In his book Mere Discipleship, Lee Camp tells us that at the time of the Rwandan genocide (1994), Rwanda was “‘the most Christian country in Africa,’ with as much as 90 percent of the population claiming some Christian church affiliation.” This is particularly shocking when you consider how that these Christian neighbors rose up against one another in a slaughter of genocide that left nearly a million dead men, women, and children.
I was a young man in my mid-twenties at the time. I recall the reports on the nightly news, and how I felt a vague tug on my conscience but was not actually moved to do anything except go on eating my dinner. In fact, I do not recall even praying for those people. They were just so far away, so different, so black, so African… that I barely cared enough to have a brief feeling for them.
The older I get, the more I care – and the more those events concern me. Camp’s observation alarms me. How could Christians do this to Christians? In fact, is it right to even call them “Christians” if this is how they behave? And for that matter, was I behaving Christ-like as I watched the atrocity unfold on the nightly news and then moved on to dinner unaffected?
Last night I had occasion to watch the movie Hotel Rwanda. It is, of course, an artistic representation of historical events complete with artistic license. But my college kid happened to be at home last night when it came on, and quickly the movie introduced him to this chapter from history. That is no bad thing. And in fact, in recent months, I discovered another movie about the Rwandan genocide called Beyond the Gates, which has another title too: Shooting Dogs. These are not enjoyable movies. You won’t want to eat popcorn and laugh, but they can familiarize you and/or your kids with this bit of recent history.
A couple of movie lines stand out for me today. I consider how my street friends go so easily ignored by my “Christian” brothers and sisters when they are in dire need. I wonder, Why? And then this line suddenly speaks from Rwanda to me:
Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.
Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?
Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
Jack: I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.
Jack: What the hell do I know?
I cannot help but compare my efforts to highlight the struggle of the homeless amid my Church friends. I watch their foreheads crinkle as they scratch their chins, say some wise remarks, and then go on with life – perhaps driving right past a bum on the way home.
How do you get through? How do you expose the apathy in a way that convicts the people of God to act like the (pierced) hands and feet of Jesus and take matter(s) seriously? According to Paul Rusesabagina, you get personal. Very personal. And then you SHAME them. Look at this line:
Paul Rusesabagina: There will be no rescue, no intervention for us. We can only save ourselves. Many of you know influential people abroad, you must call these people. You must tell them what will happen to us… say goodbye. But when you say goodbye, say it as if you are reaching through the phone and holding their hand. Let them know that if they let go of that hand, you will die. We must shame them into sending help.
Fat Beggars School of Prophets has been trying to get personal with you. Only we know you will drive by us as we die. So we have tried to tell you that the God you worship identifies himself with those dying in the streets of your town (See Matt. 25:31-46). In fact, if you drive past this Jesus dying in the streets of your town, you may as well drive past that Jesus you reflect upon at communion who is publically portrayed as crucified before your stupid eyes (Gal. 3:1). Shame on you!
Yeah, if Rwandan “Christians” can be so easily lured into killing each other, then American “Christians” ignoring and abandoning each other is not so far fetched. And anyway, ignoring Jesus, the very personal Jesus, is at the root of both problems.