World Council of Churches
CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Geneva, Switzerland
26 August - 3 September 2002
Document # PLEN 4


Being church and overcoming racism:
It's time for transformative justice

I. Introduction / II. Background to the process leading towards the UN WCAR / III. Why transformative justice? / IV. When chronos encounters kairos: Churches facing their historical past / V. The United Church of Canada: facing the historical past / VI. The United Methodist Church in the United States / VII. The Lutheran Church of Norway and the Roma People / VIII. Comment on the challenges of racism confronted by the Churches in South Africa / IX. Comment on the reparations concern / X. Racism as a sin revisited / XI. Commitments towards transformative justice / Bibliography

I. Introduction

Racism as a concern of the ecumenical movement goes back to the World Missionary Conference, in Edinburgh 1910, where explicit references were made to racism. A special programmatic focus on the issue of racism dates from 1968, thirty-four years ago, when the IVth assembly of the WCC set its face decidedly against the scourge of racism and thus gave impetus to the creation of a Programme to Combat Racism (PCR). From that time on, the WCC played a significant role within the international anti-racism movement, extending solidarity and resources to thousands of Indigenous and racially and ethnically oppressed communities and organisations, and those who work in support of them, in almost every part of the world.

With the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, PCR and other anti-racism programmes began to pay more attention to the need for advocacy for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and of racially and ethnically oppressed minorities world-wide. The inter-connections of race, gender and class were already recognised in PCR's programme with a focus on women; now caste discrimination and the situation of Dalits achieved higher visibility. These have been a major focus of the WCC's racial justice ministry, undertaken in close partnership with member churches and their programmes for racial justice.

Racism continues to be a gross scandal in most societies. The Common Understanding and Vision (CUV) of the WCC member churches includes a commitment to refuse "to turn away from the judgement that every form of racism, also in their own life, is contrary to the word and will of God". At its 1995 meeting the WCC Central Committee noted that "institutional racism and the ideology of racism, in their most pernicious forms, continue unabated in contemporary societies and still affect churches dramatically while ongoing social, political and economic trends are producing new expressions of racism".

Sadly, these developments were not matched by renewed commitment from the member churches. Some commentators spoke of the churches' perception of racism being almost entirely confined to their support for the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The new challenge was for the churches to look at racism in their own lives and within their own societies and, further, to confront other forms of discrimination that are closely connected to racism and racial discrimination and aggravate the situation of victims. That challenge remains with us. To continue confronting the scourge of racism is still a must.

Today as in the past, the call from people struggling to advance the racial-ethnic justice cause is a call to churches as well. It is a call to churches to continue their advocacy and concrete solidarity. It is a call for a deeper commitment by churches to face their own racism, not only the racism elsewhere. It is a call to churches to face their own past - in the present, that is, today - in relation to their own people - Indigenous Peoples, African-descendants, Ethnic minorities, Dalits - and not only the racism of others. It is a call for churches to reflect on what it means to a church to overcome racism, and to face the fact that it is time for "transformative justice".

To be the church today requires deliberate, consistent and constant action in the struggle for racial justice. To be the church today requires an effort to overcome racism through actions to transform society and its structures of power and exclusion. To be the church today requires transformation into church communities which fully live the diversity of their peoples and cultures as a clear reflection of God's Creation and Image in humankind. To be the church today calls churches to make a costly commitment to overcome their own division on racial-ethnic lines. To be the church today means overcoming racism by re-establishing right relationships with the churches' own people: women and men, Indigenous Peoples, Africans and peoples of African-descent, Dalits, and ethnic minorities. It means churches facing the truth of the life and death wrongs that they themselves perpetrated in the past against racially and ethnically oppressed peoples, as well as their acts of environmental racism. It is to search and tell the truth about the realities of racism as expressed in assimilation policies, superiority myths, disrespect to the diversity of cultures and identities, disrespect to creation. To be the church today is to be healing communities, transformed by the lives, gifts and spirits of their own people, and to uphold the interconnectedness of life as a whole.

These are some of the challenges thrown back to the churches by the Ecumenical Study on Racism. We shall be wrestling with the challenges in these pages.

