April 13th, 2014
07:25 AM ET

Forgiving the unforgivable in Rwanda

By Tim Townsend, special to CNN

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(CNN) - When the killing began in earnest, Steven Gahigi fled his home in the Bugesera district of Rwanda to neighboring Burundi.

By the time he returned the next year, 52 members of his family were dead. Most of them, including his sister, were slaughtered in the first week of the 20th century’s final genocide.

This week, Rwanda began commemorating the 20 years that have passed since the mass murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, which continued for 100 days and left at least 800,000 dead.

Gathering in a packed soccer stadium in Kigali, Rwandans re-enacted the horrific events of 1994. President Paul Kagame said his country had “a reason to celebrate the normal moments of life, that are easy for others to take for granted."

When Gahigi returned to Rwanda after the genocide, he had nothing: no family, no home. Eventually, he moved past his anger and entered a Christian seminary.

In 1999, he began visiting Rilima Prison in Bugesera, the new home to thousands of the génocidaires, the men who wielded the machetes. In Rilima he met the band of 15 who killed his sister.

At first, the prisoners thought he had been sent by the government – a spy in a clerical collar – to investigate their crimes. Even when they were satisfied that Gahigi wasn’t a spy, they were skeptical of his motives. Why would this man come to their prison to preach when he knew what they had done?

But one of Gahigi’s messages resonated: It was possible for perpetrators to be forgiven. More génocidaires began attending his teachings, including the band of 15. He became their pastor.

While researching a book about prison chaplains a few years ago, I visited Kigali and spoke to pastors like Gahigi.

According to the Rev. Deogratias Gashagaza, executive director of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, there are 36,000 genocide perpetrators still serving time in one of Rwanda’s 13 prisons. That’s down from a high of 130,000 in 1998, according to Human Rights Watch.

Fifteen of Prison Fellowship Rwanda’s 35 chaplain volunteers had family members murdered during the genocide.

When Gahigi returned after the genocide, he met Bishop John Rucyahana, a former Anglican bishop and current president of the country’s National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 1999 with the goal of “reconstructing the Rwandan identity.”

“I knew that to really minister to Rwanda's needs meant working toward reconciliation in the prisons, in the churches, and in the cities and villages throughout the country,” Rucyahana wrote in his book, “The Bishop of Rwanda.”

“It meant feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the young, but it also meant healing the wounded and forgiving the unforgivable.”

Rwanda is overwhelmingly Christian: 50% Catholic and about 44% Protestant and other Christian traditions. The tensions that led to the genocide were between ethnic groups, with the majority Hutu largely acting against the minority Tutsi.

Scholars have since written that Christian leaders aided in the genocide by giving moral support to the perpetrators’ cause.

Forgiveness on the scale suggested by Rucyahana was difficult for Gahigi, even after he graduated from seminary.

“My people died innocently,” he would tell himself. “Why should I have to go and help the people who killed them?”

Eventually Gahigi came to see his own survival as a calling. Instructions came, he said, in his sleep.

He had a dream about a mob beating Jesus as he hung on the cross. A voice told Gahigi, “Those people beating Jesus are the ones Jesus helped. They killed your countrymen and your family, but you can help them.”

When he woke up, he was crying.

“I cried all night, but when the crying stopped, I felt light and love,” Gahigi said.

He believed then that he had the power to forgive and to help others forgive. He began preaching reconciliation, and he sought out the prisoners who killed his family.

“That was Jesus’ mission,” Gahigi told me. “To forgive the sins of all men.”

The wrong question

One of the most horrifying of Rwanda’s genocide memorial sites is in a small, red brick church building outside Kigali in the Bugesera district.

Twenty years ago this Tuesday, Hutu government-backed Interahamwe paramilitary troops arrived at a Catholic church in Ntarama and slaughtered more than 5,000 people who had barricaded themselves inside.

The annihilation of the Tutsi had been underway for more than a week.

For 10 years after the genocide, the victims’ bodies lay where they had fallen inside the church. Visitors to the Ntarama memorial had to jump from pew to pew to avoid the dead.

In 2011, I visited Ntarama with then-U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Stuart Symington, and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp.

Our guide told us that those who were murdered had come to the church because they believed they would be safe.

“Most Christians didn’t understand at the time that they could be killed in a church,” he said.

Eventually, their bones were moved to a large rack at the back of the church. There were shelves for hundreds of skulls, and others for hundreds of femurs. Shoes were stacked by the altar.

Clothing hung from the building’s rafters and along its walls. Rags orange from years of Rwandan dust lined the floors between pews where they once clothed bodies.

