Rios Montt Is a Born Again Christian! A Prominent ‘Christianist’ Cleric Supported His Genocide. Should He Be Droned Next?

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In all the analysis of the Rios Montt trial and conviction for genocide, it is rarely even mentioned that the General was a born again Christian. He was directly and vocally supported not only by Ronald Reagan and Elliot Abrams, but by prominent clerics like Pat Robertson.

Robertson’s support of Montt was not casual. Nor was it ignorant of Montt’s tactics. In reference to those atrocities, Nikolas Kozloff of Counterpunch writes:

“Far from denouncing such practices, Robertson rushed to defend Rios Montt. ‘Little by little the miracle began to unfold,’ he wrote of the regime. ‘The country was stabilized. Democratic processes, never a reality in Guatemala, began to be put into place.’ Robertson also praised Rios Montt for eliminating death squads, despite recent estimates that tens of thousands were killed by death squads in the second half of 1982 and throughout 1983. Most damning of all, even as Rios Montt was carrying out the extermination of the Mayan population, Robertson held a fundraising telethon for the Guatemalan military. The televangelist urged donations for International Love Lift, Rios Montt’s relief program linked to Gospel Outreach, the dictator’s U.S. church. Meanwhile, Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network reportedly sponsored a campaign to provide money as well as agricultural and medical technicians to aid in the design of Rios Montt’s first model villages.”

Hmm. . . . Aid and comfort to a perpetrator of genocide, defense of its practice, fund-raising on its behalf, concealment of concentration camps as “model villages” . . . Those sound like the crimes that justify the droning of “Islamist” clerics. But there’s been not a word about this connection in the U.S. mainstream press, much less from our government officials.

The hypocrisy of it all is not surprising to me. It is exactly what I’ve come to expect from personal experience of Guatemala and of Central America in general. There during the ‘70s and ‘80s Evangelicals and the U.S. media supported dictators throughout the region. Moreover, far from being seen as the accomplices of terror, the Evangelicals were favored by the U.S. government in its fight against Roman Catholic liberation theology. Remember, Montt’s atrocities occurred during what Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century” – the war of the United States against the Catholic Church in Latin America.

My personal experience makes all of this unforgettable for me. For the last 20 years and more, I’ve been associated with an evangelical term-abroad program for North American students in Central America. My job was to teach our students about liberation theology.

Each semester we would take students to Guatemala to visit the killing fields there. For a period, Rios Montt was always among the speakers interviewed by our students. So were professors at the Evangelical Seminary in Guatemala City. To a man, they supported Rios Montt amid the charges of genocide that always swirled around him. They echoed Robertson’s defense and/or denial of the on-going genocide. They spoke glowingly of Montt’s quasi-sermons delivered with great passion each Sunday morning as he explained his policies in terms of the Bible.

On one occasion, a student of ours summoned the courage to ask “President” Montt the question that was on everyone’s mind: “There are charges,” he said, “that you were behind mass killings of Mayan Indians. Now that it’s over, do you have any regrets about your policy?”

The ex-president’s face grew angry. He stepped from behind the podium and shook his finger at our student. “Listen,” he thundered. “I did what I did because God told me to do it! To ‘regret’ my actions would be a sin against God!”

That’s the kind of man Christianist clerics like Robertson supported. That’s the kind of Christian jihadist outlook that motivated genocide.

Now imagine what would happen to “Islamist” clerics responsible for aiding, advising and supporting Muslim acts of terrorism exactly like Montt’s, in exactly the way the Christianist cleric, Pat Robertson did.

In fact, little imagination is required. Think of the fate of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen and Muslim cleric who recently was listed as droned by the Obama national security state. His “crimes” in relation to Islamic terrorism allegedly mirrored those of Robertson in his support of Rios Montt. The C.I.A. not only killed Awlaki, but later murdered his 16 year old son in the same way.

Could it be that Rev. Robertson and some members of his family will be droned next? Hmm . . . .

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

4 thoughts on “Rios Montt Is a Born Again Christian! A Prominent ‘Christianist’ Cleric Supported His Genocide. Should He Be Droned Next?”

  1. I can understand if you took your fundamentalist students to Rios Montt’s sermons once without knowing what he was doing. My partner for a 17 year period was Guatemalan (and lived with me for some time in California) and I recall talking with him around this period about the mass slaughter which he was well aware of; as was I from my reading. The knowledge of his genocidal actions was not a secret in Guatemala and many progressive left publications in the U.S. like Mother Jones wrote about it. So were you so cocooned by the fundies around you that you didn’t know? You are at heart a good and sweet man, but in this case the possible naivete boggles my imagination. And if you did know of his criminality what were you doing taking your students to hear him a second or third time? To see the killing fields you say?

