses, from the very tip to the top of the brow. Why? To determine where individuals were on the evolutionary ladder. Scientists believed that the longer the distance from nose to brow the more likely the subject was of European ancestry. It is no wonder that when the tinderbox blew in 1994, the name the Hutu called the Tutsi to justify killing them was “cockroaches”—something the Hutus had been made to feel like while under colonial domination. So in the mind of the Hutu butchering a Tutsi to death with a machete was equivalent to exterminating bugs. Thank-you Mr. Darwin.

Whether it is Hitler’s extermination of six million Jews, the Cambodian genocide under Pol Pot, in which 1.7 million people lost their lives, or the Bosnian genocide, in every case, a godless, secularist view of man lay at the bottom, according to which people are viewed as less than human. The irony is that today the vast majority of groups at work to ensure equality and human rights around the world reject James’ description of humankind—that each one of us are created in God’s image and are thus to be treated with dignity.

Now that we have a clue to “how” the genocide happened, let’s now ask a further question. What is the answer to man’s inhumanity to man?

While in Rwanda, I had the opportunity to visit The Kigali Memorial Centre. It is Rwanda’s national genocide museum. Toward the end of the multimedia tour and its grizzly pictures and heart-wrenching videos of survivors, the Centre offers what it thinks is the way forward so that such a tragedy will not happen again. The solution it offers is education. As I left the building I entered the large burial ground where the remains of a quarter million dead are buried. As I walked, I thought “education”? 

Now do you think that Hitler was uneducated? Was Pol Pot uneducated?  In fact, education was the start of the whole problem. A godless view of man was taught to the people who were then subjugated accordingly, which then, over the course of years, led to the blowing of the powder keg. In fact, after years of education, even though Rwanda is a quiet country now, the problem of tribalism still runs very deep.  For example, Hutu and Tutsi eat together, attend the same church, and schools. But even today if a Hutu man announces his intent to marry a Tutsi girl that young man can die.  

Possibly religion is the answer. On that same day I visited the Centre, I also stopped in to see the Hotel des Mille Collines, the site of the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” From there I traveled to a Roman Catholic Church where 10,000 Tutsi, including children, were viciously killed. The attending priest had assured the people of safety inside the church edifice, only to trick them by allowing Hutu murders to systematically kill all trapped inside.

Why would a Roman Catholic priest act in such a way?  It is because most of the educated priesthood within the Church of Rome had also accepted Darwin’s theory of man’s origin. In fact, years before the genocide, it was a Roman Catholic priest, Father Gitera, who looked to Social Darwinism to write “10 Commandments of the Bahutu.” That paper, steeped in Darwinian prejudice, became the precursor to the 1990 “Hutu 10 Commandments”, which was published by the Rwandan newspaper, Kangara. The first commandment of the 1990 version declared that any Hutu who even so much as befriends a Tutsi woman is a “traitor.”[2]

But the Roman priests added a religious twist to Darwin’s theory. They claimed that God used evolution to bring man into being. But this “religious” answer fails miserably. A Christian can try to explain the origins of man from a scientific-anthropological position using the theory of evolution. However, he will forever face the insurmountable task of explaining how a lower form of life evolved into the image of God, specifically, was able to take on God’s own characteristics. That chasm is just too far to cross. The only way life can bear God’s image is that God created it, whereby it reflects his likeness. 

If not education and religion, maybe politics is the answer. One thing I discovered while in Rwanda is that whereas Kenya and Uganda are English speaking, because of its history with Belgium, Rwanda is mainly French speaking. That affinity led to a working alliance between France and Rwanda. But since the genocide an effort has been underway, mainly through the schools, to shift the language from French to English. Why the change?

During the genocide a large group of Tutsi hid way up in the mountains hoping to escape Hutu killers. Once French troops arrived a commander assured the people they could come out of hiding. All was safe. So the people came down from the mountains only for the French military to retreat and allow the Hutu hiding in the bush to kill the lot. The French tricked the Tutsi because years before the genocide the Hutu had manipulated the French government into thinking that the Tutsi were planning to wrest Rwanda away from Flemish control. Since many within the French government had also acquiesced to Darwin’s theory, they too saw little problem with exterminating ill-fated “cockroaches.” Moral: if you’re looking for political solutions to today’s issues you’re looking in the wrong place. Politics can’t change people’s hearts.

If not education, religion, or politics, how then do we help to ensure that genocide will never happen again? It may very well happen again, but the only real hope the world has is found in Christ. According to James 3:7, “For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race.” James here recalls God’s dominion mandate to Adam (Gen. 1:26-28) over the non-rational creatures, a charge which he says the human race has accomplished. It ought to be quite clear from this that since we are God’s caretakers of the creation, including crawling creatures, no one is to be called a “cockroach.” But because of sin we don’t listen. Our hearts are hard.

So 3:15-16 records that the world follows a wisdom from below. It is earthly, natural, and demonic.  It leads to jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder and every evil thing. “Every evil thing” could be a moniker for the 100 days of genocide. More importantly, for those who scratch their heads wondering “why” or “how” the Rwandan genocide occurred, we can take from James the sobering point that without Christ commanding our hearts, all of us are capable of the same thing!

But by repenting of sin and trusting Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, James tells us in 3:17 that we have access to a wisdom from above that dramatically alters our view of people. Its traits are “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Put in the context of this discussion, with Christ as our wisdom, God empowers us to bless God, and also others, according to the dignity that is rightfully theirs as the image of God.

I hope to return to Rwanda someday. It is a beautiful place and the people of all tribes are so very special. Let us all pray for the continued peace of this land.

[1] Minstre des colones,Rapport del’administration belge duRwanda-Urundi, 1925, 34.Quoted in Aimable
Twagilimana, 44.


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