A famous quote that has come to sum up Rwanda’s two-decade effort at reconciliation was printed on a purple and white banner and strung across the sanctuary: “If you knew me and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.”

Outside the church, near a giant hole in one wall where the perpetrators broke through, chickens pecked the red ground.

Both Symington and Rapp had been to Ntarama before. Prior to his appointment to lead the State Department’s war crimes office in 2009, Rapp was a prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

He leaned down to wipe dirt from the blade of a machete, like the bones inside, left where it landed 20 years ago.

As our group continued on ahead of us, I asked Rapp what massacre sites like Ntarama meant to him, as someone who had worked for years to bring justice to the dead.

We were standing outside a church, after all. Where was God when this massacre was taking place?

“In my mind’s eye, I picture the bricks giving way and the people inside just waiting to die and I imagine the screams,” Rapp said. “But I never heard, in any of the recounting of what happened here, about people begging not to die.”

He paused, still moving dirt with his shoe.

“Asking where God was in all this is the wrong question,” he continued. “The right question is, ‘Where was man?’”

The Nazis' chaplains 

At the time of my visit to Rwanda, much of the prison chaplains’ work was funded by Norwegian Church Aid, which has its roots in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

In October 1945, as the world was confronting evidence of another genocide, Norway’s churches organized a way to share food aid coming into former Allied countries – France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece – with the destitute German people.

One month later, in Nuremberg, the Allies shared something else with Germans.

The U.S. Army assigned two of its own chaplains to minister to Hitler’s lieutenants, then on trial in the destroyed city’s Palace of Justice.

The Rev. Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran minister from St. Louis, and the Rev. Sixtus O’Connor, a Catholic priest from upstate New York, were asked to kneel down with the architects of the Holocaust and minister to them as they answered to the world for crimes against humanity.

Among them were Hermann Goering, Hans Frank, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Rudolf Hess: 21 Nazis in all.

Both American chaplains served during the war, and each had seen the Germans' crimes up close in the months since VE Day.

Gerecke had been to Dachau several times while stationed with the 98th General Hospital in Munich over the summer of 1945.

O’Connor had helped liberate Austria’s Mauthausen concentration camp in May 1945 as a chaplain with the 11th Armored Division. He conducted nearly 3,000 burial services in three weeks there.

That these two chaplains then spent a year in the Nuremberg prison, hoping to bring Nazis back to the Christian faith before they were executed, repulsed many Americans.

The concept of forgiveness in Christianity and Judaism is very different, but in both traditions the act of returning the wrongdoer to the good is central.

In Judaism that return requires the repentance of the wrongdoer and the participation – the forgiveness – of the person who was wronged.

Justice, as Princeton University scholar Leora Batnitzky has said, may be the supreme Jewish virtue. If the wrong committed was murder, forgiveness is impossible – from the murdered, but also from God.

Christian tradition says forgiveness precedes repentance.

Christians believe God has already forgiven them, atoned for their sins in the crucifixion of Jesus. But that concept must be strained by genocide.

Could Christians really believe that their God died to forgive those who conceived of a place like Mauthausen, where 100,000 people were tortured and murdered between 1939 and 1945?

Or like another church near Kigali, in Nyamata, where nearly 11,000 people barricaded themselves before the Interahamwe penetrated the walls, and where spattered blood still streaks the altar cloth.

How could Gerecke forgive Goering, who put Hitler’s “final solution” into place?

How could Gahigi forgive the 15 men who killed his sister using what he called “farming equipment”?

The answer is that these chaplains weren’t personally forgiving evil, but attempting a transformation. The evil deed isn’t forgiven. But, these chaplains believed, an evildoer can be returned from darkness to the good of his own light.

'Kill him after'

The chaplains of Prison Fellowship Rwanda have been attempting that transformation for nearly 20 years.

Like Gahigi, Gashagaza was out of the country during the genocide. When he returned home, his community was gone: 25 family members murdered.

His sister, her husband and their seven children had been killed. Like Gahigi, he was confused and angry.

“I was thinking, ‘Why?’” he said. “’Why did people die like animals? How and why?’”

A year later, Gashagaza was one of the first pastors to go into a Rwandan prison, this one in Butare in southern Rwanda near the Burundi border, and filled with 15,000 génocidaires. He was convinced God would protect him.

“So, I entered the prison, and the prisoners said, ‘Oh! How a guy like this man is still alive? Why did he not die? Kill him now!’” Gashagaza recounted.

“One said, ‘Please, let him finish his preaching. Kill him after.’ Inside my heart, I have a quiet prayer: ‘God, you are the one who sent me here. Protect me. This is not easy.’”