As part of the Ecumenical Study on Racism, this paper is a discussion-starter on churches acting through transformative justice to overcome racism. A plenary discussion on racism and transformative justice at the WCC Central Committee meeting will further advance the debate, and deepen reflections on the theological, ecclesiological and ethical dimensions of working for racial justice and against racial violence. A brief introduction on the process leading towards the 2001 United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) sets the context for a discussion on transformative justice.


II. Background to the process leading towards the UN WCAR

In analysing the social, political and economic trends that are producing new expressions of racism, clear links between racial justice concerns and economics, migration, environmental issues and the media were identified. These are reflected in one of the papers of the Ecumenical Study on Racism (See background document, "Understanding Racism Today: a Dossier").

But it was the process of preparing for the 2001 United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, which gave dramatic focus to the discussion on reparation and compensation for past and present deeds such as the slave trade, slavery and colonialism. Article 13 of the Declaration adopted by the inter-governmental conference states:

We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organised nature and especially their negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and that Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent and indigenous peoples were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences.1

Several other articles in the Declaration express a strong condemnation. Articles 99 and 100 express "profound regret for the massive human suffering and the tragic plight of millions of men, women and children caused by slavery, the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid, colonialism and genocide". A call is made to the "States concerned to honour the memory of the victims of past tragedies and that such misdeeds must be condemned and their recurrence prevented". Further, note is taken that some states have taken the initiative to apologise and have paid reparation, where appropriate, for grave and massive violations committed.2

These and other contents of the Declaration and the Programme of Action were achieved through difficult and challenging discussion before, during and after the World Conference. They might not have gone as far as some governments, non-governmental organisations (including the churches) and civil society wanted them to go. Nevertheless, the fact that those concerns - which are life and death issues for millions of people - are spelled out is a breakthrough. Further advocacy actions will be taken by peoples and governments to advance the debate on how to more effectively redress, to apply remedies and compensate for these past and present misdeeds.

The World Conference was certainly a forum for expressing many of the issues of our times, that include a growing movement of peoples for truth-telling, acknowledgement of past and present wrongs, a challenge to impunity, calls for healing relationships and reconciliation processes. In its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, South Africa highlighted these issues. Other countries, such as Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, did so as well. Churches have been aware of these challenges, which have repercussions in their own lives.

III. Why transformative justice?

For the purposes of this paper, the term "Transformative Justice" was chosen to describe the concepts and challenges presented here. The term has evolved from the concept of restorative justice. Restorative justice means "restoring victims, a more victim-centred system, as well as restoring offenders and restoring community (...)".3 The term relates to the concepts and approaches to crime and justice of criminal justice systems, and particularly the concept of 'retributive justice'.

The "Fundamental Concepts of Restorative Justice", presented by Howard Zehr (Eastern Mennonite University, USA) and Harry Mika (Central Michigan University, USA) affirm that "crime is fundamentally a violation of people and interpersonal relationships. In that case, victims and the community have been harmed and need restoration. The primary victims are those most directly affected by the offence but others, such as family members of victims and offenders, witnesses, and members of the affected community, are also victims. (...) Victims, offenders and the affected communities are the key stakeholders in justice." 4 Restorative justice is a process by which the wholeness of the community is upheld.

When first approaching the theme of restorative justice from a racial/ethnic justice perspective, the term "restorative-transformative" justice was used. But in refining what it meant, it was felt that keeping the two terms was ambiguous. While affirming the values of the restorative justice movement, which are directly or indirectly part of this paper, the option for "Transformative Justice" seemed more adequate to its purpose.

In the context of racial-ethnic justice, churches, governments, civil society, victims or offenders can not restore - reinstate, re-establish, bring back, return - what has been lost. Centuries of racism, racial discrimination and sexism can not be erased - either historically, collectively or individually. Peoples' lives and cultures, languages, lifestyles, liturgies and spirituality cannot again be as they were. Transformative justice deals with the past in the present. Its goal is to overcome racism and to achieve healing, reconciliation and the re-establishment ("to put things right") of people's relationships, with a particular focus on justice to racially and ethnically oppressed peoples.

