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This is the season to practice forgiveness and reconciliation

December 19, 2010

 

stories  of forgiveness and reconciliation

Steps toward reconciliation:

Justice

Forgiveness and reconciliation are qualities of Christianity often overlooked. On September 28 my close friend Joan Brausch and I were privileged to present the last talk in a series on peacemaking at the Church of the Brethren in Midland. Our topic was Reconciliation not Retribution. We defined “reconciliation as the process of making compatible or the reestablishing of cordial relations. Retribution is seeking vengeance or punishment or getting even”.

We based our talk on the following words of Jesus: "love your enemies”, you must forgive “seventy-seven times”, and “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (1)

            Forgiveness and reconciliation I believe are the highest calling, even command, of every Christian. I also had in mind that reconciliation was a universal principle of all religions. I decided to test my assumption by emailing a number of friends and acquaintances for their opinion. I shared the following story with them. Joan and I used this in our presentation. (2)

In 1993, a twenty-six-year-old woman, Amy Biehl, who had graduated with a BA in international relations and had taken a Fulbright scholarship to research women’s rights and fight segregation in South Africa, was pulled from her car and stabbed to death by a mob in Guguletu township, near Cape Town.  Two years later, Amy’s parents returned to the township where she was killed and met with some of the killers’ families to console them.  Four young men had been sentenced for eighteen years for Amy’s murder. The Biehls came to witness their testimony in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, during which the four men expressed remorse and pleaded for amnesty. The Biehls supported their release. They were able to bury their anger, hurt, and hatred.

Amy’s father died shortly after that trip, but Amy’s mother returned to South Africa yet again, this time to forgive one of the four killers, a man named Ntobeko Peni. He saw himself as a young freedom fighter, growing up poor and segregated in South Africa’s townships, taught from childhood that whites were the enemy. But she didn’t just forgive him. She gave him a job, and with a job, a future. He works as a guide and peer educator for HIV / AIDS awareness at the Amy Biehl Foundation, which has programs in townships outside Cape Town. He also travels the world with Amy’s mother to tell their story of forgiveness and reconciliation. Amy’s mother says that Ntobeko is part of her family now.

            My respondents didn’t all agree. An offense requires “forgiveness and atonement” or recompense, my Unitarian Universalist friend told me. An offense cannot just be forgiven without atonement because of the respect for all people including those in the future who will be hurt by undeserved or inappropriate forgiveness today.. He based this on the first principle of Unitarian Universalism, “Respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person”.

            My Jewish correspondent said that Judaism emphasizes responsibilities more than rights. It is therefore the responsibility of the offending party to seek forgiveness but the offended person is not obligated to give it, unless asked by the offender. Recompense is also an important aspect of Judaism. Intertwined with this is a deep belief in God’s mercy and the practical command to be kind to others but he emphasized that Jews are not obligated to love their enemies.

            It has been said that forgiveness is a uniquely Christian concept but Islam promotes forgiveness very frequently. The Quran says “Repel the evil deed with one which is better” and the two persons will become “bosom friends”. God's favorite servants control themselves and even more they forgive the people who harmed them. (3) Imam Achmat Salie (3)  wrote it this way: “Muslims have a strong tradition of non-violence”. (He included many links also.) (4) A few radical Muslims, Enayatollah Khojasteh, a Muslim Iranian student in Germany explains, are using Islam to promote their own political causes. This is not unlike the Christian support for the Crusades and wars over the centuries.

            Forgiveness is generally thought of as a benefit for the offender but it really is a healthy benefit for the one offended. It removes the simmering anger and hatred toward the offender. It is the first step toward reconciliation, which may not be possible or desired by either party. It will most likely take much effort and time, depending on the scale of the hurt but it is worth it. It will also depend on the beliefs of the other party. What better time to mend fences than Christmas?

            Merry Christmas!

Notes:

1

Scripture quotes are: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44 NAB) “Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22 NAB) “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Matthew 5:38-39 NAB)

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2

This story and others can be read at:

http://gurmeetsingh.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/stories-of-forgiveness/

also on this page

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3

Enayat wrote:

Before referring to these reasons, please let me tell you my understanding from Islam (although I am not either a good Muslim or a specialist in this realm, but I'll try to refer to my memory and the resources). Islam do not persuade for the revenge. It persuades for forgiveness very frequently. For example in one the verses in Holy Quran it says; " The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better [the best], then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity (will become) as though he was a bosom friend" (Sura Fussilat(Chapter 41), verse 34, Holy Quran).
[This means that we are advised to reply the bad behavior with a good]
 Another example from Sura Al-E-Imran (chapter 3), verse 134 is:
"Those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good [goodness makers]". Here it is talking about God's favorite servants. They help the poors or spend for good works, when they get angry, they control themselves and even more they forgive the people and they even make goodness to the people who did bad with them.
 There are many other examples of making goodness and forgiveness in Quran and about the forgiveness of God as well (so if god forgives why should not we do?)
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4

