The Principles and Practices of Forgiveness

How does repentance lead to forgiveness and reconciliation and the future in public life?

How do we learn to love a country enough that we remember its misdeeds?

What can other countries learn from the South African experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

Students and faculty from a class at the Boston University School of Theology held a seminar on April 1 at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations where these and related questions were considered.

Their day began with a tour of the United Nations. They then crossed the street to the Church Center for the United Nations and the seminar.

IMG_33632 Deputy Permanent Representative D. Mashabane of the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations spoke about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). He noted that the TRC represented a third way between the option of forgetting the past and the option of a Nuremburg type trial. While not perfect, it presented an opportunity for remembrance, repentance and reconciliation.

Key to the TRC process was President Nelson Mandela. President Mandela articulated a vision of a free, multi-racial South Africa when he was imprisoned. He emerged from imrpisonment still committed to that vision. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of the TRC was another key player in the process.

After his presentation, Deputy Permanent Representative Mashabane engaged in an extended period of discussion with the participants. The group was international in makeup with participants from Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Jamaica, South Korea, and the United States. They had an interest in the historical experience of the TRC as well as the possibilities of the model for their particular situations.

IMG_33722 The Rev. Dr. Don Shriver, president emeritus of Union Theological Seminary then joined the group. Dr. Shriver addressed the theology of forgiveness in the public life. His book, An Ethic for Enemies, is one of the earliest works to consider this topic.

Repentance plays a key role in forgiveness. The first step in repentance is remembrance. Dr. Shriver's book, Honest Patriots, looks at the importance of remembering – even remembering a country's misdeeds. In such remembering lies the way forward.

He cited Germany and South Africa as two countries that have remembered their misdeeds well. This takes place through monuments and  museums, conversations and public events, and in text books. He recognized the need of the United States to remember — particularly in relation to the exploitation and violation of people of color. The conversation explored the need for repair and reparation to follow remembering as the journey is made to reconciliation. Again the participants engaged in a significant discussion, pondering how to appply these ideas in their own particular contexts.

Thanks to Deputy Permanent Representative Mashabane, the Rev. Dr. Don Shriver, and the participants in the Boston University School of Theology class for a profound seminar.

Contact the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations to schedule a seminar.

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