Bill Long 4/7/05
The violence in Rwanda following the 1994 downing of (Hutu) President Habayarima's plane is now a distant memory for most Americans. It happened during the first Clinton administration. America had gotten its hands burned in Somalia in 1992 and 1993, and the inexperienced President was not about to commit US troops to another African venture any time soon. Besides, the Belgians had historically colonized the region--with the neighboring Congo being their crown jewel. If anyone was to come to the "rescue" of the Rwandan people, it would be the UN or the Belgians or, perhaps, the French. Finally, the US was consumed with several domestic issues of huge importance. President Clinton's heath care proposals were on the table and receiving tons of attention in 1994; gays in the military, rather than the military in small African nations, was the widely debated issue.
Thus, Rwanda wasn't even a hot button issue in 1994. War crimes tibunals and life sentences to those tagged with responsibility for the slaughter of 1,000,000 Tutsi has still not brought Rwanda into our consciousness. Thus we can be grateful that this Dec. 2004-released movie presents in unforgettable images some of the cruely, arbitrariness and senseless killings that racked that small land a little more than a decade ago. In the film Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a heroic hotel manager in Kigali, shelters more than 1000 Tutsi and Hutu refugees from the senseless killing following the assassination of (Hutu) President Habayarima until they are moved under UN protection to a refugee camp behind the battle lines and then dispersed to African and European countries. He is alternatively charming and insightful, using his remarkable skills and insights into human nature to preserve the life of his family and many other people.
A Theological Comment
One of the biblical passages that has often posed the most difficulty for students of the Gospels is Jesus' parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16:1-9. The steward is about to be fired by his employer, a rich man. Knowing that being out of a job can occasion economic hardship, the shrewd steward went to his employer's debtors and asked them to pay off their debts at fifty or eighty cents on the dollar. By so doing he ingratiated himself with several other important people so that they might look on him favorably when he was finally terminated. The Scriptures call him the "dishonest manager" (Luke 16:8), yet Jesus praises him for his shrewdness. Then Jesus' unlikely exhortation follows:
"And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes" (Luke 16:9).
While many commentators and preachers have had difficulty with this statement of Jesus because it seems to commend dishonesty, I, after seeing Hotel Rwanda, need only say two words: Paul Rusesabagina. He is the one who, throughout the film, was always consorting with "the enemy." He befriended the UN commander, the Western journalists who came through, the general of the Hutu troops, the owners of the Mille des Collinas hotel back in Brussels. By alternatively shaming, encouraging, ingratiating himself and placing strategic bribes and even threatening people, he managed to save lives--his own, his family's and more than 1000 others. In the words of Jesus, he made friends for himself by means of dishonest wealth.
Understanding War/Understanding Jesus
The major reason why Western commentators have had trouble understanding these words of Jesus is that we write primarily from the perspective of peace and relative prosperity. We don't often have to face ethical dilemmas of paying off despised soldiers or having our loved ones' heads blown off. We haven't had to see roads littered with corpses and then show up for work to manage a staff of a hundred. In fact, as I was watching the intense and fast-paced dramatization of events at the Mille des Collines in Kigali in 1994, I was thinking that the notions of right and wrong, of private ethics, really could be telescoped into a few basic principles in the time of war: keep people alive, guard your family above all else, make sure that people who can do you favors are kept "watered." Paul Rusesabagina would instinctively have understood that faithful living involves these things. Use of "dishonest" wealth lay at the heart of what he stood for. Yet, as his wife, the long-suffering Sophie Okonedo, said, "Paul Rusesabagina, you are a good man." Few of us would disagree. We might be able to or want to review his conduct after the war is over, but in the rough and tumble of the overwhelming events, all there is is the instinct to survive and protect the people who are under your charge.
Thus, whenever I think or perhaps even write about the unjust steward from now on, I will not only not have any problems with his conduct, but I will immediately recall Hotel Rwanda, and think about the weary but determined face of Don Cheadle. Don, you have come a very long way since Boogie Nights.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long