Christians can be killers too

By Martin E. Marty
November 1, 2010

“Christians kill too” is the topic I wish to tackle as frightened and angry Americans keep raising the temperature of Islam-versus-Everyone-Else controversies.

In his new book Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda, Timothy Longman writes that in three months in 1994, more than one-tenth of the population of Rwanda was killed.

Longman notes, “Rwanda is an overwhelmingly Christian Country, with just under 90 per cent of the population in a 1991 census claiming membership in a Catholic, Protestant, or Seventh-Day Adventist Church.”

Killers from these churches engaged in ecumenical savagery, their mass-murdering sanctioned by the church and, as is well-known, often occurred in church sanctuaries turned slaughter houses.

“Muslims (1.2 percent of the population) are also said to have participated much less willingly in the genocide and in particular to have resisted killing fellow Muslims,” according to Longman.

Another book much discussed recently is Eliza Griswold’s The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line between Christianity and Islam. Ms Griswold spoke at the church where she was confirmed; her father was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US.

Hers is a ground-level report along the tenth parallel in Africa and Asia, an area in which half of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims and 60 per cent of the world’s two billion Christians live, die, hope, and kill. One can know those statistics, but it is hard to absorb them.

Griswold spent much time with Franklin Graham, who serves people in need and provocatively tries to convert Muslims in dangerous zones. His dismissal of Islam as a wicked and evil religion is well-reported on in the United States—and in Islamic spheres.

Abdullahi Abdullahi, a Muslim lawyer told Griswold of an outbreak of violence: “That was the day ethnicity disappeared entirely and the conflict became just about religion.” One suffering pastor, while citing the Bible, told her of the killing, “This is about religious intolerance; Our God is different than the Muslim God.”

At Yelwa in Nigeria Griswold visited killing fields where 660 Muslims were massacred in two days alone; 12 mosques were burned. Archbishop Peter Akinola, well known in the United States, at the time head of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, told her, “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naïve to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet. I’m not out to combat anybody. I am only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. . . Let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”

They don’t. Western encouragers of hatred against Muslims or, if Muslims, against Christians, play with fire - and death.

Disclaimers on all this: First, the Christian apologist in me relishes chances to report on Christian peace-making. Second, there is no interest here in 'equivalency' in reporting body-counts when reporting on, say, Africa: Who started each killing, and who killed most settles little. Third, there is no Western (or Christian) self-hate operating here. Finally, reporting on Christian-Muslim killing is not an advertisement for the claims of the Four Horsemen of the current Atheist Front, who argue that if we got rid of religion all would be well.

Following up on the fourth, I look at Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, a new giant of a book which reports on when, as the Economist puts it, “two totalitarian empires, Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, killed 14 million non-combatants, in peacetime and in war.”

The latter was officially atheist, and the former bizarrely disdainful of the faiths. Where did their abolition of religion get us?

Finally, the current Christian Century magazine includes an article by Eliza Griswold, 'On the Fault Line', which features Pastor James Wuye and Imam Nuryan Ashaffa, who are working with some success to find ways for people in Kaduna to coexist peacefully and creatively across the boundaries of their two faiths.


'History and Its Woes: How Stalin and Hitler Enabled Each Other's Crimes,' The Economist, 14 October 2010 -

Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010).

---. 'On the Fault Line, Christian Century, 2 November 2010.

Timothy Longman, ,em>Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010).


(c) Martin E. Marty The author is a leading US commentator on religion - and the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. His biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at

With grateful acknowledgements to Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Illinois, USA.

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