Rwanda and China

Michael Metzger

Up until 1994, Rwanda was hailed as a leading “Christian nation.” Proportionate to its population, it had more evangelistic crusades – and more recorded converts – than perhaps any other African nation.  Then, on April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Habyarimana and the Burundian President were killed when Habyarimana’s plane was shot down near Kigali Airport.  Hutu extremists were believed to be behind the attack.  The genocide began that night.  Over the next 100 days, at least 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were slaughtered at the hands of one another.  Recently, the first two convictions from the genocide were handed down.  An evangelical pastor and his son were convicted and sentenced for crimes of mass murder.

What went wrong?

In his best-seller Collapse, Jared Diamond probes the question of what caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can be learned from their fates.  (This is a companion to Diamond’s million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, where he examines how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world.)  Moving from the Polynesian cultures to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond’s Collapse traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe.  Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies (even though other societies found solutions and persisted).

Collapse should be of particular interest to evangelicals, because Diamond demonstrates how such factors as increasing population density, a primitive stone age agriculture, declining food production, an increasing number of men who owned no land, and massive deforestation all contributed to Rwanda’s collapse.  These developments evangelicals virtually ignored, focusing instead on conversions and church growth.  Which is why Brian McLaren writes: “If our theologies makes us focus only on the eternal and the individual (i.e., getting my soul into heaven) so that we avoid God’s concern for the historical and the global (i.e., God’s will being done on the earth as well as in heaven), then the more people we win over to our theologies, the fewer people will care about God’s world here and now.”

That’s a good lesson for evangelicals to learn – we should aim for conversions and cultural reform.  And it’s the reason The Clapham Institute was founded – to “help people and organizations advance faith-centered cultural reform.” Diamond points out that we face problems similar to Rwanda’s in China today. This is a region where the evangelical movement is booming. Perhaps we can apply the lesson of Rwanda there.


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