Gashagaza said he thought of Jesus on the cross.

“He said, ‘I forgive those who betrayed me, those who killed me.’ I gave them this message, and I told them, ‘Even though you are perpetrators of genocide, God still loves you. He needs your heart. He needs your change.’”

The prison chaplains have also led an effort at reconciliation – a series of discussions between génocidaires and survivors on topics such as confession, forgiveness and repentance.

If it’s obvious what the perpetrators get out of such meetings, it’s more difficult to understand how a survivor would benefit. In the end, the answer is surprisingly simple.

“Sleep,” Gashagaza told me. “Experiencing forgiveness gives peace.”

Tim Townsend is the author of “Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis,” which was published last month.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Christianity • Crime • Death • Discrimination • Pastors • Prejudice • Rwanda • Violence

soundoff (206 Responses)
  1. idiotusmaximus

    Forgiving the unforgivable in Rwanda...................

    I never forgive deeds done in ignorance or religion since in this day and age there really is no excuse for either one of them.

    April 22, 2014 at 11:34 am |
  2. ssq41

    There is an exceptional book about forgiveness written by Simon Wiesenthal called "The Sunflower." It is about his experience of a dying Nazi soldier who called for him (randomly) in order to "ask forgiveness of a Jew" for a horrific event the soldier was involved in.

    At the end of the book are 53 commentaries by various people (some well known) who describe their own feelings about forgiveness and its application to Wiesenthal's story.

    The story and these contrasting commentaries are a window into how humans deal with forgiveness.

    April 14, 2014 at 9:51 pm |
  3. blessed137

    In this world, it is okay to be everything else but a follower of Christ. All other beliefs are acceptable just not ours. Anybodys testimony including the amazing act of forgiveness in this story is dismissed. Just like all throughout history there will always be those who will not believe. Good Night God Bless.

    April 14, 2014 at 6:38 pm |
  4. blessed137

    Jesus said apart from me you can do nothing. Not even forgive, so I can see how forgiveness of this magnitude is mind baffling to those who have never been forgiven. Jesus Christ died to take the punishment for out sins. All men can receive the gift of eternal life. When you realize what Christ has done for you it is very possible to forgive.

    April 14, 2014 at 9:03 am |
    • sam stone

      sin is a hoax

      you refuse to answer a direct question

      you get criticized and have a hissy fit

      April 14, 2014 at 9:08 am |
      • Dyslexic doG

        he's just being a good Christian. Like when the people on earth were being "bad" and the Christian god had a hissy fit and wiped out all living creatures on the earth.

        April 14, 2014 at 10:34 am |
        • kermit4jc

          ahh so you think God is no Judge then? you have a dim view of who God really is.....and you bring him down to human level as if that is all he is..a human..and nothing more..he is Judge..above humans..he has right to life...we do not

          April 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
        • sam stone

          "ahh so you think God is no Judge then?"


          "you have a dim view of who God really is"

          please inform us, kermy, who god really is

          "and you bring him down to human level as if that is all he is..a human..and nothing more"

          in a sense, "god" is more than humans, since god is mythology and that tends to outlive generations of humans

          "he is Judge..above humans."

          he is an empty proxy threat tossed about by the pseudo pious

          "he has right to life"

          this god will die when the last believe does, like every other god before

          April 16, 2014 at 8:39 pm |
    • igaftr

      You should have started with allegedly, since you have no idea if it is a real story of just made up.

      April 14, 2014 at 9:11 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Forgiveness is a central tenet of Buddhism.
      The Buddha taught "Even if thieves carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, if you make your mind hostile you are not following my teaching."

      April 14, 2014 at 9:20 am |
      • blessed137

        This is true he did have a teaching about forgivenss however that is just a teaching. He provides no power for the person to forgive. Buddha died and is still laying cold in his grave. Only Christ can give a person the power through the Holy Spirit to forgive because that is the nature of God. Even people who profess Christ who live apart from him, they dont pray, seek after God, meditate on his word, which is not just pages it is alive and active, and live their lives as if they dont know the Lord cant forgive.

        April 14, 2014 at 9:45 am |
        • blessed137

          Sadly some chirstians forget that they have been forgiven.

          April 14, 2014 at 9:52 am |
        • sam stone

          lots of claims there, blessed...

          April 14, 2014 at 10:01 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          The Buddha provides the power of forgiveness even more than Christ.
          In Christianity, Christ is the ultimate scapegoat, absolving man of personal responsibility for wrongdoing. He died for your sins, remember? Salvation in Christianity comes from the abandonment of self-responsibility and giving one's very essence over to the God who sacrificed Himself to Himself.
          Buddhism teaches self-awareness and thus self-responsibility above all else. Forgiveness in the Buddhist mindset is not the result of someone else's sacrifice, nor is it ever done because of fear of Divine retribution (unlike Christianity with it's doctrine of posthumous rewards and punishments).

