Christianity - Killing For Christ?

This essay under construction
This document originated from the City of Dis

The story is simply told:
...My captors stole everything from me... Those who captured me, in front of me, divided up my money, and later they led me into the hands of the torturers. In the long hours of torture, they asked me constantly about other pastors ... of some churches in the capital; they asked me also about my views on liberation theology and about the liberation of the people of Israel. The Torturers, tired of doing so much damage to me, rested for a while; then I recognised some of them: two are members of a singing duo from these churches [Verbo and Misión Elim]; I begged [them] to recognise me because I recognised them; then they asked me questions about my capture, my complete name, my address, my church and my activities. When they realised I was not the person they were looking for, they begged my forgiveness, saying "Brother, we are also Christians" [ref 1]
This is the account of pastor Clemente Díaz Aguilar, who was mistakenly detained and tortured in Guatemala during January 1983, by government forces. Aguilar was an evangelical pastor, and as such, considered friendly to the then Ríos Montt regime, but then mistakes will happen.

On March 23, 1982 a clique of young Guatemalan army officers mounted a coup d'etait that overthrew the then Guatemalan junta. The victors chose general Efraín Ríos Montt as their president. Montt had been corruptly denied the presidency in 1974, despite winning a clear election victory and this may have influenced his 1977 conversion to Protestant pentacostalism which was drawn to his attention by a missionary and aid organisation called "Gospel Outreach". Certainly becoming head of Gospel Outreach's Guatemalan Verbo Church cannot have entirely compensated for a lost presidency, but here was a second chance.

The first born-again president of Guatemala had entered office in a largely Roman Catholic country. With fitting zeal, Montt's first act was to suspend the constitution. [ref 2].

Ríos Montt dissolved the junta and pledged to root out corruption, dissolve the death squads, and end the guerrilla war. Unfortunately the new leader failed to follow through on his promises and conditions in Guatemala worsened. Ríos Montt's economic policies were not effective, and the political violence that he had promised to end was soon renewed with even greater intensity, forcing many peasants (mostly indigenous indians) to flee into Mexico and driving others into guerrilla camps. This only served to add fuel to the guerrilla war. A born-again protestant in a largely Roman Catholic country, Ríos Montt had trouble explaining his vision, though the army understood his message all too well:

    The Army does not waste its bullets on women and children. We were repeatedly told of women being raped before being killed, and of children being picked up by their feet and having their heads smashed against walls, chocked to death or killed with machetes and bayonets.[ref 3]
Others understood the mission of Ríos Montt as well, as this pastor of a Verbo church explained in December 1982:
    The Army doesn't massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon possessed; they are communists. We hold Brother Efraín Ríos Montt like King David of the Old Testament. He is the king of the New Testament. [ref 4]
Was brother Efraín Ríos Montt a "True Christian"? Many in the United States believed so, both during his term of office, and after he was deposed by General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores in August 1983. When President Reagan lifted the 1977 ban on military aid to Guatemala (imposed by President Jimmy Carter because of human rights abuses) on 8 January 1983, 350 U.S. evangelicals and born-agains set sail for Guatemala with over a million dollars worth of humanitarian aid. [ref 5] The "International Love Lift" had been heavily promoted on Pat Robertson's the "700 Club" and effectively condoned the virtual genocide of the indigenous indian population. In May 1982 Pat Robinson had told the New York Times [ref 6] that the Christian Broadcasting Network would pledge a billion dollars to their brother in the presidential palace: "International Love Lift" was the first step towards providing that support.

Earlier, in June 1982, Ríos Montt's aide and Gospel Outreach elder, Francisco Bianchi had visited the United States for a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to the Organsiation of American States (OAS), William Middendorf, the then presidential counselor Edwin Meese, Interior Secretary James Watt, and U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Fred Chapin. Also present were the influential Christian leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, along with Loren Cunningham, leader of Youth with a Mission.

Clearly the fundamentalist religious leaders of the United States approved of Montt, and would do everything in their not inconsiderable power to assist him. They believed Montt to be that rarest of things: a True Christian. Did Gospel Outreach know of the death and torture the Montt junta perpetrated? They would have had to be blind not to have known, and given the undeniable link between the Gospel Outreach Verbo Church and some of the members of the death and torture squads (noted by pastor Clemente Díaz Aguilar when he reported his mistaken abduction and torture). Perhaps they thought that you cannot make an omlette without breaking eggs, or usher in the Kingdom of Heaven without breaking a few heads.

Once Montt was deposed, the attitude didn't change. In March 1984, National Religious Broadcasters executive director Ben Armstrong organised a speaking tour for the former president. Montt as hailed as a missionary to the United States by Armstrong, and the tour included appearances on the "700 Club, " Jimmy Swaggarts programme, the Trinity Broadcasting Network amongst others.

Perhaps these gentlemen agreed with the Verbo pastor who saw indians as demons and didn't really care what happened to them; after all, demons are not human, so where's the harm?

  1. Sectas y religiosidad en America Latina, pub. Instituto Latinoamericano de Estudios Transnacionales, Casilla 16637, Correo 9, Santiago, Chile, Oct. 1984, pp.21-22.
  2. "You Heard it Right: The Dictator is an Evangelical Christian," Christianity Today, April 23, 1982, p.33
  3. "Garrison Guaremala" George Black, Milton Jamail and Stoltz Chinchilla. (London, 1984), p.144
  4. Sectas y religiosidad en America Latina, pub. Instituto Latinoamericano de Estudios Transnacionales, Casilla 16637, Correo 9, Santiago, Chile, Oct. 1984, p.23.
  5. "To Ríos Montt With Love Lift," Donna Eberwine, The Nation, Feb. 26, 1983
  6. New York Times, 20 May, 1982.