This disjuncture between Protestantism’s more humbling counsel and the feel-good Word Faith gospel became most painfully evident during one of Osteen’s closing perorations. In chilling detail, he recounted the story of a young Tutsi Christian woman who’d hid out in the bathroom of her church pastor’s office at the height of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The machete-wielding Hutu killers who pursued her returned to the pastor’s office every day for 91 days, usually calling out for her by name. At one point, Osteen said, a Hutu militia man was poised to turn the knob on the door to the tiny bathroom where the woman was quartered alongside six other Tutsi believers — but at the last moment, he became distracted and walked away. Finally, when the genocide had been contained, the woman was free, and has been traveling with ministers ever since to testify to the amazing story of her survival. “Nearly 1 million Rwandans were killed in this genocide,” Osteen said as he wound up to the story’s larger moral. “It was very sad.”
Well, no. The Rwandan genocide was something far more than sad — it was a colossal failure of moral and political agency, going back to the German and Belgian colonial partition of the country that set up artificial power conflicts between the nation’s two main tribes. This horror also most certainly came about thanks to the wretched failures of the Clinton administration and other Western powers to arrest a well-documented string of massacres, even as senior U.N. officials such as Lt. Gen Romeo Dallaire, the leader of the agency’s Rwandan peacekeeping mission, implored them to.
For Osteen, of course, the story of this woman’s survival was a divine miracle. But if this one survivor was enjoying the loving favor of an omnipotent God, what are we to conclude that this same God thought of the more than 800,000 Rwandans murdered in the genocide? Was their faith wanting? Was God planning unparalleled new successes and joys for their surviving family members? Are these the people Osteen has in mind when he exhorts his listeners not to be victims, but victors?