          April 14, 2014 at 10:09 am |
        • blessed137

          Buddhism is about the self. Christ is about others. Yes if one has not been forgiven one cannot forgive. You cant give something you dont have.

          April 14, 2014 at 10:30 am |
        • Dyslexic doG

          cult speak.

          April 14, 2014 at 10:36 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Forgiveness, blame, guilt, responsibility etc. are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else.
          Concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ 'brotherhood' and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals.
          Therefore, we should be rational and realize that not everyone will share the same evaluations of good and evil. We must try to live perfectly in an imperfect world, aware that our efforts will be less than perfect while trying to remain undismayed by self knowledge of failure.
          To me, that concept is central to Christianity. Jesus taught that we are all imperfect and must struggle to better ourselves.
          In the end, the definition of Christian is to live your life in the image of Jesus Christ. Faith in miracles, divinity, resurrections, and other fantastical flourishes isn't required to live a life of pacifism, forgiveness, charity and humility.

          April 14, 2014 at 10:36 am |
        • blessed137

          The change of my heart was not a struggle. It was the power of God. He has put new desires love, forgiveness, that I didnt have to struggle for. I was on drugs it was not a struggle to quit. One day i just didnt want them anymore. When before I enjoyed doing them, didnot want to keep, but I knew it was not God's purpose for me and I had the desire to live for him.

          April 14, 2014 at 11:42 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          If you do not struggle with sin, you aren't human. Only Christ was free of inherent sinfulness.
          Salvation is not a sudden, irrevocable flip of the switch, nor is a state of grace necessarily permanent and immutable.

          I am also a recovering addict. I too reached a point when I realized I couldn't continue in that lifestyle – it was somewhere around the time when I attended the 12th funeral of a friend dead from overdose.
          I didn't kick my habits by admitting helplessness and handing my poor, wretched soul over to God – I did it through my own willpower – as did you, even if you don't recognize it.

          April 14, 2014 at 11:58 am |
        • igaftr

          "Buddhism is about the self. Christ is about others. "
          That is false. Buddha taught to do for others, and before criticising others, criticise yourself. About 90% of what your jesus allegedly said came from eastern philosophies, the main part from the Buddha.
          Most of what Buddha said was to help others, give to community, live in the now and help others where you are, right now.

          Just because you believe in jesus, doesn't mean you have to lie about The Buddha.
          Jesus is just as much about self as the Buddha, and the Buddha was just as much about others as Jesus allegedly was. Just Buddha was doing it 400 years BEFORE your Jesus character was written. The Buddha's philosophies ( and other eastern philosophies) came right down the silk road, and were written into your jesus character.

          April 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
        • blessed137

          I never said it was sudden but it did happen that way. I dont have to struggle, it is written cast all your cares on him because he cares for you. That does not mean that I dont have trials or weaknesses. As for buddhism he may have come before Christ on earth, but Christ said Before Abraham was I AM. God existed before the world was created. All of buddha morality stemmed from God's morality.

          April 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm |
        • blessed137

          Well not all. focusing on self takes focus of others. We are to trust in God in our self because we are corrupt

          April 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm |
        • sam stone

          "we are corrupt"

          speak for yourself, blessed.

          April 15, 2014 at 5:44 am |
    • myweightinwords

      And yet, I didn't understand forgiveness and true, unconditional love until I left Christianity behind.

      The "forgiveness" Christianity offers is incomplete. It is not whole. It can change lives, sure, I've seen it happen. But it teaches nothing.

      April 14, 2014 at 9:58 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Stories. Stories! All stories!

      Anything in your book written about what jesus did or said were written decades after the jesus character was said to have lived. There are only stories. We can barely prove that your jesus character existed. No-one has a clue about what was actually said or done.

      April 14, 2014 at 10:33 am |
    • zendraxus

      "Jesus Christ died to take the punishment for out sins."

      Really? so as long as im paid up at my chosen club – it ll be smooth sailing right on through those pearly gates....the people ive wronged...no matter how great the inconvenience or anguish ive caused them are inconsequential and just need to suck it up because im a card carrying member of the Jesus Club.

      "When you realize what Christ has done for you it is very possible to forgive."

      Yes, a human sacifice was nailed to a board, and now I owe the Church a monthly fee.

      You know....you can switch religions...throw a virgin in a volcano and buy some time too...and no monthly fee!!

