Warren, Kagame, and Evangelicalism in Rwanda

The Orange County Register continues its series on Rick Warren, with a look at how the California evangelist fits into the political scene in Rwanda:

During the past year, Rwanda’s powerful president has embarked on an uncommon partnership with Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren and his global PEACE plan, an effort to link churches in networks of evangelism and practical good works.

…The former director of military intelligence for neighboring Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has brought stability to Rwanda but also an authoritarian style of governance that worries nongovernmental organizations and human-rights observers. By working so closely with Kagame, they say, Warren and his teams of PEACE missionaries may be unwittingly playing politics.

The report notes that the Catholic Church is still associated with the Hutu majority, and that it has chosen not to involve itself with Warren’s PEACE (=Plant churches, Equip servent leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick, and Education the next generation) plan:

“The Catholic Church still represents an alternative power base,” says a human-rights expert living in Rwanda, who requested anonymity citing a fear of government reprisal. “So by welcoming in the evangelical churches (Kagame is) simultaneously showing the West (his) openness to ideas and (he’s) weakening (his) opposition.”

Kagame rejects this interpretation, and Warren insists Kagame is a “great leader”, despite concerns over creeping authoritarianism and complaints from the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Warren was also impressed when Kagame introduced him to a member of Rwanda’s political opposition.

“He said, ‘I’m actually in the opposition, and I believe (Kagame) is a man of integrity, and I believe he wants what’s best for our country,'” Warren recalls.

I think there’s more than one way to draw inferences from that…

The report also features Antoine Rutayisire, who is vice-chairman of the Rwandan government’s Unity and Reconciliation Committee, and who, as an evangelist, holds “prayer breakfasts and Bible studies for Rwanda’s leaders”. Rutayisire says he wishes that Kagame were more authoritarian, in order to deal with the country’s chaotic past.

Rutayisire is affiliated with African Enterprise, an evangelical missionary organisation which claims to work for “reconciliation between the leaders of rival factions” across the continent. According to that organisation’s website, Rutayisire’s

…ministry is extensive because the Lord has opened up many opportunities, including speaking and ministering to Rwandan Parliamentarians and prisoners on a regular basis. He is a very articulate and sought after speaker. Antoine has been the keynote speaker at World Vision on Reconciliation and has spoken twice at the Annual International Reconciliation Conferences hosted by Reconciliation New Works of Our World.

One of Rutayisire’s prison visits is described here:

A Sunday service in Kigali Central Prison last December turned into a four-hour session of confession. About 1,000 people attended to pray and fast, African Enterprise said. After worship, prayer, and a short message “came a time of repentance that turned out to be longer than predicted” as men came forward all afternoon to confess their crimes, African Enterprise’s Antoine Rutayisire said.

…Men confessed to heinous crimes and expressed sorrow for the pain they caused. “I kept my eyes to the ground as I was afraid to look into the faces of those people confessing their murders, rapes, and looting,” Rutayisire said. “It was like a sacred, private moment when sinners were opening their hearts to their God. I felt as if I were listening to a conversation I shouldn’t be listening to.”

Astonished prison guards and officials watched in silence, he said. Guards summoned the prison director, his deputy, chief supervisor, and other officers to witness the event. “They came and stood first at the door, then tiptoed in as if not to disturb a sacred ceremony,” Rutayisire said.

…Rutayisire’s prison ministry is unique in Rwanda, African Enterprise’s John Beaver told Religion Today. Prisons are reluctant to let a speaker come in because it could cause disruptions. “Having large, powerful responses to the Lord’s work can be potentially upsetting in a prison,” he said. “But Antoine is blessed in this work. He has complete access to every prison. He can go places and do things that other organizations can’t.”

African Enterprise was founded in 1961 by a prominent South African evangelist, Michael Cassidy, who held multiracial Christian events during the apartheid era and who is seen as a reconciler (although he has a morbid horror of gay marriage). Cassidy has also involved himself with Rwanda, speaking at a prayer breakfast:

The Guest of Honor was His Excellency, the President, Paul Kagame. Dr. Michael Cassidy addressed this distinguished audience and spoke strongly about the necessity of national leadership that honors God. President Paul Kagame challenged the audience about how Christians should be different than everyone else. He also spoke about having purpose in our personal and corporate lives and he firmly stated that “God is good.” This incredible event was broadcasted on Rwanda National Radio.

Kagame also shared his religious thoughts at a religious rally in 2004:

The crowd grew each day with seven to ten thousand being present for the brief dedication on Sunday…The Governor addressed the assembly, praising the crusade efforts and…paving the way for the President of Rwanda, his Excellency Paul Kagame. The President congratulated the 1080 person who had come to saving faith in Christ Jesus and challenged them to continue in the faith that the message of reconciliation with God and fellow man would continue to produce fruit for the church and the nation. He exhorted all to continue the partnership of church and government in the development of the Rwandan people.

Pastor John Richardson was overwhelmed with the opportunity to participate: “The Gospel was preached. The Kingdom was advanced. To God be the Glory!”

The Orange County Register also notes that

In the reception area outside Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s offices – in the second of several reception areas patrolled by armed guards – a television entertains guests with an American drama about Jesus.

But what of the Kagame sceptics? I looked at some of the complaints against him in our first blog entry on Kagame and Warren, which can be seen here.

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)

6 Responses

  1. […] “Purpose-Driven Nation“. I explored Warren’s links with President Paul Kagame here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Rick Warren: “You Don’t Overcome Evil […]

  2. […] and his vision has been “beta-tested” (Time’s word) in Rwanda (as I blogged here and here) and Uganda (where Warren recently expressed his strong support for laws against homosexuality). […]

  3. I hope Rick Warren will also visit Paul Kagame the day he sets foot on dutch soil and put to trial in the Hague for the unmeasurable suffering the soldiers under his command have inflicted on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and hutu refugees in the Congo over the last decade.

  4. Ah yes, those poor, put-upon Hutu; who slaughtered almost a million Tutsi in less than 100 days in a REAL genocide… my heart just bleeds for them. /sarcasm

    Get real. There are much more worthy victims of oppression to be concerned about.

    A good rule of thumb would be not to act in a way where you earn retributive karma.

  5. CherchezlaFemme, 40 senior RPF officers have been convicted of conducting mass killings in the Congo. And you are saying that because the people were hutu that does not consitute a crime? That sounds like a racist remark to me.
    It is sad to see that Rick Warren is cooperating with a brutal dictator who is responsable for mass murder inside Rwanda and outside as well. It is time the world starts to open it’s eyes and deals with the RPF in a realist way.

  6. […] bestselling book The Purpose-Driven Life; concerns were raised at the end of 2006 that “Warren and his teams of PEACE missionaries may be unwittingly […]

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