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Deadly Sectarianism 02/01/2008


Kenyans flee violent sectarianism.

"The mob struck in broad daylight Tuesday, setting fire to the church where hundreds of terrified people had taken refuge. Screams filled the air. Even children were burned alive."

Last month, USA Today described this scene in Kenya after rigged presidential elections ignited longstanding tribal hatred and violence. Once considered one of the most stable nations on the continent, Kenya has lately been the scene of horrific murder and mayhem reminiscent of last decade's slaughter in Rwanda. In that country, the warring parties were the Hutus and Tutsis. In Kenya, the strife exists mainly between the Luo and Kikuyu tribes.

Once again, the devilish mindset of sectarianism illustrates the deadly consequences of mankind finding identity in factions. Ireland showed us the ugliness of religious division. Germany demonstrated the dangers of extreme political ideology. India's caste system limited people along economic lines. The Middle East has repeatedly clashed over denominational lines between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Even America's history is tainted with racial hatred.

This underscores the importance of the Apostle Paul's words, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." As for those outside of Christianity, Jesus Christ himself said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies...."

Both understood the value of stripping away sectarianism. While stressing the value of identity in Christ (a value inherently higher than any human invention), they also made it clear that non-believers are not to be subjugated, scorned or devalued in any way. To the contrary, they are to be loved.

Clearly, the divisive worldly ways have failed. Sadly, even within the walls of the church these lessons have not always been heeded. Apparently, this is the case even in Kenya. According to the East Africa Standard, "The Kenya crisis has helped bring out the evil in the 'toga' clad individuals. It is now clear that religious leaders have taken sides; they are even more tribal than politicians..."

Any time people wear the robes of sectarianism, evil abounds. I have witnessed this firsthand at our LIFE Center in Gitarama, Rwanda, as the orphans told horrifying stories of survival after the genocide. Families were torn apart -- sometimes literally -- and communities destroyed. Neighbors killed each other. Police couldn't be trusted. The nation fell apart.

After establishing the orphanage, government officials kept a close eye on our operation. They realized that children from both tribes were living together, under the supervision of our mission partners, which included some native Rwandans and Ugandans of varying tribes. The government was concerned that the adopting parents would kill the children of opposing tribes. But what they discovered was that over time, the children refused to identify themselves as Hutus or Tutsi, but simply called each family.

The government eventually passed an ordinance eliminating the use of tribal identification and sought to unite all people as Rwandans. I believe that the love they witnessed at the LIFE Center helped transform their thinking, just as it did the children who found a new life there.

It is only through love, forgiveness and humility that sectarianism can be overcome. People must learn to care for those who are different or disadvantaged. Life must be valued in every instance. We must put the needs of others above our own.

The idealistic "American melting pot" strives toward this goal. While avoiding the extremes of nationalism, it attempts to erase former ties to achieve a respectful harmony. Our ancestors shed blood to eradicate slavery. We passed and enforced laws to eliminate prejudicial oppression. We frown upon those who would refuse to vote for a candidate based on their gender, race or religion. While imperfect, we have achieved a remarkable level of civility and peace in an unstable world.

The real secret, however, lies not in an American ideal, but in the truth upon which it is based: "...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

This truth must be protected, preserved and practiced. The alternative brings catastrophic consequences. Just look at Kenya.

Author: James Robison

Word Count: 704

About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, a Christian media ministry and mission relief organization. He and his wife, Betty, host of the television program Life Today; He has authored numerous books, including The Absolutes: Freedom's Only Hope and True Prosperity. Media Contact: Randy Robison, editor at

Photo available upon request. Reprint rights granted with attribution for complete, unedited article. Revisions allowed only with approval.