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No Greater Love—How My Family Survived the Genocide in Rwanda, a Book by Tharcisse Seminega

Even of his disciples Jesus said there were things they were not yet able to bear. What does that say about speaking to non-disciples?

Tharcisse Seminega takes this into account his book No Greater Love—How My Family Survived the Genocide in Rwanda. Proclaiming the superiority of one’s religion comes across as crass in “educated” parts of the world, and it is actually illegal in Russia—that is among the pretexts used to ban the Jehovah’s Witness organization. The local populace, not being able to get their heads around something so devious as banning a religion’s organization but not the religion itself, conducts itself as though the Witnesses themselves are banned. What sensible person would not?

So Brother Seminega has to self-pedal this part about “religious superiority,” a part that many would say is integral to giving a thorough witness. I don’t blame him for this—it is the only way he can reach his intended audience. Besides, whoever has spent several weeks in the hole, hidden at enormous risk by his spiritual brothers, while others of his tribe are being slaughtered wholesale on the outside, can do whatever he likes.

That he privately has given a thorough witness is clear from the Foreword, written by a fellow academic, John K. Roth, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Claremont McKenna College: “As a result, the book makes an appeal to folks like me who are not members of that particular community: Embrace and follow the ethical values embedded in the acts that saved the Seminegas. I am grateful for that invitation.” Yet, he does miss the point. He takes away from this book not that people should embrace the religion that stood fast in the face of genocide, but “the ethical value embedded in the acts that saved the Seminegas,” as though such a separation were possible. [Italics mine]

Brother Seminega prefers to let others say it, not he himself. He is content to include in an appendix: “Peace and conflict researcher Christian P. Scherrer states: ‘All the churches active in Rwanda, with the exception of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (of whom only a few survived), were involved at least ‘passively’ in the genocide.’ Genocide and Crisis in Central Africa: Conflict Roots, Mass Violence, and Regional War (London: Praeger, 2002), 113.” [Italics mine]

He doesn’t thereafter say, “You see? Our religion is superior!” even though anyone of moral sense can deduce it from the above passage. There are examples in his book, corroborated by international adjudicators, of clergymen purposefully luring Tutsi parishioners to their churches to be slaughtered by the thousands. A passage from his book, that of his wife who was not then a Witness, testifies from her spot of hiding:

The stifling conditions, lack of sleep, scanty food, and darkness had a numbing effect on our minds. But one thing I knew: I, my husband, and all five of my children were alive because our Jehovah’s Witness friends had repeatedly risked their lives to save us. Their faith was like a rock. They lived for peace. No one could force them to use weapons against their neighbors, even those of a different ethnicity. They would sooner die than harm others. They were Hutu, just like the machete-wielding murderers who spilled rivers of blood. It pained me to think of it, but I knew in my heart that the vast majority of Hutu killers claimed to be Christian. Most of them belonged to my Catholic church.

Okay? The Witness religion is superior. Yet Brother Seminega is writing to an audience loath to accept that idea. “If he will really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless he lays it between the lines,” so that is what he does. The greater sophisticated world wants to view the atrocity as though there are noble qualities distributed more or less at random among all religions, and in this case, it is but the luck of the draw that they fell to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is clear in how religionnews.com reviews the book. It does what it can to obscure the conclusion inescapable to anyone of common sense: of the superiority of a religion that alone enabled all members to withstand genocide. (Or maybe it is that I am myself influenced by how that source doesn’t appear to regard Witnesses as a religion, and how such is not necessarily disagreeable to the JW organization.)

It expounds on how “Witnesses had long been oppressed for refusing to take up weapons or participate in politics. Because of this apolitical teaching... ‘Hutu Witnesses were impervious to calls for patriotic Hutu to take part in mass killings’... Professor Seminega says that his family’s rescuers and other Witnesses followed Jesus’ “new commandment”—To love one another just as he loved them, even to the death.”

Note how “new commandment” is in quote marks, as though it is new to the reviewers themselves, or at least an unsophisticated and quaint notion that they know is not one that readers can be expected to quickly get their heads around.

Maybe the professor has something to teach us, is the tone of the review and the Foreword. It cannot hurt that he is a professor. What learned lesson does he, and maybe even the people he has sided with, have to teach us? In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses do try to teach them—every single day they try—and their attempts are rebuffed. To secure the integrity of the Witnesses, they have to side with the kingdom—and most of them don’t even know what it is. To secure the integrity of the Witnesses, they have to become “no part of the world” (John 17:16), and most of them are fully part of it.

Here, Brother Seminega’s academic connections come in handy, for he is able to trace the historical, political, and religious roots that ultimately triggered the Rwandan sudden slide into barbarism. He, the former Catholic seminarian, writes of the Catholic Church’s deep involvement in “the world,” and of how it abruptly switched sides in the late 20th century, from that of oppressor—the Church had historically been associated with the European colonizers, and as such promoted the “privileged” tribe of the Tutsi—to the oppressed, the “lesser” Hutu. If you embrace the world and its power plays, you eventually embrace its tactics, and the tactics in this case descended to genocide.