Churches as communities of transformative justice

As churches, we believe that we are children of God and that we are a multi-cultural community. That is both a reality as a gift from God, and a reality still to become.

While affirming the transcendent reality of the church, we recognise that the church is not yet, in its empirical manifestation, fully what it is in God. In this sense we can say that the church as historic institution is itself undergoing a process of "moral formation" guided by God, a process which will continue until the full reign of God dawns. Thus the tasks of spiritual and moral formation and discernment will always be part of the church's life and mission. This is to say yet again: in the church's own struggles for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, the esse of the church is at stake.5

The church as an historic institution is walking towards the fullness of being the community of the children of God. The vision that leads us ahead - that of a church and a world free of racism, that of just and inclusive communities - is a vision that guides us to being fully transformed children, church, people and creation of God. "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may discern what is good, pleasing and perfect will of God". Romans 12.2

Transformative justice as a vision guiding the building of truly inclusive and just communities demands metanoia. It includes turning, reorienting our perceptions, our thinking, and our way of living. In the words of Wanda Deifelt,

Metanoia, conversion, makes us come to terms with the ambiguity of human existence: we are saints and sinners at the same time. We have the capacity for goodness and generosity and love. But we also have the potential for evil, selfishness and hatred in the midst of this struggle; we easily give in to the arguments of self-preservation and maintenance of the status quo. We forget to dare. It is always staggering to realise how easily we as Christians comply with the standards of this world. The passion for justice, the capacity to take risks and rehearse more egalitarian relations among us has long been domesticated.6

Transformative justice calls us to overcome that ambiguity of human existence. To believing and acting out as saints. To exploring daily and extensively our capacity for goodness and generosity and love. To opening to the newness of not complying with the standards of this world but, on the contrary, undertaking deliberate, consistent and constant action against racism. It is to dare to have a renewed passion for racial justice, the capacity to take risks, and rehearse more egalitarian relations among us. It implies changes of understanding, practices, actions and structures by churches and within churches - as well as by and in society.

Willie Esterhuyse in his article "Truth as a trigger for transformation: from apartheid to transformational justice" gives useful insights into transformation which very well serve the purposes of this paper. He mentions the need for a paradigm shift, a change of mind-set that is necessary if radical changes are to happen.7 Transformative justice implies a paradigm shift that will allow structures, culture, and defining values to be transformed.

Transformative justice with focus on justice for peoples - racially-ethnically oppressed - and the whole creation, should be rooted in specific contexts and communities. The decisions on how to transform churches and communities' reality to become truly multi-racial, multi-ethnic and to re-establish just relationships with integral concern for the implications of that to creation should be taken by the whole community. The community of life in its interconnectedness belongs to the transformative justice process.

The people that have suffered the injustice of racism themselves should be the primary actors to define what justice means and how do they see that justice could be achieved. Victims and/or their descendants should define, identify and guide appropriate responses from the communities of transformative justice. A victim-centred approach is intrinsic to our notion of justice. That implies that creation has been also a victim of racist policies. A clear case is the experience of racially-ethnically-oppressed peoples and the destruction and exploitation of the environment on which their livelihood is based and dependant. Justice to creation needs to be achieved as well. That understanding affirms the whole community of interconnected life. Thus, to transform the community means to uphold justice, peace and integrity of creation together in the process of transformative justice.

For churches in the struggle for racial justice, acknowledging that racism violates peoples and creation's integrity as well as interpersonal relationships is a requirement. Where racism is or has been present, victims and the church community have been harmed and need healing and wholeness. That implies that the members of the community who committed the offence and sin of racism or their descendants should be helped by the community to understand the harm that racism has caused to the victims - peoples and environment, historically and at the present - and to take responsibility. An element of that responsibility is confession, apologies and asking for forgiveness.

Churches, as communities of transformative justice, are called to confess when "wittingly or unwittingly, [the church] condones attitudes which allow injustice to continue or which obscure the root causes of injustice. Sometimes the church will discover that its own processes of ethical judgement, and of moral formation, have become distorted by such factors."8 That is a fact as far as racial-ethnic-caste-gender-environmental justice is concerned. With regard to racial-ethnic justice, the experience of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa in condoning apartheid is one such example.

