Friday, 14 September 2007

forgiveness and reconciliation can work

Sometimes the news is good!

So often the TV news is full of hatred, murder and war, so it is good to be able to report people giving peace a chance.

The sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland generated a lot of hatred, division and violence. But not all Protestants and Catholics hated each other. Way back in 1965, the Corrymeela Community was formed, with both "sides" of Christianity represented. Among its purposes was to "Work to realise a society whose priorities are justice, mutual respect, the participation of all, concern for the vulnerable and the stranger, stewardship of resources, and care for creation."

Facing the sectarian violence that was rampant at the time, the community specifically aimed "to establish over time a shared society defined by tolerance: a normal civil society in which all individuals are considered as equal, where differences are resolved through dialogue in the public sphere and where all individuals are treated impartially."

The community won an international peace prize for its programs and promotion of reconciliation in 1997. You can read about its current programs here. It is, of course, only one of many groups that have led to the current peace in Northern Ireland.

In August, the British Army ceased "active deployment" in Northern Ireland, although a peacetime garrison remains, a significant development.

Other stories about reconciliation have made news recently.

  • A year ago, former South African Police Minister. Adriaan Vlok, visited a church in Soweto to apologise to the Rev Frank Chikane for attempting to murder him during the apartheid regime. Rev Chicane commented: "The fact that Mr Vlok has come to make a confession to me and is here with us today is a miracle". He said that, despite being angry, people should be prepared to "pick ourselves up and move on...... We must not let the past we've defeated dictate our future."
  • In April this year, Matthew Cloyd, along with two others, was convicted and sentenced to prison for arson attacks on nine churches in Alabama. One church was Galilee Baptist, a small congregation whose building was burnt to the ground. A replacement building has been completed, and recently Cloyd's family were among those who attended a service to celebrate the new building, in an attempt to reach out to the congregation. "We felt like they deserved to hear from us," Mrs Kim Cloyd said. "We felt like they needed to know that this was not about racism or hatred."In return, the congregation hugged the Coyd family, and visitors reported they were overwhelmed by the sense of forgiveness and love in the congregation towards the family.

Jesus said: "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24) Reconciliation is more important than religious ceremony.

We need more people to live out this teaching, like the brave examples in these stories.


  1. that was a very moving example of the cloyd family in alabama. forgiveness is vital to all of us, but no doubt it can be extremely difficult to reach.

    my mother in law pointed out to me earlier today that we must learn to forgive others before God can forgive us... jsut wondering, do you think this is the case? she made reference to the Lord's Prayer ("forgive us as we forgive those...")

    (also, please don't feel obligated if ever i ask a question you'd rather not answer!)

  2. i had to come back after looking over the corrymeela site... the first article i read was about the "hangover from violence" and how peacetime actually brings "internal feuding" to a community whereas external conflict tends to bring about "internal cohesion."

    it makes sense, but i would not have thought about it otherwise. i find that fascinating. is there no right answer?

  3. I don't feel obligated, but discussion & comment is part of what blogging is all about, so I welcome questions.

    "we must learn to forgive others before God can forgive us"

    I think this statement puts things in the wrong order. We know from Jesus' teachings elsewhere that God is willing to take the first step and forgive unconditionally.

    So I think we don't need to learn to forgive others before God forgives us, but we certainly must learn to forgive others after he forgives us. If we're following Jesus and trying to respond to God's love for us, how could we do less than that?

    "is there no right answer?"

    I think there are several answers to this most interesting question.

    1. If by "answer", you mean a way to stop conflict, then I think there is no answer - the human race is unfortunately like that.

    2. But of course the internal conflict is generally not as deadly as the violence, and is thus an improvement.

    3. From my perspective as a person trying to follow Jesus, God does have an answer to all human weaknesses and evil, and that answer was the death of Jesus.

    4. Finally, we can be part of a different sort of "answer" by refusing to succumb to the violence, through peace and forgiveness - hence the importance of forgiveness as we have already discussed. We may not totally change the situation, but we will be changed within the situation, and that will change other people too.

    Thanks for your comments, they raised some quite deep issues, and I would be happy to hear what more you have to say about these matters.

    Best wishes

  4. well, i thank you for the reponse. i agree with what you said about forgiveness. however, and this is where i start to lose my husband, i also personally believe that God does not forsake anyone, even those who do not know his name. what about those who have never been taught? what about those with good hearts who are faithful to another "God"? and what about the other "lost souls"? there are often circumstances beyond their control, perhaps chemical imbalances or harsh environments that have caused them to lose, or just not have faith. my father and many of his siblings are atheists, i believe purely because of their wretched experiences with some hateful nuns at catholic school in the 50s. this is where i get called idealistic:)

    you made 4 excellent points in answering my next question.
    1. i have accepted the fact that war is a part of our human nature, as disappointing and confusing as it is to me.
    2. and i can agree that a disgruntled (have no better word at the moment) community would be a step in the right direction, if it meant stepping away from war.
    3. i think i know what you are saying, as this is how we are saved from our sins, ourseleves. it doesn't immediately solve any earthly problems, but as long as there is free will we will be free to sin, to go to war, and to repent. i suppose we must take the good with the bad.
    4. this is it! peace and forgiveness. YES! how to spread the word? it must start at home, which leaves me feeling very helpless in respect to the rest of the world. i want to do BIG things to help people, but i try to remember that the most important job i have right now is raising sons who will also promote peace and forgiveness in the world.

    one more thought... one of the most frustrating aspects of war from my perspective, is the regret that follows. aside from the american civil war, which is still being reinacted to this day, i have heard countless stories of soldiers killing each others' families just to return 30 years later, in tears, with apologies that can never remove the horror they caused. yet we continue to raise generations of soldiers intent on "defending freedom" at any cost, who find out their true purpose too late.

    wow. thank you for being so open to my long winded comments:)

  5. Portia,

    I'm sorry, I was away and busy, and didn't respond to your latest (until now).

    I think whatever else we believe about God, if we believe in Jesus, we know God will be loving and fair. He knows what opportunities or disadvantages we have, and he surely makes allowance for them (as Jesus showed with many people). I think Jesus is "the way to the Father", but I feel that some who don't know Jesus but nevertheless respond to whatever light they have been given, will be accepted because of what Jesus has done. This seems to be suggested in the Bible and was taught, for example, by well known christian writer C S Lewis. We'll never know all the answers, but what we are required to do is to respond to what we do know - and in our case, we do know about Jesus.

    Humans initiate change, so the way to change war surely has to be to change humans - individually and as whole societies. We've seen it happen with slavery, and apartheid, and inequality of women, and it can happen with war - at least in part. Followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of all this change, and often have been.

    Yes, yours is a good point about regret. Politicians make these "easy" choices, supported by wrong-thinking voters, and seem to never learn that we'll all regret it one day. In the case of the Iraq war, the tide has already turned. I keep thinking what good could have been done if the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war had been spent on helping the middle east. And I can't help feeling angry that the apparently christian President Bush has badly damaged the cause of christianity in the middle east and peaceful relations with Muslims, and it will take generations for those things to be restored.


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