Different understandings of the meaning of reconciliation (Prof Julian Müller, Deputy Dean, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria)

julian-mullerI have been invited to respond to the reaction of the majority at a conference in Gauteng, who struggled to link the idea of forgiveness with restitution. As a practical theologian, I am firstly interested in the experiences of people and therefore would like to understand the reasoning behind such a position. This reminds me of a similar situation which I have experienced. A few years ago I have been involved in discussions between the Dutch Reformed Church and the Uniting Reformed Church in Origstad. They invited me to facilitate a weekend workshop with representatives of both groups. The aim was the telling of the stories in order to heal memories and make progress towards reconciliation. Some participants from the white community put great emphasis on the necessity to tell the painful stories of the past, but this position was not shared by most of the representatives from the black community. The black group were looking for good intentions and a willingness on the side of the white group to work towards a better future. In summary, the white group had the need to formulate their guilt by way of telling the stories of the past, but the black group didn’t feel the need to listen to these stories.

My preliminary conclusion is that restitution shouldn’t be forced on any community where the need is only to forgive and to transform. On the other hand, when the need for some form of restitution is clearly stated, it should be addressed. It can be done in various ways, but I think storytelling and negotiations about expectations and perceptions would always be necessary.

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