Creating Class and Race

Radner ( A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church , 33-4) analyzes the Rwandan genocide to unmask the church’s role in the bloodshed. Far from heading off potential violence, the deliberate practices of missionaries often created the conditions for a future holocaust.

Catholic missionaries, for instance, adopted the method of targeting “young men of Batutsi families associated with the court,” exaggerating existing social divisions. Catholics and Protestants saw Rwanda as a battleground, and in their competition for converts and “indigenous Rwandan ruling forces, like the king, exploited Christian divisions in their own hopes for consolidating power.”

The missionaries did more than widen gaps. Some they created:

“Ethnic distinctions – which most historians agree now were fluid and completely integrated within a nonstatic set of social and regional arrangements and were still be contested in the nineteenth century – became the rigid tools of missionary engagement. Identity cards noting ethnicity were implemented by the Belgian administration in the 1930s, following the Church’s earlier distinctions, and these determined the focus of church resources in schooling and seminary training, in addition to regional evangelism.” Missionaries saw these distinctions in theological terms, “explicating their meaning in the framework of scriptural anthropologies of Hamitic migration (the Batutsi) and less divinely endowed African races (the Bahutu), dressed up with ersatz secular anthropological ‘science.’”

Younger missionaries revolted against these categories, taking the side of the Bahutu majority, but they added to the division by characterizing the Batutsi as the “Jews” of Rwanda – “ungrateful, avaricious, and conniving.”

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