Friday, September 18, 2009

Mirror to the Church

Emmanuel Katongole is a Ugandan born of Rwandan immigrant parents. His father was a poor Tutsi who worked for a wealthy Hutu which is the opposite of the stereotypical images of Tutis as rich and Hutus as poor. He married a Christian Hutu and converted. Then they moved to Uganda. His father died when Emmanuel was 12 but he was raised in the evangelical faith of his parents. Later on he became a priest in Ugandan Catholic Church. For the past 6 years he has taught theology at Duke and co-directed the Duke Center of Reconciliation. In particular, he has been involved in the reconciliation movement in Rwanda. He believes what happened in Rwanda poses serious questions for the whole church. That's why he called his book Mirror to the Church. He tells the story of the Catholic Cardinal Roger Etchegaray who visited Rwanda on behalf of the pope in 1994. He asked the assembled church leaders if the blood of tribalism was deeper than the waters of baptism. One leader answered, "yes, it is." That is the challenge.

Emmanuel says he sees many American Christians who are eager to go to Africa to do mission work. They are coming to Africa to "save" it. He says they miss the point. Christian mission is not about delivering sermons or aid or services but it is about the transformation of identity. "We learn who we are as we walk together in the way of Jesus." Rwanda teaches that our mission is to be a new community that bears witness to the fact that in Christ there is a new identity. It is only by being such a unique people "from every tribe and nation and language (Rev. 5:9) that we can both name and resist the spells that want us to live as tribalized people.

Much has been asked of Rwanda. How could such a Christian nation be a place of such brutal killing, Christian against Christian? Emmanuel says Christianity made little difference in Rwanda. It was like an add-on. It did not radically affect people's natural identities. He says before we can start serving God we must experience a renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2). A new identity must be shaped within us. We are part of a new community. This did not happen in Rwanda and you can say that the western missionaries did not know enough or knew too much to make it happen. They simply accepted the racial categories that were put into place by the European colonizers.

Speaking prophetically to the Church in the West, Emmanuel says that the Biblical story has little consequence for the way we live our lives. When we ask why Christianity seemed to have little impact on the way Rwandans responded to the violence, we need to ask ourselves what difference Christianity makes in the way we live our lives, too. He finds many western Christians ready to blame Rwandan genocide on tribalism while taking for granted the tribal divisions (of race, or economics, or social status) right in our own churches. "Christianity without consequences is a problem Rwandans and Westerners both share."

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