THE RWANDA MASSACRES
The unprecedented genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994, when members of the Hutu tribe slaughtered almost a million Tutsi people, remains current news within Adventism. At present, the International War Tribunal in Rwanda is pursuing the case against an alleged war criminal, former pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Hutu Adventist and a [Seventh-day Adventist] denominational leader at the time of the Rwandan massacres.
The tribunal is charging Ntakirutimana and his son Gerard, also a [Seventh-day Adventist] denominational employee at the time, with genocide and crimes against humanity. According to the charges, both of the men "participated in an attack on the men, women and children"4 that resulted in the massacre of between five thousand and ten thousand Tutsis - fellow believers and non-Adventists alike - who had sought sanctuary in the denominational compound at the Mugonero church and hospital complex.4
In March 2000, at the time of Ntakirutimana's extradition from the United States to the United Nations detention facility in Arusha, Northern Tanzania, another Rwanda murder caught the attention of international media. Assiel Kabera, an Adventist adviser to the former Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimunga, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
Kabera's father was one of the seven Tutsi ministers who had pleaded for the lives of their people in the moving letter submitted to pastor Ntakirutimana one day before the Mugonero Church massacre. According to well-informed sources, Kabera was shot because he spoke frankly and openly about the events in 1994.5
...The situations in the South Pacific, the Balkans, and Rwanda, plus a number of other situations in which many Adventists have become involved politically and racially make it increasingly uncomfortable for the Church to remain silent.
Furthermore, repeating the well-worn statement at each new crisis that the Church is not involved in politics, although technically correct, ignores the fact that issues that provoke regional and global national tensions are often not only political in nature, but can also involve ethics.
If, for example, a number of Adventists support an oppressive dictatorial regime, side with terrorists who pursue political or nationalistic agendas by holding hostages, or become involved with mobs that commit genocide against those of another national or tribal minority - including members of their own church - such circumstances should move the worldwide church to do something other than simply publish moralizing and doctrinal pamphlets about it's commitment to pacifism and peace. The Church has an obligation to voice its moral concern - even outrage when necessary - in a clear, unbiased, and fair way during times of political crisis, times when its own people might be confused about issues of nationalism and racism. The Church should not spare constituencies of its own that might be caught up in political turmoil.
...most discomforting was the lack of any official denominational response at the time of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Not until two years afterward was anything said. At that point, General Conference president Robert S. Folkenberg delivered a sermon in the Rwandan capital Kigali in which he addressed the issues of Christian's responsibility for forgiveness and reconciliation within the context of the Rwandan tragedy. "What makes this worse than all the others is that this is a nation in which 95 percent of the population claimed the name of Christ," he said. "Ninety-five percent . . . was not sufficient to stop the genocide."12
Indeed, the Church should have been more deliberate even before the indictment of pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutiama and Folkenberg's visit. Specifically, it should have asked a question that has probably haunted many Adventists outside Rwanda since 1994: What were at least 200,000 Hutu Adventists doing while their tribesmen massacred Tutsi civilians? Calls for forgiveness and reconciliation make sense only after an honest answer is provided. Otherwise it could appear that in the eyes of the Church the crimes committed by its own members are less atrocious than those committed by other people, or that calls to forgiveness and reconciliation should override the need for accountability among those who have committed atrocities.
4. The International Tribunal for Rwanda, Indictment of Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and Gerard Ntakirutimana, Case No: ICTR-96-19-1, Kigali, Rwanda, 7th September 1996
5. The author has made several contacts with people closely related to the events in Rwanda since 1994. They have provided him with valuable information, but have requested that their identities remain undisclosed for the time being. For additional information about the Rwanda massacres see Philip Gourevitch, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999).
12. "GC President Speaks Out About Rwanda Atrocities," Adventist Review, March 1996, 6.