Germany, South Africa and Rwanda: Three Manners for a Church to Confess its Guilt

Philippe Denis


The paper examines three historical situations where Christian churches confessed their guilt for their implication in episodes of extreme violence, whether by acts of omission or commission: post-Second World War Germany, post-apartheid South Africa and post-genocide Rwanda. In Germany and in South Africa several churches confessed their guilt rapidly and fairly comprehensively. In Rwanda only the Presbyterian Church did so. The other churches either abstained from making any statement or only acknowledged the crimes committed by some of their members. This paper argues that, for a large part, the political and military context explains the difference. In Germany the war was irremediably lost and in South Africa the apartheid government had accepted the necessity of a regime change. In Rwanda, by contrast, the government which had orchestrated the genocide had withdrawn to a neighbouring country and vowed to continue the fight. A second factor is the quality of the church leadership, strong in the first two cases, weak and divided in Rwanda except for the Presbyterian Church.


Stuttgart; Rustenburg; Detmold; Nazism; apartheid; genocide; guilt; confession

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