      April 14, 2014 at 1:52 pm |
  5. blessed137

    They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other me, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Romans 1:25-27

    April 14, 2014 at 8:47 am |
    • midwest rail

      Irrelevant to the topic.

      April 14, 2014 at 8:52 am |
    • blessed137

      This was not meant to be a new post, meant to be posted below regarding LGBT being born that way.

      April 14, 2014 at 8:59 am |
      • midwest rail

        You can't possibly believe that "being gay is a choice" nonsense, can you ?

        April 14, 2014 at 9:02 am |
      • TruthPrevails1

        Using the LGBT thing amongst the other's I listed was to show you how the love you speak of is love with conditions applied to it. I know where you stand on it and I'm guessing without the use of your bible, you'd never find reason to think the way you do about these people.

        April 14, 2014 at 9:16 am |
    • igaftr

      "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie,"

      You have no idea if there are any gods, you certainly do not understand what the word truth means, so basically what you have said is the lie.

      April 14, 2014 at 9:06 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      This passage is not so much an explicit condemnation of ho/mose/xuality as it is a admonishment of apostasy.
      The group in question were self-professed Christians who joined renounced God and joined in a pagan or/gy.
      Do you think God would've been less angry if it had been a hetero or/gy?

      And if you take a moment to look past your presupposition that se/xual orientation is a choice, you might consider that for some, same gender attraction is what is natural and thus turning away from their natural relations would be an affront to the way God made them.

      April 14, 2014 at 9:15 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Your lack of reply seems to indicate that you're either stumped or just plain unwilling to entertain the above notion...

        April 14, 2014 at 2:13 pm |
  6. myweightinwords

    Forgiveness is a gift, but it is not something we can give away. It is a gift we give ourselves.

    Forgiving those who have harmed us allows us to let go of the pain, the anger, the fear and when we let go of the negative, we can embrace the positive again. We can move on without our lives being defined by the crime.

    April 14, 2014 at 8:25 am |
  7. blessed137

    Anyone who hates his brother or sister is a murder – 1 John 3:15 "brother" is not just someone your related to.

    April 14, 2014 at 8:09 am |
    • igaftr

      Hate is vastly different than murder. Your post is absurd.

      April 14, 2014 at 8:36 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Oh how sad...coming from the greatest group ever of divisiveness. If you're not Christian and don't worship the god, you're doomed for eternal punishment. If you're LGBT and don't repent for being born that way, you're doomed. If you're a woman who has an abortion, you're doomed.
      So with that love you speak of comes conditions. Not exactly the love I desire in this world.

      April 14, 2014 at 8:36 am |
    • blessed137

      I hate no one. Not even you all, even though you "backblow" and twist everything I say, take it out of context. Accuse me of not answering your questions because I see that you just want to argue. No response will be given to those that just want to argue and make foolish comments.

      April 14, 2014 at 8:51 am |
      • igaftr

        I have no idea what you mean by "backblow" but I took nothing out of context. You calimed hate is the same as murder, and that is absurd.

        April 14, 2014 at 8:59 am |
        • Akira

          I believe I can clear that up, igaftr.
          I wrote this to blessed yesterday:
          Your 10:01am post was designed to slander. If you get blowback from it, it is because you wrote it in such a way as to invite it.

          April 14, 2014 at 11:06 am |
        • Akira

          Unsure of why she twisted it into "backblow ", though.

          April 14, 2014 at 11:36 am |
      • sam stone

        the logical answer the question conflicts with your cherished belief system, so you cowardly refuse to answer it. go home and get your fvcking shinebox

        April 14, 2014 at 9:13 am |
        • blessed137

          Hello Sam Stone, if it gives you peace to your soul let me clarify. The question i thought you were referring to was about where do you stand on gays same rights as others. I posted above and said i stand on God's Word. The other question about free will, i also answered and told you your not a robot. I dont know how else to answer that question if you dont understand that there nothing more i can say. also i didnt answer your other question because you just wanted to argue.

          April 14, 2014 at 9:24 am |
        • ausphor

          sam stone
          Now that really sounds like Live4Him and the naughty list.

          April 14, 2014 at 9:25 am |
        • sam stone

          no, the question is how can the foreknowledge of my actions by an omnipotent being be consistent with freewill?

          saying that we are not robots avoids the question

          April 14, 2014 at 10:03 am |
        • sam stone

          blessed: you can claim that i am only here to argue, and it may seem that way. but, it is only because of the poor argumentative skills of the pseudo-pious set

          regarding free will, what we have is an illusion of free will, and our only realistic choice in any matter is that which agrees with god's foreknowledge

          understand that i am not necessarily denying free will, just asserting that free will and an omniscient god are logically incompatible.

          it reminds me of the henry ford quote about the model T.....

