In the Quest for Forgiveness and Reconciliation: A Challenge for Women in Kamina/DR Congo
Reflection Based on John W. De Gruchy, Reconciliation Restoring Justice, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002
De Gruchy introduces the notion of reconciliation in the light of the South African experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body which promoted the rebirth of the South African nation. He argues that reconciliation is at the center of the Christian faith as the gospel calls for the reconciliation of God with humanity and reconciliation with one another i. However, this notion of reconciliation has remained an issue of contention between parties which were involved in various conflicts. The TRC, although a model for many in Africa, has also had strengths and weaknesses and reason why applying it somewhere else has not been an easy task.
For De Gruchy, it is relevant to draw the line between theological reconciliation, interpersonal reconciliation, social reconciliation and political reconciliation. Furthermore, in responding to the question, how dare we speak of reconciliation? De Gruchy argues that in as much as the TRC was successful in South Africa, the challenges to deal with were mostly related to human right violations and how to deal with the perpetrators. Reconciliation cannot be complete without restoring justice ii . However, one has to ask, what kind of justice can a community or a nation opt for in order to restore relationships and heal the wounds of the victims? The TRC has promoted a restorative approach to justice where perpetrators were asked to make an apology and in return victims were also asked to forgive.
Forgiveness, also arose as a difficult process to deal with but again necessary for reconciliation within a given community. How can those who committed several atrocities be allowed to walk freely on the streets without any sense of accountability or reparation? I would argue that it is imperative in such case to make a balance in how to address justice. I think both approaches to justice will be necessary for sustainable reconciliation. There are cases which will require restorative justice and others which will require a punitive or retributive approach. De Gruchy also observes that sometimes there seem to be a clash between the politics of reconciliation and the Christian doctrine of reconciliation. There are instances where political leaders decide to put all behind them and work on government of national unity. This has been the case of Zimbabwe, the DR Congo, Burundi, Ivory Coast and many other African countries, where former warlords were given position in government after political settlements. I would argue that, such governments remain unstable until issues of justice have been addressed in a very effective way. I do not think forgiveness has to do with one approach to justice or the other, in both cases, as Christians we are called to forgive as we were forgiven by our Lord.
The Pauline approach to reconciliation suggests that it is the reflection of God showing love to us through Jesus Christ. It is in fact, the redemption and the salvation of humanity through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have the responsibility to be reconciled with one another and always our neighbor as we love ourselves. However, this does not dismiss justice among us because, even in the atonement process, especially in Anselm’s thoughts, God insists on His justice. In as much as He loves us, He also needs to be satisfied in his justice. Therefore, I would argue that for reconciliation to be effective in a given community, forgiveness and a holistic approach to justice will be critical. God’s grace will continue to teach us we need to love our enemies and continue to pray for those who persecute us even when they are punished by justice. God loves everyone, both perpetrators and victims of any form of oppression.
De Gruchy`s approach to reconciliation is critical in helping churches in the 21sr century to move forward in terms of reconciliation. There are many issues at stake which are likely to divide the global church with the debate around sexuality as the major point of contention. The Anglican Church is one those which has been already hit by division. The negative impacts on local churches are huge and need to be dealt with. Christ has given to the church a ministry of reconciliation, himself as the foundation of that church. The centennial celebration on the world missionary movement held recently in Edinburgh called the church to continue to witness to Christ in the world as a way of reconciling people with one another. There is no need to exclude other people in God`s communion, Christ calls us to embrace anyone.
Specific to the African churches in general and those in Kamina in particular, there are stigma related to tribal divisions, HIV status and poverty and gender. Reconciliation as suggested by the De Gruchy calls for the church to engage in a special ministry in the context of HIV/AIDS whereby people living with the virus will be recognized as God`s children. Furthermore, tribal diversity should no longer be an obstacle to church growth and mission. All people from all tribes were created in God’s image including children, women and marginalized people within the community. Within these challenges, women children are the most affected as they suffer the consequences of HIV/AIDS, tribal conflicts and poverty.
There are some cultural practices in the African setting and in Kamina /DR Congo in particular which seem not to consider women and children as a priority. That is why many children and women have been harmed one way or the other especially through violent conflicts. Some women and children were displaced by civil wars, others were abandoned by irresponsible parents and husbands; a significant number have been banned by the community, accusing them being witches bringing the curse to them. Let me emphasize that these women and children are innocent and must be reintegrated into the community. In fact the church must call for the community to look for those women and children in order to give them a chance to be reunited with their families. Women and children are very special in God`s kingdom; they must not be considered as scapegoats of challenges that the community is facing. De Gruchy reminds the Kamina community that it should seek to be reconciled with God through women and children that they rejected. Let me conclude that there is an urgent need to engage Kamina women in a special spiritual formation program with emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation.