When the church fell short of God’s glory

The Special Chamber of the High Court on Wednesday started hearing in substance a case in which Jean Bosco Uwinkindi, formerly a pastor in a Pentecostal church in Bugesera, is accused of Genocide crimes.
Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege. (File)
Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege. (File)

The Special Chamber of the High Court on Wednesday started hearing in substance a case in which Jean Bosco Uwinkindi, formerly a pastor in a Pentecostal church in Bugesera, is accused of Genocide crimes.

During the opening of the trial, prosecutor Bonaventure Ruberwa told the court that it was disappointing for the clergy to abuse the trust of the people they led, and instead offering protection, killed them.

The New Times spoke with some members and leaders of religious organisations that operated during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. The conclusion is that churches exhibited a general weakness and poor judgment when they allied themselves with Genocide ideology sponsored by the government of the day.

Indeed, when the Genocide raged on, many Hutu Christians fell short of the glory of God—especially as they failed to obey the sixth commandment of God; Thou Shalt Not Kill. Generally the very foundation of the Gospel, love, was ruptured as Christians turned against fellow Christians for no other reason other than ethnicity.

They were involved in a tragedy that killed over a million Tutsi in three months.

Witnessed account

Octave Rukundo, a Christian from ADEPR and formally a pastor, says he saw discrimination against the Tutsi in the church. Apparently, there was a systematic plan to exclude the Tutsi from leadership role in Pentecostal churches. 

“Prior to the Genocide, the country had 10 Pentecostal regional offices, but only one was led by a Tutsi,” he said.

Rukundo said that this was planned because scholarships to theological schools were never granted to the Tutsi, automatically rendering them unqualified for higher office.

“Even the few that could afford their own tuition could only be parish leaders”.

Rukundo said the national leadership could find reason any time to dismiss a Tutsi pastor.

Pastor Jean Sibomana, the legal representative of Pentecostal churches, confirmed the existence of such discrimination.

“This was promoted by the government that issued national identity cards which mentioned one’s ethnicity. Segregation also affected the church,” he said.

In as far as participating in the Genocide by some members of the Pentecostal churches was concerned, Sibomana says: “With a church in all corners of the country and totaling over a million followers, it is difficult for the church to know the conduct of every member during the Genocide”.

Keeping quiet better option

The Catholic Church has been on the spot for the alleged role by it leaders in the Genocide. Priests and nuns allegedly participated in planning and execution of the Genocide and some have been convicted of the crime.

But church leaders maintain that such crimes were individual. 

Ibuka, the umbrella body of associations of Genocide survivors agrees with that line of defence. However, the accusation seems to be rooted in the history of the church since the colonial era when church leaders hobnobbed with the powers that were.

“In some instances, the Catholic Church was forced to keep quiet in the face of political persecution for fear that any intervention could result in dire consequences for the community,” said Rev Fr Vincent Gasana, the Executive Secretary of Commission of Justice and Peace, a church-based initiative that promotes unity and reconciliation among Rwandans.

The late Archbishop Vincent Nsengiyumva’s membership in the Central Committee of the ruling party, the MRND that planned and executed the Genocide, portrayed the church as a partner in crime. The Church denies it.

“First of all, the Archbishop pulled out [of MRND] on the urging of the Pope John Paul II. He was in the party as a commissioner of education, a position given to him because of the major role the church played in the sector,” said Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, the president of the Episcopal Council.

The Pope who visited the county on September 2, 1990 was heard on May 15, 1994 expressing his disappointment that the country faced Genocide and Catholics were involved.

Conflict of interests

Alex Birindabagabo, Gahini Anglican Bishop, said that hatred against the Tutsi was evident in his church. In the 90s, he said he was the Bishop of Cyangugu, but during the Genocide, he preferred to give up his position. 

“I feared that Interahamwe could kill me in Nyungwe Forest,” he said.

In February this year the UK Anglican church suspended Bishop Jonathan Ruhumuliza, formerly the Bishop of Kigali for his alleged role in the Genocide. Ruhumuliza fled the country a few years after the Genocide.

Birindabagabo said that on the eve of the Genocide, his church faced segregation against Tutsi and Ruhumuliza was partly responsible.

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