          April 14, 2014 at 10:19 am |
        • sam stone

          "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black. "

          god's foreknowledge leaves only one truly available choice, since god cannot be wrong

          April 14, 2014 at 10:23 am |
        • sam stone

          ausphor: very likely. either him/her or topher/gopher

          April 14, 2014 at 10:27 am |
        • blessed137

          Yes that true. but the choice is still yours, he just knows beforehand what you were going to choose. I dont no how else to explain it. im not trying to avoid you, i just dont want to argue. When you make statements like I expect you to dance around this it makes me think you just want to be argumenitive. Thats not my purpose.

          April 14, 2014 at 10:58 am |
        • igaftr

          " I posted above and said i stand on God's Word"
          No, you stand on what you BELIEVE is gods word, but you really don't know if it is gods word or satans word. Most likely , you are simply standing on MEN'S word, that claim to speak for god.

          April 14, 2014 at 11:06 am |
        • sam stone

          "Yes that true. but the choice is still yours, he just knows beforehand what you were going to choose."

          Nonsense. If god knows what I am going to choose before I choose it, free will is an illusion because there is only one choice I can ultimately make, and that is the one god knows beforehand

          April 14, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
        • sam stone

          funny thing, if you show True Believes (TM) like blessed137 the light of logic, they disperse like co-c-k-r–a-c-h-e-s

          April 14, 2014 at 6:23 pm |
        • blessed137

          Oh one last clarification before I go, what i meant by that is true was about my not lack of arguing skills, not explaining myself well. Not agreeing with your logic. But I do understand your perspective. good night.

          April 14, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
        • sam stone

          you do not agree with my logic? point out where it's faulty, if you can

          April 15, 2014 at 5:50 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      In the context of 1st John, "brother" (ἀδελφός in the original Greek) refers to fellow Christians.
      Of course, both the Tutsis and and Hutus are Christian groups, so the Biblical passage quoted is apropos – but that scripture still leaves one free to hate pagans, heathen, apostates and other assorted heretics.

      April 14, 2014 at 9:11 am |
      • blessed137

        John was writting to believers but also unbelievers were also living in the area. Alot of time when the disciples address the believers they also addressed nonbelivers. So regardless of whether your a christian or not it still applies to you.

        April 14, 2014 at 9:56 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          In that passage, the apostle is very clearly speaking to fellow Christians.
          The preceding verse says " We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians."
          "Brother" in verse 15 refers only to fellow Christians.
          This is typical of the Bible, most especially in the Old Testament when God's rules for how His Chosen People were to treat each other were drastically different than how they could treat outsiders.

          April 14, 2014 at 10:16 am |
        • blessed137

          Im not denying that it wasnt written directly to christians. im simply stating that it doesnt apply only to christians. Alot of times believers when share the gospel, they also share the commandment that we are to love our brothers and sisters.

          April 14, 2014 at 10:39 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          And I'm pointing out that when one employs proper hermeneutics (as so many of the Christian posters here admonish non-believer to do), the love does not extend to non-believers – only to fellow Christians.

          April 14, 2014 at 10:43 am |
        • blessed137

          Yes it does apply to nonbelievers. You may not be my brother/sister in christ but your still my brother/sister of humankind. I am to love you regardless of your faith. And you are to love humankind regardless of their faith.

          April 14, 2014 at 11:06 am |
    • blessed137

      Before one murders one hates. Murder, the unjust taking of another's life, is born of hatred. So regardless of whether you actually act on it, you wish that person dead. God is not just a judge of the deeds of man he is also a judge of the intents of the heart.

      April 14, 2014 at 9:19 am |
      • sam stone


        April 14, 2014 at 10:29 am |
      • Akira

        Regarding the OT, did God hate all of the people he murder in the flood?

        April 14, 2014 at 11:09 am |
        • blessed137

          Hate the sin not the sinner. He hates their evil behavior and he justly put them to death. And yes their children suffered for it but their parents turned away from him. People make choices that affect others. Just like peoples greed and selfishness put children to death everyday, they die of starvation. People could help them but they helpthemselves. Which is why I never accuse God of anything.

          April 14, 2014 at 11:49 am |
        • Akira

          If you can't answer the question, just say so. You were the one that said in order to murder, one has to hate.

          April 14, 2014 at 2:04 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          God wants you to be happy when you kill people!
          "O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."
          – Psalm 137

          So don't forget to smile when you slaughter children in God's name.

