Several very conservative Episcopal congregations in the U.S. complained about the U.S. church’s ordination of gays, and other policies they considered “too liberal.” So, in a huff, they pulled out of association with other U.S. Episcopalians, and obtained affiliation with the Anglican Church in Rwanda, whom they considered more acceptable.
All Souls Anglican Church had invited Paul Rusesabagina, whose life was featured in the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, to speak during Sunday morning services. The Wheaton, Illinois, church, a member of the Rwandan-led Anglican Mission in America, invited him as part of a fundraiser to build a school in Gashirabwoba, Rwanda.
On Thursday, however, Emmanuel Kolini, the Anglican archbishop of Rwanda, asked All Soul’s pastor J. Martin Johnson to rescind the invitation.
Rusesabagina has been at odds with the president of Rwanda. The archbishop feared that the event could create a strain in the relationship between the Anglican Church of Rwanda and the government.
“Truly I am horrified that we could have such a negative impact without meaning to,” Johnson told Christianity Today. “I had no idea this was a controversial issue.”
Rwandan president Paul Kagame has criticized the Oscar-nominated movie Hotel Rwanda for inaccurately portraying the country’s 1994 genocide.
Hotel Rwanda highlights Paul Rusesabagina’s role as a hotel manager who saved more than 1,200 Tutsi refugees. An estimated 800,000 people were massacred during 100 days of the genocide.
Kagame disputed Hotel Rwanda‘s portrayal of Rusesabagina as a hero. Kagame has said that Rusesabagina happened to be there and that he happened to survive because he was not in the category of those being hunted.
Rusesabagina criticized Kagame in his 2006 autobiography An Ordinary Man, saying that Kagame surrounds himself with corrupt businessmen.
“The same kind of impunity that festered after the 1959 revolution is happening again, only with a different race-based elite in power,” he wrote. “We have changed the dancers but the music remains the same.”
Sometimes, when we defend human rights, we defend the rights of people we don’t agree with, and maybe even people we think to be sinners (though of course, such judgments are not ours to make). Wishing to avoid standing up for the rights of homosexuals in America, this congregation and all others in the U.S. who have joined the flight to Rwanda’s archbishop, now stand stupefied to discover they’re endorsing corruption in Rwanda’s government, at least so far as they cannot celebrate one of the precious few heroes who stood against the Rwanda genocide.
Who did the due diligence work on this deal?
Since Rusesabagina had received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush, the All Souls pastor thought it would be a good way to attract attention for the school the church is trying to build.
“He was controversial or outspoken, but we have named him a hero in this country,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a bit tacky because of the film, thinking, ‘We’re going a bit Hollywood with this, but oh well, it’s for the good of the kingdom.'”
But after President Kagame found out Rusesabagina was supposed to speak to speak at a church overseen by archbishop of Rwanda, he contacted Kolini, who then told the church to cancel the event, Johnson said.
“The bigger reality for us is having to accept the whole concept of obedience, and that is a harder cultural pill to swallow than I realized,” he said. “I’m forced to encounter my own resistance and bias.”
Johnson, who was previously a priest in the Episcopal Church, has been under the Rwandan authority since 2004.
What else will U.S. churches be required to do to kowtow to their new Rwandan masters?
Tip of the old scrub brush to Jeffrey Weiss at the DallasNews Religion blog.