It doesn’t happen that often. During most times of normal stress, church teachings and even politics are enough to, after a fashion, ensure acceptable conduct among members. But during times of abnormal stress, they collapse completely.

Did no one of the greater Rwandan religious community other than Jehovah’s Witnesses act nobly? A small minority did, and this is detailed in the Appendix section. The end of Tharcisse Seminega’s narrative marks only the halfway point of the book. Numerous appendices follow, which start with the same tale told through the eyes of different participants, as though the author has taken a cue from construction of the four Gospels themselves. Thereafter, No Greater Love is the work of a meticulous historian, and he nails down each historical detail of a story and its aftermath that ought never suffer extinction.

The small minority of religious Hutu that did not participate in genocide is enough for a certain church revisionist to write that “church institutions cannot be blamed for the moral failure of individuals who abandoned Christian values.” However, scholar Timothy Longman cuts the Church no slack—the fact that some did it proved they all could have done it, is his position. This dovetails with some digging I did for ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ Perhaps 10% of church Christians refused to support Hitler during Nazi times. Is that good? Of course. But the fact remains that they had to defy their own church to do it, churches that invariably played ball with the dictator. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, the figure is close to 100%. How can anyone state that their religion is not superior, or that the organization that coordinates is not to be lauded?

The greater lesson for the religious scholars that Brother Seminega has is that they should become Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is a collection of core teachings often discussed (two have been cited here: identification with the kingdom and withdrawal from the politicized world) that serve to identify one and only one religion. There is no setting more poignant than 1990’s Rwanda or 1940’s Germany to highlight how vital those teachings are. This is why those “apostates” who vehemently oppose the Witnesses readily slide into hypocrisy. They ignore the vital core teachings—rarely when people leave the faith do I ever hear them referring to such things again—to rail about how the faith impeded their freedom of movement. They ignore the vital core teachings, preferring to put humans under the magnifying glass in a search for dirt. They dig through the diamonds in search of the turds and present revelation of the turds as their version of “good news.”

I like how at the 2019 annual meeting, Mark Sanderson examined Hebrews 2:15, of how “through [Jesus’] death [God] might bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil, and that he might set free all those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.” He then spoke of the Nuremberg trials, in which various Nazis who had committed unspeakable atrocities were asked the simple question, “How could you do those terrible things?” “What did they say?” he asked, and then related the answer they had given: “We had no choice. If we didn’t obey they would put us to death.” 

“Those people could be manipulated,” Sanderson said. “They could be controlled. They could be made to do the most wicked things because they were afraid.” It was true of the Hutu tribe as well. To not join in “the work” of slaughter was enough to be put to death oneself for being disloyal to the cause. Many consciences, religious and otherwise, were cast aside due to fear of death.

That’s manipulation. That’s control. That’s the consequence of—shall we say it?—not being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and benefiting from the program of spiritual food directed from their Governing Body. Reject it and settle for a genocide every so often when with winds blow just right—history affirms that such will happen.

Professor Roth welcomes No Greater Love, agreeing with the author that it is likely the first book by a Jehovah’s Witness writing of his own experience, the first book by someone who was there. It almost didn’t come about. From the Acknowledgments section, Brother Seminega thanks Alexandre Kimenyi, the scholar who invited him to speak and subsequently encouraged him to gather his records for history.

I wrote in Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia that “books about Jehovah’s Witnesses authored by Jehovah’s Witnesses are not plentiful. This is a shame, for no outsider, even with the best of intentions, can do justice to the faith as can an insider - they miss the nuances, and in some cases, even the facts. Jehovah’s Witnesses are primarily drawn from the ranks of working people, who are not inclined to write books... Why write a book when you can and do look people in the eye and tell them what you have to say?” Professor Seminega is from a class that is inclined to write books, yet he still doesn’t do it until much later, after outside encouragement, because he is used to “looking people in the eye and telling them what he has to say.”

In time, a Russian Jehovah’s Witness will write a book of his experiences at the hands of current persecutors there, and when that happens, his book will rightly vault ahead of mine. Mine is merely a compilation and analysis of worldwide news reports, along with a considerable amount of witnessing along the way, but not so much as to negate its historical value. When that Russian Witness writer appears, he or she will be likely facilitated by the Arnold Liebster Foundation, as has been the case with No Greater Love. This, too, will vault it ahead of mine, because the Foundation at present regards me with a dubious eye. Probably they came across me when I was battling online with the malcontents and said, “What Witness would do that?” They do not know that I subsequently kicked them all to the curb.

No matter. At the Kingdom Hall, we would straighten it out in two minutes. But the internet is the land of the liars where frauds roam at will, and it can be difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Of course, it is always possible that they regard even taking on the controversial topics that I do as the work of an “indiscreet brother,” and should this be the case, who am I to say that they are not right? Maybe I am the soldier singing atop the Jerusalem wall after Hezekiah has told the troops to zip it.

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

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