          April 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm |
  8. greekamericangirl

    Reblogged this on Greek American Girl and commented:
    Is this the true meaning of forgiveness or what? Very few Christians can claim to do what this man did in his heart . . . I am awed

    April 13, 2014 at 4:10 pm |
  9. anastopolis

    If forgiving is what this poor man needs to come to terms with something so horrific then so be it. That aside however I never really understood how the xtians reconcile forgiveness with the ideology of hell or their beloved apocalypse.

    April 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm |
    • Russ

      @ anastopolis:
      quite to the contrary, if there is no ultimate justice, what is there to forgive?

      April 13, 2014 at 6:30 pm |
      • sam stone

        ultimate justice is a hoax. it is a wished for thing, as are heaven and hell

        April 14, 2014 at 6:31 am |
        • Russ

          @ sam stone:
          so for you:
          1) forgiveness is just a foil? for what purpose?
          2) r.a.pe, pedophilia, racism & the like are all simply part of existence – potentially equally legitimate expressions of 'life'?

          at least you have the integrity of following your beliefs to their natural conclusions. but if – as you claim – the universe is not a just place, why the facade of pursuing justice at all? Nietzsche presses this point, but also notes most of his compatriots did not the stomach for it. do you regard the holocaust & Rwanda in the same way as you regard the miracle of birth: with indifference?

          April 14, 2014 at 11:18 am |
    • oreolu

      As Christians, we strive to forgive because we have been forgiven much; I don’t think anyone can give what they do not have.

      Hell has to do with insisting – one way or another – that one must have an existence without God.

      April 13, 2014 at 7:33 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers


        April 13, 2014 at 8:04 pm |
      • sam stone

        hell is mythology, a way for ancient man to conceptualize "ultimate justice", just as heaven is a hope for ultimate reward.

        April 14, 2014 at 6:35 am |
  10. sanjosemike

    As an atheist, it is impossible for me to imagine how anyone could "forgive" this kind of genocide.

    I think a reason to forgive is to do it as a choice, because hatred corrodes you from the inside out.

    I think it is possible to forgive, but when it comes to actively participating in the perps' lives, I think I draw the line there. I don't want any part of them.

    I don't believe in any form of afterlife, so there will obviously be no punishment for those who committed these acts of murder. They will just become a part of the ecosystem, just as I will.

    I'm sorry there is no justice. It would be nice if there were, but that's just the way things are. Just because we want it doesn't mean it will happen. We have to eventually give up our childhood.


    April 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm |
    • anniemee

      If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. Jeremiah 29:13

      I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. Proverbs 8:17

      Atheists assume that the absence of God in their life is proof He doesn't exist. But Christians know that the Presence of God in their life is proof that He does.

      April 13, 2014 at 3:44 pm |
      • Akira

        "Atheists assume..." is an assumption on your part.

        April 13, 2014 at 3:49 pm |
        • oreolu

          If you do not ASSUME, do you KNOW? Do you apply this principle for deriving “knowledge” to every facet of your life? How then are you able to make discoveries? Or perhaps all things are known to you?

          April 13, 2014 at 8:07 pm |
        • Akira

          You think assumptions and knowledge are the same thing?

          April 13, 2014 at 10:21 pm |
      • zendraxus

        And this is definitely not the answer.....Give yourself over to a pack of greedy, grasping clergy.

        We ve been trying out gods now for 40k years – your brand for 2k years and counting- now with no change in our condition.

        we need to do something different before we become an evolutionary dead end.

        April 13, 2014 at 3:50 pm |
        • anniemee

          There have always been those who take advantage of others in the name of religion. It's one of the easiest ways to get power and money. Doesn't mean they truly represent the religion they carry around as a label. Even Jesus said he would disown them on the day of Judgment.

          The pastor in this article is nothing like that. His story is awesome.

          April 13, 2014 at 9:04 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          " It's one of the easiest ways to get power and money."

          And why is that? Because people can claim to have knowledge they don't have and people give religious leaders unwarrented and undeserved, respect and authority based on their claims of "religious knowledge".

          April 13, 2014 at 10:58 pm |
      • MidwestKen

        Desperation breeds delusion?

        April 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
      • igaftr

        I am an atheist, and your assumption about me is baseless. You have no idea what I believe or why I do not.

        As far as christians, not one single believers knows any gods exist or not. NOt one. You may have had experiences you will claim were god, but since I know you have not excluded all other possibilities, your statement is false.

        April 13, 2014 at 3:58 pm |
        • anniemee

          That's exactly what I'm talking about. You show disrespect for the personal Testimony of others, and Jesus said that's the worst you can do. The Testimony is the only proof you're going to get. I've listened (respectfully, thoughtfully) to people tell how they got saved, and I'm always amazed by the spark of divine intervention and care that's in each personal story. People need to listen, because Jesus does make a difference. There's nothing delusional about it.