Confession, apologies and asking for forgiveness should not only be understood as a collective act for the whole church, but as an individual act as well. Transformation for the whole of communities is transformation of individuals as well. That requires a profound commitment of all to stand together in a journey that may be a long and painful one.

From the experience of those undergoing healing journeys from the sin of racism, we have learned that anger, pain and suffering are unavoidable, especially when communities face the truth and must find ways to live through that knowledge (see the experience of the United Church of Canada). Truth, however, is healing to both the victims and the offenders. Truth is healing of the individual members as well of the community and their institutional life. Truth-telling, individual and institutional, belongs to our notion of justice.

An inclusive and participatory journey requires that an engaged community find ways to "bring to the table" or to bring "back to the table" those who resist change and participation. Self or any other kind of exclusion should be overcome for the sake of the whole community.

If, on the one hand, those who have committed the sin of racism, and the church as a whole, are called to confess, apologise and ask for forgiveness, it is the victims' duty to accept (or not) the confessions and apologies as well as to grant forgiveness. This aspect is very important for the transformative justice journey, particularly for us as churches and communities of faith. It can really open the way for all the steps that have to be taken along the way. One step to redress the inequalities and harm caused by racism is reparation and restitution as a moral obligation.

Justice should redress the imbalance of relationships and the imbalances of power. That is part of a process of restitution to the victims by the offenders, which may be the institutional church. The churches have the responsibility and need to commit themselves to rectifying the injustices and to working to redefine power systems and relationships so that they cease to be either racist, colonial, paternalistic and/or patriarchal. In overcoming institutional racism, that is the challenge.

In a community of transformative justice, the ones who have suffered the injustice are the ones who have the credibility and legitimacy to say when racial-ethnic-gender-environmental justice has been achieved. This may mean that the relationship between victims and offenders has become one of respect and has achieved a balance that is not only economic or of social position, but as Children of God, equal members of the community transformed by justice. It may mean that peoples have experienced healing and wholeness, feel collectively and individually worthy, and have regained their strength and dignity. It might mean that the communities' structures, culture and defining values have been transformed and reflect the journey to overcome racism. Most probably, all those elements will be present in some degree or another. The communities of transformative justice will be able to discern that moment through its own fruits of justice.

Transformative justice has implications for the world context, particularly for its economic [dis]order, and for a vision of the world as a global community. A community in which the whole creation and peoples truly belong together is much more difficult to realise on a global level. The present globalisation dynamics of exclusion, marginalisation and destruction of the environment show us clearly that we do not live in a global community and, unfortunately, this impacts on the whole creation and on communities at the local level whose values and ways of life are also threatened.

IV. When chronos encounters kairos: Churches facing their historical past

The time has come.
The moment of truth has arrived...
This is the KAIROS,
The moment of grace and opportunity
9

Understanding that transformative justice has to be rooted in specific contexts led to the decision to base this session in specific experience. The choice of experiences was based on two criteria. The first was that their content interconnect with the transformative justice content. The second was that they relate to peoples who have been WCC partners in the struggle for racial justice - Indigenous Peoples, African-descendants and Ethnic minorities - and thus serve as examples of how churches are dealing with the concerns of this paper. We hope they will inspire further insights and actions.

Three of the experiences have in common that the churches concerned have presented their apologies to the peoples they harmed. They are:

- The United Church of Canada: apologies to the First Nations Peoples (the original people of Canada, the Indigenous Peoples)

- The Lutheran Church of Norway: apologies to the Roma People

- The United Methodist Church in the United State: apologies to Native Americans (Indigenous Peoples), and apologies for acts of racism that prompted the creation of separate Black denominations

The fourth experience relates to South Africa. It does not highlight a particular church, but aims at presenting some of the challenges that the churches face on racism.

V. The United Church of Canada: facing the historical past 10

The history of the relationship between Europeans and First Nations Peoples in Canada was characterised by the enforcement of different policies at different times. For about 200 years (1500-1700), there were some treaty-making processes, especially with regard to the fur trade that was of particular interest of Europeans. Later, there was a shift to domination, largely due to the fact that economic interest in the fur trade was slowly dying.