Imam Achmat Salie wrote:

People are at different stages of their spiritual development. Islam gives Muslims an option to take revenge through courts for the murder of their dear ones, demand compensation or an apology, or to pardon the murderer. The Quran adds that pardon is the best but more challenging option. The Prophet of Islam exemplified pardoning his arch enemies or praying for them. Umar who set out to assassinate him, became his fiercely loyal companion. Muhammad married the daughters of former enemies. Requested the prisoners of war (who were often executed in his time) to become teachers to his companions-teaching them to read or write. Thumamah bin Uthal, a chieftain, was treated so kindly during his captivity that he embraced Islam after his release. Muhammad prayed for those who stoned him at Taif. He granted a general amnesty to his former enemies when he had all the power to take revenge. “Today I will treat you as Joseph treated his brothers,” he told the Meccans who drove him out of the city, killed some of his relatives and followers, and battled him. The Quran teaches, “Repel evil with good”. The same verse further exhorts us to turn arch enemies into bosom friends.

Muslims have a strong tradition of non-violence. Gandhi’s experiment in non violence was made possible by fearless Patan Muslims and their leader Badsha Khan. Gandhi called him the frontier Gandhi. He called the Muslim leader a non-violent warrior of Islam. Rabia Harris on her Peace Fellowship web page concludes that Islam’s goal is civilizational harmony.

The Arabic words for pious (salih), compatible (salah), reconciliation (sulh) and reform (islah) all share the root radicals S L H. A pious person by definition is an arbiter for peace.

A modern day American story involves Azim Khamisa. His college-attending son was shot in cold blood by three African American teenagers while delivering pizzas. Azim reached out to the grandfather of the main culprit. The two gentlemen went to schools to speak about forgiveness. Azim also founded an organization to foster peace and forgiveness. At Azim’s request, the juvenile murderer’s sentence was reduced. Azim placed him in charge of the new foundation. See:

zim's Bardo: From Murder to Forgiveness

Azim Khamisa.

ANK Publishing, Inc.

http://www.thepowerofforgiveness.com/resources/index.html

http://www.thepowerofforgiveness.com/resources/index.html 

http://www.patheos.com/Topics/Future-of-World-Religions/Islam.html

http://www.patheos.com/Topics/Future-of-World-Religions/Islam.html

http://www.acommonword.com/

http://www.acommonword.com/

http://charterforcompassion.org/site/

http://charterforcompassion.org/site/

http://www.fetzer.org/resources

http://www.fetzer.org/resources

http://www.islamicity.com

http://www.islamicity.com/

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Stories of Forgiveness

http://gurmeetsingh.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/stories-of-forgiveness/

 

1)  On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.  He opened fire on all of the girls in the class, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building.

The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.  Fresh from the funerals where they had buried their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer’s burial. Roberts’ widow was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence: the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter’s family.

 

2) In 1993, a twenty-six-year-old woman, Amy Biehl, who had graduated with a BA in international relations and had taken a Fulbright scholarship to research women’s rights and fight segregation in South Africa, was pulled from her car and stabbed to death by a mob in Guguletu township, near Cape Town.  Two years later, Amy’s parents returned to the township where she was killed and met with some of the killer’s families to console them.  Four young men had been sentenced for eighteen years for Amy’s murder. The Biehls came to witness their testimony in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, during which the four men expressed remorse and pleaded for amnesty. The Biehls supported their release. They were able to bury their anger, hurt, and hatred.

Amy’s father died shortly after that trip, but Amy’s mother returned to South Africa yet again, this time to forgive one of the four killers, a man named Ntobeko Peni. He saw himself as a young freedom fighter, growing up poor and segregated in South Africa’s townships, taught from childhood that whites were the enemy. But she didn’t just forgive him. She gave him a job, and with a job, a future. He works as a guide and peer educator for HIV / AIDS awareness at the Amy Biehl Foundation, which has programs in townships outside Cape Town. He also travels the world with Amy’s mother to tell their story of forgiveness and reconciliation. Amy’s mother says that Ntobeko is part of her family now.