          April 13, 2014 at 9:13 pm |
        • sam stone

          anniemee: you confuse skepticism of personal testimony with disrespect. also, given that the earliest books of the new testament were written long after jesus was gone, how can you be sure WHAT jesus said?

          April 14, 2014 at 6:41 am |
        • igaftr

          For all you know, the stories in the bible were inspired by Satan, but the truth is you have NO evidence at all that excludes all other possibilities. To continue to say you know IS the very definition of delusion.

          Do you respect someone that beleives half the people are aliens bent on controlling the humans? Of course not. Your beliefs do not command respect, they are BASELESS...you claim testimony...that is worthless as you have no idea who wrote the alleged testimony. If you want respect, perhaps you should acknowledge you have no idea if your beliefs are true, and accept the fact that they probably are.

          April 14, 2014 at 8:28 am |
      • jeremyp13

        I think atheism has little to do with this here. There are both atheists and religious people that can forgive. And there are those from both that would feel that revenge is improper but justice is necessary.

        I think in reality, there are few that if they murder, have a mind capable of just turning around. Therefore, they have forfeited their right to be part of society and must serve as an example to others that might murder.

        But for those few that may be capable of turning around their lives, it is human, not religious or atheistic to give them a chance to improve.

        April 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm |
      • realbuckyball

        Your god exists nowhere except in your mind. You don't actually know any atheists do you ?
        Atheists assume nothing of the sort. Just like your god idea, your ideas about atheists are self delusion, and cooked up in your own mind, as you are either too lazy or too dumb to go out and get the real answers.

        April 13, 2014 at 11:51 pm |
        • Dyslexic doG

          well said RBB!

          April 14, 2014 at 10:39 am |
      • sam stone

        anniemee: you cofuse belief with knowledge

        April 14, 2014 at 6:36 am |
        • sam stone

          coNfuse, too

          April 14, 2014 at 6:37 am |
  11. MidwestKen

    Whether one is religious or not, this was a horrific event which hopefully will never happen again.


    April 13, 2014 at 3:20 pm |
    • lewcypher

      It will happen again. Humans love to kill......... anything and have been doing so since they could pick up a rock. Just look at some of the Taliban videos or the mass graves after the Balkan war. Justification is relative.

      April 13, 2014 at 3:28 pm |
    • MidwestKen

      I said hope, not expectation.

      April 13, 2014 at 3:31 pm |
  12. blessed137

    Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himselft up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:31-5:2

    April 13, 2014 at 3:05 pm |
    • igaftr

      Jesus freaks
      Out in the streets
      Handing tickets out for god

      Elton 19:71

      April 13, 2014 at 3:32 pm |
      • sam stone

        jesus was a good guy, he didn't need this $-h-1-t

        john prine JESUS, THE MISSING YEARS

        April 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm |
      • Akira

        Jesus just left Chicago
        And he's bound for Nee Orleans.
        Hey, hey.
        ~ZZ Top

        April 13, 2014 at 6:07 pm |
        • Akira

          New, not MP land...

          April 13, 2014 at 6:08 pm |
  13. lagergeld

    Oh, I remember this. This is the real genocide that was going on during the Clinton years that Bill completely ignored while attacking Serbia in the name of "stopping a genocide" that was never going on to begin with.

    Thank you for jogging my memory.

    April 13, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
    • tallulah131

      So you are ignoring the Serbian genocide because it doesn't suit your political beliefs. Typical.

      April 13, 2014 at 3:03 pm |
    • zendraxus

      Ghosts of Rwanda was a helpless watch.

      the same helplessness i feel when pondering this man's situation....i could in no way forgive as he is doing...

      how do you balance the scales in this world without becoming a monster yourself?

      The UN needs to become something like it was intended to be.....maybe it should become the government, perhaps there are just too many of us now to be the fractured, tribal mess we are today.

      April 13, 2014 at 3:28 pm |
      • Concert in an Egg

        "how do you balance the scales in this world without becoming a monster yourself? "

        This is Yin and Yang. Light and Dark. Good and Bad.

        April 13, 2014 at 4:10 pm |
    • lewcypher

      Clinton didn't ignore it, it was a U.N. mission without adequate guidelines or rules of engagement. Don't let your political bias get in the way of facts it just makes you look stupid and ignorant.

      April 13, 2014 at 3:31 pm |
    • Akira

      Gotta love the folks who can't cross the street without making it a polarizing political issue.

      April 13, 2014 at 3:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.