From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Tutu preaches gospel of reconciliation at WCC meeting
15 Dec 1999 14:43:46
Dec. 15, 1999 News media contact: Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470·Nashville,
NOTE: This reported is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS story #671, and a
By Alice M. Smith*
ATLANTA (UMNS) - Delegates to the U. S. Conference of the World Council of
Churches' annual meeting Dec. 9-11 paid tribute to a martyr, the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr., and heard from a living legend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as
they examined the role of churches in bringing reconciliation to a divided
"This is what God is saying to you as you enter this new century: help all
of these my children as if they are your brothers and sisters, as if they
are members of the same family," Tutu said in historic Ebenezer Baptist
Church, where both King and King's father served as pastor. "That is the
radicalness of the gospel we have been asked to preach."
Earlier in the day, WCC representatives gathered at the crypt of the slain
civil rights leader to honor his legacy to the causes of nonviolence and
Following the reading of Psalm 85 and a prayer, WCC General Secretary Konrad
Raiser placed a wreath in front of crypt. He was assisted by the Rev.
Kathryn Bannister of Kansas, a United Methodist clergywoman and president of
the U.S. Conference of the WCC, and Marion Best of Canada, vice moderator of
the WCC's Central Committee.
The WCC meeting came on the heels of a Memphis civil jury's verdict that
there had been a conspiracy to assassinate King and a decision the week
before to build a national monument to him in Washington.
Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient like King, reminded the WCC delegates of
Christians' checkered history in support of the causes of unity, justice,
and peace for all of the world's citizens.
"It was Christians, not pagans who supported the slave trade ... who were
responsible for the Holocaust ... who were responsible for the sort of
racism here that lynched people, burned and destroyed, frequently in the
name of Jesus Christ," the Anglican archbishop said. "It was Christians, not
pagans, who gave the world apartheid.
"How could we say," he asked, "that we are the ambassadors, that to us has
been committed the ministry of reconciliation?"
Despite these blots on history, Christians have also been advocates for
equality and justice, Tutu said. "We have an incredible capacity for good.
We are able to forgive, to be magnanimous and generous. That is what we are
meant to be."
South Africans were the recipients of that kind of compassion during the
struggle against apartheid, he said.
"I had the incredible privilege of being one of those who went around
asking, 'please help us so one day we can be free,' and we got an incredible
response. ... I don't believe there has ever been a country that has been
prayed for as much as we were prayed for. Our victory is really your
victory, and it is a privilege to be able to say on behalf of millions,
In the first action of the WCC meeting Dec. 9, Bannister was elected and
installed as moderator of the organization's U.S. Conference. At last year's
WCC assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, she was elected as the youngest of eight
regional presidents of the WCC. The 29-year-old clergywoman is the pastor of
a cooperative parish of four churches in rural west Kansas.
A Methodist from another tradition, Bishop McKinley Young of the African
Methodist Episcopal Church in Atlanta, was installed as first officer.
In a meditation during the opening worship service, Bannister brought her
own perspective to the annual meeting's theme: "Reconciled in Christ: The
Churches' Ministry of Reconciliation."
She described everyday situations of brokenness that she deals with as a
pastor: an 80-year-old woman who lives alone and is estranged from two of
her children; divisiveness in one of her churches resulting from a forced
merger of two congregations; and racism that emerged around a hog-processing
plant possibly locating in a neighboring county.
"While the hog-processing plant was not a popular idea for good
environmental reasons," she said, "it was a problem because of our inability
to welcome the kinds of people who work in hog-processing plants. Suddenly
racism was everywhere in people's comments."
While the gross atrocities of war and genocide demand the attention of
Christians on a global scale, people of faith also have much work to do in
their own communities and communions, Bannister asserted. "What a huge task
the church ... has in modeling reconciliation in big and small ways, (in)
being a means of grace ... to remind us truly of who we already are in Jesus
In his address to the gathering, Raiser described the act of reconciliation
as a mutual one in which each side - the oppressor and the victim - gives up
something. "It requires a kind of self-denial, of repentance from the act of
injustice on the part of the perpetrator and a readiness to forgive and not
ask for vengeance on the part of the victim."
He discussed South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which
sought to bring about healing in the country after decades of overt and
systemic racism. In order to uncover the truth, people who confessed to
crimes were granted amnesty from prosecution.
As people work to uncover the truth, Raiser said, the shame of the
perpetrator and the hurt of the victim are both revealed and can be equally
devastating. Danger exists in opening up victims' wounds, while perpetrators
can become immobilized in guilt.
The three essential dimensions of reconciliation, he stated, are justice,
forgiveness and truth.
"These three essential dimensions do not constitute a linear sequence where
one clearly follows the other, but rather a circular process that continues
and goes back to the beginning until the genuine chance of relationships is
achieved on the moral, spiritual and social (levels)."
Another speaker, Miroslav Volf, a professor of theology at Yale Divinity
School, discussed his personal dilemma as he has examined his Christian
convictions in light of the 1991-1995 war Serbia waged against his native
Since reconciliation of humans with God is at the heart of the gospel
message, "reconciliation between human beings ... must be at the center of
the mission Christians pursue," Volf said.
At the same time, he pointed out, a natural tension exists between
Christians' support for justice for the oppressed and the forgiveness and
redemption the crucified Christ offers to the oppressors.
Volf described two means of "false" reconciliation: "cheap reconciliation"
or "pacification," whereby justice is abdicated for the sake of peace; and
"first justice, then reconciliation," in which the pursuit of strict justice
brings about rectification for past wrongs but does little to bring about
A true melding of reconciliation and justice, which he described in the
terms of an embrace, has four components: the unconditionality of the will
to embrace one another; the commitment of truth and justice as a
precondition of the embrace; the will to embrace as the framework in which
the search for truth and justice is carried out; and the embrace itself as
the horizon toward which both parties strive.
"The hope of the world," he said, "lies in those who, despite the
humiliation and suffering, have not given up on the will to embrace. This is
the extraordinary power of the victim, the power to transform the world."
# # #
*Smith is executive director of the Georgia United Methodist Communications
United Methodist News Service
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