Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Role of Confidence, Forgiveness, and Grace in Peace and Reconciliation

On a Monday, May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the eleventh in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting, we learned how some of the victims families have been the most ardent pursuers of peace. Next, he related to us:

Reverend Good said some people will want to talk about the agreement as the Belfast Agreement, but it is always known as the Good Friday Agreement. He believes in calling it the Good Friday Agreement because Good Friday comes before the resurrection. That agreement represents so much of the pain and anguish of the Irish community, but it has led them into a whole new way. For the Irish, the humbling thing is that people come from around the world to hear of their experiences with this agreement.

Reverend Good has made this presentation to a group of people from Iraq who wanted to come and hear the Northern Irish story. He said that's all the Northern Irish peacemakers can do is share their story. He believes they cannot tell other people how to solve their problems, but they can share their story. Hopefully, people will find some kind of pointer which will help them, just as the Irish peacemakers learned from others, particularly South Africa.

A question came from the audience: Did the Irish come together together to fight the Nazi and Fascist threat during World War II? Was that a useful teaching tool in the years since? It would seem the differences in Ireland would appear minimal compared to true evil.

He responded the Battle of the Somme is often cited as an example where many, many Irish of both traditions died side by side in World War I. Similarly, Irish volunteers died throughout World War II.

Reverend Good was thinking of this in church the other day. The Church was having their Christian Aid Sunday, where they try to determine how they will approach their war on poverty in the world. He asked himself why aren't we concentrating more on the thirty thousand children a day who are dying out of hunger and poverty? That's the evil we should be fighting.

Maybe we think the women in Afghanistan are not being treated the way we would like, but let's not make that a cause for war. He's more concerned about the 30,000 children who have no choice about anything except dying. He said if we can get our young people around the world to become involved in changing and in getting incited about, those are the causes we must get behind.

He said we must help our young people to travel more to see these things. He heard a young woman speak in church whose life is turned around because she's been to see some of this for herself. Some of the young people who think the world begins and ends on the Springfield Road or the Shankill Road, they need to discover the wider world. It's not just in Ireland. In the United States people need to see the world beyond their state boundary.

An audience question was about the stepping stones on a slide Reverend Good showed. He was asked if he could explain how “confidence” helps to create peace and reconciliation.

He thought its interesting because he's been away from the election in Ireland. But in the few days he's been back he sensed the people of Northern Ireland are confident. He said there is a remarkable result for the election. The people in Northern Ireland have voted hugely for the politicians and parties who want to move forward.

There was one politician named Jim Alister who represented the people who wanted to take them back. Not to violence, but to the days when there weren't any Nationalists or Republicans around the place. Mr. Alister wanted to take everyone back to the days when Unionists would rule everything, exclude everybody else. He totally opposed Unionists and Sinn Fein working together. He wanted to dismantle all of that. For awhile, he was feared. He's a highly skilled and trained lawyer. He's an advocate, what is called a Queen's Counsel in Northern Ireland. He was very persuasive.

But Mr. Alister got nowhere. He put up candidates in every constituency and they were all sunk without trace.

The people have voted their future overwhelmingly and that has given them confidence in each other. Also, it's showing there is confidence in the process.

Already, Reverend Good said, the language is changing. He heard a political show the day before, where usually the politicians and others are aggressive, and people were different towards each other in light of the election results. That's confidence.

The healing and the forgiveness – if the faith community doesn't have something to offer about these, then he doesn't know what the faith community is about. He was taught quite a bit about this in the United States when he was asked to speak at a Roman Catholic University down in Houston. They asked him to talk about dealing with the hurt of the past and has faith something distinctive to offer? That was the theme of the conference. He was focusing on words like Grace, Truth, and Forgiveness. Those are three very key words in believers vocabulary. If you think those three words are too preachy and you are not a conscious believer, there are other words that are common to us all, like Generosity, and Honesty. Those are words everyone needs to begin to think about. Being honest about what we have done or not done is important. Our contribution to conflict, our contribution to what has brought this and such situations about, our failures have to be openly discussed. What the sides have done to each other must be publicly acknowledged.

Next comes Forgiveness. What is meant by forgiveness? That is a hugely significant question. The Methodist's and other denominations use it every Sunday in their liturgies. But what does it actually mean in their practice?

He said the word Grace is such an important word. It seems to embrace so much. He remembered talking about the early release of prisoners. Back when he was helping face this issue, he was a member of an organization which deals with prisoners during and following imprisonment. A group including Reverend Good was involved in a group concerned with the early release of prisoners as a result of the Good Friday agreement. The group that had maybe the most or at least among the most difficulty with the early release of prisoners were the churches.

He invited representatives of the churches to come together one evening. He asked Brian Currin, who had been involved in the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa, to address the people from the churches. When Mr. Currin finished speaking, the first question was, “That's all right Mr. Currin, but what about justice? Where does justice come into this?”

Mr. Currin said, “This isn't about justice. You cannot go to a widow and say, 'In the interest of justice we are going to release the person who killed your loved one.' No one could do that. It's not about justice. I'll tell you what it's about. It's about all parties to a conflict being extended an opportunity to share a new beginning whether you believe they deserve it or not.”

Reverend Good said, “Brian, will you repeat that?” Mr. Currin said, “Its about giving an opportunity to all parties to the conflict to share a new beginning whether you think they deserve it or not.”

Reverend Good said, “Brian, I don't know where you are in terms of faith, but you have given the most perfect definition of grace that I have ever heard in all my studies. You have just given the most clear definition of grace.”

Reverend Good keeps telling that story because he thinks isn't that what the Christian gospel is about? He believes God gives everyone opportunities to begin again and again and again.


The VIM team then presented Reverend Good with a prayer blanket that had been made and blessed in the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church in the United States.

This talk is the final blog posting in this speech by Reverend Good. Other aspects of the VIM trip will be posted in future blog postings. You can read the prior blog posting here.