California megachurch pastor and author Rick Warren is facing criticism for his decision to invite Rwanda President Paul Kagame to speak at Saddleback Church about the transformation of the Central African nation since the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
Warren, who has been friends with Kagame for over 15 years and has traveled to Rwanda a number of times, interviewed the 61-year-old Kagame during a Sunday service in which he preached how to overcome trauma.
With April marking the 25th anniversary of the three-month span in which at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Rwandan security forces and Hutu extremists, Saddleback Church honored the victims during its April 13 and 14 services.
The services also celebrated Saddleback’s 14-year partnership with Rwandan churches that are using Saddleback’s missionary and reconciliation strategy, The PEACE Plan.
“The PEACE Plan started in Rwanda, was birthed in Rwanda at the invitation of the president, and it’s now all over the world,” Warren told the church on Sunday.
Kagame was asked to talk about how the nation has overcome the trauma of genocide to unite around the purpose of building a better future.
The Kagame government has stressed the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness within Rwandan communities as being keys to Rwanda’s future.
“If you look at our history, the country was divided, ideology and politics played out so that a section of our population was made to believe the other is not only different but they should hate each other,” Kagame, who took office in 2000, said. “We found a way of saying we are a family with different individuals but at the same time, we have a lot in common and a lot of common aspirations.”
Considering that neighbors killed neighbors during the genocide, Kagame said that his government didn’t expect all Rwandans to be able to put their hurt aside to forgive those who killed their family members.
However, there are many stories throughout Rwanda of neighbors forgiving their genocide perpetrators. In some cases, victims and perpetrators have worked together to rebuild their broken communities.
“Forgiveness may come out of realizing that first, we have to live [for] the future,” Kagame said. “We have to have a better life coming for us. How do we get there? You don’t forget that you have lost so much. You keep that in mind. But the people in Rwanda have found it possible to forgive so that they create a better future so that we can stop losing the little we are left with.”
Warren chimed in: “Are you hearing what he is saying? We don’t forgive for the other people’s sake. We forgive for our own sake because we don’t want to hold on to the pain. And second, we are going to need forgiveness ourselves. And third, we want a better future.”
Although much of Warren’s talk with Kagame was focused on the positives of Rwanda’s transformation in the last 25 years, critics are not happy with Warren’s decision to invite Kagame.
It was also not the first time that Kagame had been invited to Saddleback Church. Kagame spoke at the church in 2014 to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi.
Although the Kagame government has been praised as the driver of economic growththat has led many Rwandans out of poverty, Kagame has also been accused of being a dictator whose RPF-led government has done all it can to silence political dissent and maintain its stronghold on the Rwandan political system.
In 2017, Kagame was elected to a third term in office in 2017 after parliament enacted a constitutional amendment to allow Kagame to serve more than two terms. Thanks to changes enacted by parliament, it is possible for Kagame to remain in power until 2034.
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Source: Christian Post