 

3) Alan, at 17, was thrilled to go to the basketball championship downtown in the sports arena. After the game, in the parking lot, Alan walked ten feet to his car and was randomly shot and killed by a gang member.  His father, Keith, and his mother, Donna, could not understand why their son was killed and they were consumed with anger and closely followed the ongoing investigation into the killing.

After the murderer was found guilty and send to prison for life, Keith and Donna thought they had found some peace and acceptance of Alan’s death.  Five years later, Keith was notified that the shooter was up for his parole hearing.  Keith felt all his hard-earned acceptance drain out of him. By the time of the hearing he was once again filled with anger. The proceedings were brief and parole was denied. Keith was struck by how quickly it happened and by the tears of the shooter’s father. For the first time, Keith realized that there were victims on both ends of the gun.  Keith walked over to him and shook his hand. At that moment, something happened for Keith as his anger was replaced by a curiosity. He wanted to know what this other father’s life was like and what led him to the same place. Over the next few years, the two men formed an alliance to help gang members stop the violence and find their place in the world. They went from school to school in the inner city with their story.

From Imam Salie:

A modern day American story involves Azim Khamisa. His college-attending son was shot in cold blood by three African American teenagers while delivering pizzas. Azim reached out to the grandfather of the main culprit. The two gentlemen went to schools to speak about forgiveness. Azim also founded an organization to foster peace and forgiveness. At Azim’s request, the juvenile murderer’s sentence was reduced. Azim placed him in charge of the new foundation. See:

zim's Bardo: From Murder to Forgiveness

Azim Khamisa.

ANK Publishing, Inc.

 

Steps to Reconciliation:

 

1. Take active responsibility for behaviour that has harmed others

2. Admit the offence and acknowledge the harm done

3. Resolve to change your behaviour

4. Make amends

5. Forgive the other parties for what they may have done

6. Work toward reconciliation

Justice

Richard Rohr November 17, 2010

 

 

 The desire for vengeance, even after having been wronged, is a far cry from the cardinal virtue of justice.  It is low-level consciousness.  Here is where people must have some degree of self-knowledge, some detachment from their own base motives, some freedom from ego and anger, to recognize the difference between the two.  So much hateful vengeance has hidden behind the word justice in history that we now mistrust the very word and concept. 

 

God’s justice does not need retaliation or punishment, but merely honest accounting and the making of amends.  This is the kind of restorative justice we are promised to receive from God; whereas what we have had for most of history, even from the church, is largely “retributive justice” (“tit for tat”) which Jesus specifically opposed (Matthew 5:38-48).  In the world of mere retribution, both fall into the pit, as Jesus puts it (Matthew 15:14).

 

Restorative Justice is another way to refer to atonement or recompense for a hurt, injury, or crime committed against another person. The offender needs to make amends and restitution where applicable according to this principle of restorative justice.

 

Apply restorative justice when you are in conflict with someone else.

You may be the offender or the victim; or perhaps it is not clear which of those roles you fill. Nevertheless, a restorative approach can be useful.

  • Consider how to meet with the other party. Be sure to create an environment that is conducive for effective communication.
  • Invite the other party to discuss this with you, and to design the way the meeting will take place.
  • Both of your should have a chance to explain your perspectives.  Listen carefully to the other party as well as describing the facts as you understand them. Describe the feelings that have resulted from those facts.
  • Consider whether there are steps either of you needs to take to make amends. This may be accomplished through apology and forgiveness alone, or in combination with other forms of amends.
  • Decide together on practical steps to take in the future to avoid the problem from reoccurring.

 

Apply restorative justice when you are part of a group that is in conflict.

In this instance it will be important to identify someone whom everyone trusts who can help you talk with one another. This outside facilitator is not an arbitrator or judge, but someone who can help the group move beyond the impasses it typically faces when it tries to discuss the problem on its own. The process after this is similar to the one just described.

  • Work together with the facilitator to create an environment in which all parties can listen and be heard.
  • Focus on facts and feelings during the conversation, rather than on judgments about the others. One of the purposes of the meeting is to come to a joint understanding of what has happened and what needs to be done, and suspending judgment in order to talk and listen is an important part of that.
  • Note points of agreement about the conflict. Sometimes it is easier to agree on specific matters than on the big issue. For example, someone may have misrepresented the position of one of the people with whom they disagree. Dealing with that may be part of what needs to be done before the group can resolve the larger issue.
  • Work to find a resolution to the larger issue that allows the group as a whole to reconcile with each other. This may involve dealing with the past (making amends of some sort) and planning for how you will work together in the future.