By the nineteenth century, attention was focused on new resources like timber, minerals and agriculture. New European settlement began. The incursions into Aboriginal lands were very destructive to the Aboriginal way of life. Settlements brought diseases, and First Nations Peoples were resettled in lands not appropriate for their way of life or survival. Their subsequent poverty led to death and a drastic decrease in the Aboriginal Peoples' population - from 500,000 before the arrival of Europeans to about 100,000, by 1871.11 Contemporary Canadian policy-makers affirm that the doctrine of assimilation was the most effective means of domination.

That doctrine was based on four dehumanising views about Aboriginal Peoples and their cultures:

(...) that they were inferior peoples; that they were unable to govern themselves and that colonial Canadian authorities knew best how to protect their interests and well-being; that the special relationship of respect and sharing enshrined in the treaties was an historical anomaly with no more force or meaning; that European ideas about progress and development were self evidently correct and could be imposed on Aboriginal Peoples without reference to any other values and opinions they might possess. 12

In a parallel process, the churches' missionary work in Canada, as in other parts of the world, brought more than the gospel along with it: receiving the gospel meant adopting western European culture. Neither the Indigenous Peoples nor the evangelical missionaries were able to separate the gospel from western European culture. Indigenous Peoples experienced their spirituality as part of a whole way of life. Christianity did not become Indigenous. It could only have become that if the Gospel had been integrated into culture.

As power shifted into the hands of white society and the federal government, Aboriginal Peoples had less opportunity to appropriate Christianity in terms meaningful to them. The mission of the churches, therefore, was carried out with the understanding that to "Christianise" and to "civilise" were synonymous.13 A 1991 report by a United Church of Canada Task Group on Residential Schools concluded that, "it is not an exaggeration to say that the church required Native Peoples to repent of being Native peoples if they wished to follow the Christian way."14 The basic assumption about the superiority of European - and North American for that matter - culture meant a complete disrespect of the Indigenous Peoples and their millenium-old cultures.

Various policies were used to implement the doctrine of assimilation. The one that would impact the churches directly was the one about creating residential schools for children as instruments of assimilation. The schools and their teachings became tools to integrate First Nations Peoples into the society, tools for destruction of Indigenous cultures - what is today called ethno-genocide.

The federal government of Canada chose to adopt the system of residential schools, and recruited churches to operate the schools.
Many Indian residential schools used practices that were common in boarding and residential schools of the day: uniforms, manual labour by the students, separation of siblings from one another, and so on. However, for Aboriginal children, these practices had a devastating impact on their culture and their family life. Worse, in schools that were not properly funded, children were often hungry. All schools were strict, but many were known for the harsh physical treatment children received, including beatings and punishment in front of other children. In the worst cases, children were the victims of sexual predators. 15


The United Church's involvement in the residential schools was motivated by concerns beyond the mission to spread Christianity. In the struggle for a meaningful presence in society, especially for people whose opportunities were limited, it dedicated itself (as did the Methodist Church) to provide education for children of low-income families, which included Aboriginal children.

Many interlinked factors made the residential schools harmful to Aboriginal children. The government, for instance, funded the schools, and the funding was often inadequate. This led to low salaries that in turn led to the appointment of less qualified teachers and administrators.
In consequence some teachers and school leaders took advantage of the situation of residential schools to ridicule and to go to unnecessary lengths to eradicate all vestiges of the students' Native cultures. This, in some schools, included the prohibition to speak their own languages, speak to their siblings, or hold on to treasured keepsakes from home. Worse, a channel was created by which unbalanced individuals were able to take advantage of their power over these young people, resulting in instances of physical and sexual abuse.16


