Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Practicing Forgiveness and Reconciliation

On Sunday 20th October, I had the opportunity to preach at a combined Church service to launch this year’s Bainimarama Tournament organised by comprising institutions that report to the Ministry of Finance (RBF, FNPF, FRCA, FDB, Office of the Auditor General and the Ministry of Finance) to foster a better networking, stronger relationships and fellowship among the management and staff of these six institutions. The service included a choir competition in which all the institutions took part.

Given that relationship-building was one of the themes of the tournament, I preached on love and forgiveness as intrinsic to the expression of the Christian faith – the basic Christian duty is love and forgiveness. My texts, for those who may wish to reflect on them were from  Galatians( Chap 3:v26-28 and Chap 5:v13-26) and the Gospel of Luke (Chap 10: v25-28 and Chap 17:v1-10).

In a nutshell (peanut or coconut – your choice) I shared that too often, we who are Christians expect reward, affirmation and acclamation when we practice the command of loving our neighbour and forgiving those who wrong us – even though these are part of our basic Christian duty. Even more so, love and forgiveness of others is part of our response of loving and serving God who loved and forgave us.

For lasting peace and strong relationships of mutual respect, reconciliation is important.
For those whose faith or spirituality or worldview call us to live in mutual respect and fellowship with each other and all creation, it is very important that we constantly strive to renew our trust in ourselves and in others; to forgive and respect others.

Just over a month away from the start of the 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women; the commemoration of World AIDS Day and World Human Rights Day, one of the saddest realisations remains that the majority of people in Fiji, who consider themselves Christians find themselves struggling to accept their responsibility as agents of reconciliation and peace. Even though biblically, all Christians are called to commit to the message of reconciliation: “All this is from God, who reconciled himself to us through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

There is an outstanding need for reconciliation between and among, the divisions based on religion, social status, economic situation, culture and perspective. How can we expect reconciliation between neighbours when there is conflict within the home? How do we successfully inculcate a culture of gender, racial and social equality when we continue to hold on to prejudice that has been ingrained over generations and that we are indirectly passing on to the next generation.

I have come across a number of interpretations of “Reconciliation.” From the traditional, culturally-based rituals, to special events where groups perform items from a different culture, too often we rush through the motions. Observing protocols and rituals that only hold significance on the surface, with no lasting change made.  This underlines the failure of superficial acts of public forgiveness in Fiji in the recent past which had no effect in terms of national reconciliation because the on most occasions groups petitioning for and granting forgiveness did not include wrongdoers, who were unrepentant or victims who were not willing to forgive. The symbolism in cases such as these proved to be empty.

The dilemma of forgiveness and justice is also an important issue. In his book, Forgiveness and Christian Ethics, Anthony Bash makes the point that forgiveness is a moral response to wrongdoing and that it is an interpersonal phenomenon, not possible on a corporate level.  From a Christian perspective, understanding forgiveness as a moral ideal rather than a moral duty helps Christians in their struggle to forgive even the unrepentant and to find consolation when after striving to forgive, they find that they are unable to do so.

Forgiveness is an ideal; a moral response to wrongdoing. As a Christian, forgiveness for me is a response to God's grace and in participation of the ministry of reconciliation. Yet I recognise that forgiveness is also a struggle by victims who yearn for justice. After all it is very difficult for the oppressed, dressed in rags and with an empty stomach to forgive the well-dressed, well-fed oppressor. Ultimately, though, forgiveness is a core element of the greater good.

In our context the issue of forgiveness and reconciliation has been compounded by the fact that due to our pluralistic society, often the wrongdoer and the victim have different religious and cultural understandings of forgiveness, repentance, atonement and justice. This raises the question of how interpersonal or even any attempt at corporate forgiveness can take place between people who hold to different theologies and cultural practices.

Reconciliation is about restoration of relationship, not return to the status quo. Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness, which in turn requires an acknowledgement of responsibility and generosity of heart.

When I was studying in Korea, there was a mountain behind the Methodist Theological University in Seodaemun, Seoul. The first time I tried to climb the mountain, I almost collapsed from my lack of fitness, barely a quarter of the way up. The next time I struggled to get half way. Finally I made it all the way to the top. Eventually the mountain summit, which was once unreachable, became my regular destination for meditation and reflection.

The goal of a reconciled and compassionate society of free and equal citizens may seem to many of us like the peak of Mount Everest, far away and seemingly out of reach. But with each step we get a little closer. Our personal commitment to taking a step forward at a time, no matter how difficult the terrain or how steep the climb, is necessary to achieving this goal. It is a goal that must be achieved collectively or not at all. There is no such thing as half of a reconciled and compassionate society of free and equal citizens.

May you continue to be blessed with light, love, peace and joy.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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