Progressive churches world-over are never silent when governments commit crimes and immoral acts against citizens. Often though, conservative churches fail to speak out against immoral and violent acts by governments. Even worse, some churches defend the wrong side of the moral issue. In such cases, the church becomes complicit in injustice, as happened in some South African churches who supported aparheid.
In South Africa, the single most known religious activist is Desmond Mpilo Tutu, the retired Anglican bishop. Tutu rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as a formidable opponent of the cruel and racist apartheid system that discriminated against Africans. Bishop Tutu famously organised peaceful marches which often brought thousands upon thousands of people onto the streets against the racist apartheid regime.
Tutu did not end his activism after the fall of apartheid system. Even after his retirement, Tutu remains a global activist on issues pertaining to democracy, freedom and human rights. He is also one of the toughest critics of the South Africa’s black political élite, because of its failure to alleviate poverty two decades after the collapse of the apartheid regime.
Rwanda is very religious nation in which 56.9% of population are said to be Roman Catholic; 26% is Protestant; 11.1% is Seventh-day Adventist; 4.6% is Muslim; 1.7% with no religious affiliation; and 0.1% practices traditional indigenous beliefs. These numbers show why the church is a force to reckon with in Rwanda.
So where is Rwanda’s Bishop Tutu? Where are religious activists condemning dictatorship in our homeland? Even outside Rwanda, our church-going brothers and sisters are largely silent.
Rwandan churches have a long history of playing wrong politics. The Catholic Church in particular has almost always played ethnic politics. The church favored the Tutsi during the colonial period, then switching allegiance to the Hutu after 1959. Church leaders were to develop even closer ties with political leaders, especially in the Juvenal Habyarimana dictatorship.
In the Kagame regime from 1994 onwards, the church seems to have become intimidated into silence like the rest of Rwandan society. Like other Rwandans, church leadership is resigned to a fear-driven life in which thoughts, decisions and actions are predominantly motivated by fear of what harm the current dictatorship can do.
We call upon Rwandan religious leaders to gather courage and lead the nonpartisan way of social activism. We need our own Bishop Tutu who can galvanize thousands of people to say no dictatorship in Rwanda. While the Rwandan clergy inside Rwanda have reason to fear, but what about those living outside Rwanda? The Rwandan clergy in Europe, North America and elsewhere should surely rise up, like Jesus, and fight the injustice in our country. Rwanda clergy no doubt know more than I do, verses from the Holy Bible about fear in relation to God, Jesus Christ, and the Christian faith, including:
• Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
• Psalm 27:1 – “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?”
• Psalm 118:6 – “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
• Timothy 1:7 – “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
So compatriot religious leaders and activists, come forward and lead us out of darkness.