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    1. My friend, of course WE knew what Montt was up to. So did the entire world apart from those pretending not to among Guatemala’s holocaust deniers, Christian fundamentalists and Montt’s enablers in the U.S. government. But we were running an educational program not one of indoctrination.. Our conviction was that students don’t learn by having “teachers” tell them what is true and false, but by their having the opportunity to dialog with those who made and executed controversial policies — and then judging for themselves. So we gave our students the chance to meet Montt in Guatemala along with his GAM (grupo de apoyo mutuo) opponents. In Nicaragua we met with Miguel D”Escoto and Sandinista representatives on the one hand, and with supporters of their Contra opponents on the other. In Cuba, we met with Fidelistas, and with U.S. representatives in their “Interests Section” in Havana. And guess what? Students are pretty smart. When they hear the words like those I quoted from Mr. Montt, they typically see right through them. The same held true mutatis mutandi in Nicaragua and Cuba. Education is not about avoiding those with whom “teachers” disagree. There is nothing to fear from exposing students to first-hand experience even of those we might despise. And yes, we found it important to visit those “killing fields” I referenced. Students learned a great deal from dialoging with the Mayan victims of Montt’s policies. They contradicted his pious self-defensive spin on nearly every point. As a result of meeting all sides, most among our students came to the conclusion that Montt is a hypocritical liar. For teachers on our team, witnessing such “conversion” on the part of our students convinced us that our approach was on the right track.

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  2. It was not my intention to comment further here, but in the interests of transparency, I wish to do so.

    I have known you for 55 years, we were ordained in the same class, and I consider you a dear friend. I am impressed by your commitment to teaching at Berea and the wonderful work you did there, your liberationist theology commitments and your general openness. And I would like my comments here to be in a spirit of amity and not an ad hominem criticism.

    But when I became aware in the middle of this past decade of your indepth involvement with teaching evangelical students in Costa Rica, I respected your decision but was far from happy. (although it was only with this blog that I learned it went back twenty odd years). I pointed out to you that evangelicals have been at the forefront of opposing rights for women, LGBTQ people and human rights in general. You and your wife have courageously worked with Catholic base communities in Central and South America in the past (1980s I believe, unless corrected) and I respect that commitment highly.

    Regarding evangelicals: I certainly do not demonize them. There are undoubtedly many genuinely spiritual people among them, and some of their younger generation show signs of retreating from far right jeremiads of the generation of pastors before them. Nonetheless, as an openly gay man, I am aware how many gay/lesbian teenagers, already with knowledge of their own sexuality, have been forced into suicide by the isolation they felt being stranded among fundamentalist people who condemned (explicitly or tacitly) their core developing sexuality. Or countless gay men and lesbians who have been thrust from their homes by evangelical parents, never to see them again. (And I know personally of incidents of this kind). So much suffering caused.

    You are a good, inspiring teacher and no doubt your words to many of these students bore good fruit.

    I had wondered why you didn’t join the liberationist theologians in that area, particularly a man who I admire immensely, the poet and scholar, Ernesto Cardenal (he who was treated so rudely and arrogantly by John Paul II on his visit to Nicaragua). Cardenal, once a Trappist monk and student/friend of Thomas Merton, then Sandinista Minister of Culture, followed by his work in liberation theology in Nicaragua. But Cardenal and his community could probably have paid you only your room/board and perhaps a few incidental expenses.
    If you and your students had visited (after the Guatemalan peace accord of 1996) one of the villages devastated by the Guatemalan army and had helped, say for a week or two, one villager to get her/his life together, then something more profound would have been accomplished and the students would have met the victims of the violence rather than the perpetrators (Perhaps you did indeed do this, but it was never communicated to me); and also perhaps helping to buy something essential for the village from the large amounts the fundies were paying you. The examples of meetings you give are all among the higher echelons and not among the poor and devastated. I do remember, however, what you told me about meeting a Guatemalan fundamentalist gay pastor and his flock.

    These things having been said, I want to say that your blog is a good idea; there have been some good pieces, but it would be nice to see more reader feedback. Perhaps that will come as you get
    more experienced in blogging. I congratulate you again on the very fine and catalytic work you
    have done over the past 40 years.

    Peace and happiness to you!

    A couple of pertinent urls:

    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/about-right-wing-watch

    http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/09/10/brains-of-liberals-conservatives-may-work-diffferently/1691.html
    (This theory of the possible genetic difference between the brains of progressives with open
    minds –I prefer that term to liberals; and conservatives, is fascinating, and if proven, can explain a good deal of human behavior over the past centuries. Think Galileo vs the Roman Inquisition etc.)

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