New awareness and initiatives

The year 1969 is a landmark in the history of First Nations' resistance. That year, the Canadian federal government released an Indian Policy Paper. This so-called "White Paper" proposed revoking the Indian Act and replacing it with what it called "equality", which involved transferring services for Indigenous Peoples to the provinces. Aboriginal People saw this imposed form of "equality" as the death of their collective identities, the end of their existence as distinct peoples. A movement of Aboriginal Peoples, including over 400 chiefs, came together and lobbied against the White Paper at Parliament Hill, in Ottawa. In 1970 during Trudeau government, the policy paper was withdrawn.
(Aboriginal Peoples) Together with Inuit and Métis, [First Nations] began to realise the full significance of their survival in the face of sustained efforts to assimilate them. They began to see their struggle as part of the worldwide human rights movement of Indigenous Peoples. They began to piece together the legal case for their continuity as people - nations within Canada - and to speak about it. (...) The strong opposition of Aboriginal Peoples to the White Paper's invitation to join mainstream society took non-Aboriginal people by surprise. The question of who Aboriginal peoples are and what their place is in Canada became central to national debate.17

In the eighties and the beginning of the nineties, non-Aboriginal Canadians grew more aware of the impact of Christian mission - as practised in the residential schools - on the life of Aboriginal Peoples. A crucial concern for the relationship of the church with Aboriginal Peoples emerged: that of broken relationships.18
We are part of a church that participated in residential schools in the name of the gospel. We are also part of a society that implemented and benefited materially from the policies aimed at devaluing Aboriginal cultures. As individuals and as a church we can respond to this legacy by maintaining a stance of denial or defence, but our faiths presents us with another option - that of seeking healing and new relationship with God and with those whom we have wronged. 19

There is no ready-made formula for seeking healing, reconciliation and new relationships with those we have wronged. In each and every society and community, the path must be commonly defined. It should take into account all those involved, victims and offenders, oppressors and oppressed. It should be a path that opens the way to real community in the future.

To achieve a new kind of community implies, as mentioned before, a paradigm shift, a radical change: of heart and mentality, of theologies, liturgies, and structures. Without such changes, old systems might live on in our actions. It is a costly process.

Within the United Church of Canada (UCC) First Nations Peoples and non-First Nations peoples have begun a long-term process towards healing and reconciliation. It involves three main stages: 1. truth-telling; 2. lamentation and repentance; and 3. seeking the Spirit. The Jewish and Christian tradition of lament, pastoral grief work and the experience of Aboriginal healing circles inform these stages.20

1.Truth-Telling

This involves naming the assumptions behind the establishment of residential schools and Christian mission; for example, the presumption of the superiority of white European peoples and cultures. It involves a willingness to probe core beliefs. It is to admit that what we believed is and was wrong, that what we thought was the truth might just be our side of the truth but not the whole truth. Truth encompasses perspectives and truths of all people involved. It is to name racism wherever it exists.

The church has searched in the Scriptures for the wisdom that could help it re-think its own way of truth-telling. The church, as part of the people of God, is called to resist the temptation to speak only of salvation and grace without regard for the tragic context of betrayal and sin that it has inherited. In that light, it is called to discover its own story as a church. It is called, as people of God, not to bear false witness through denial, pretence of ignorance or escape, in its story-telling.

In the ethical circle of truth in Aboriginal Wisdom, truth is understood as something to be discovered rather than postulated, argued or proven. In the circle, each person shares a perspective on truth that helps to build a larger picture of what is true. Truth can be found in recounting the wisdom of elders and ancestors. History is invested in people's memory. Wisdom and truth shared in small circles of consensus feed into a wider consensus of the generations past and generations to come. This small circle is part of the Great Consensus - circle of all creation.

Reflecting upon these different ways of telling the truth helped define some guiding steps on how to listen to truth-telling:

- We commit to hearing more than we want to, more than is easy or comfortable.

- We hear many sides and versions of a story until we hear the larger story forming.

- We struggle not to use one story to invalidate another.

Truth-telling is not only related to what happened in the past. It is also about how the past continues living in peoples' lives.
Many First Nations people, and others, have blamed the high number of health and addiction disorders, the high suicide and overall mortality rates, the family and community disintegration on the effects of attending residential schools. Some survivors and their communities have lost the skills needed to be healthy individuals. The loss of nurturing parents; loss of parenting skills; loss of identity; low self-esteem; the inability to think independently; the lack of unity within families and communities; the loss of language, culture and respect for self; and, finally, the loss of spiritual values have left communities in chaos. 21

2. Lamentation and Repentance

Facing the truth is not an easy task for individuals or for communities as a whole. Denial and guilt might be temptations that have to be dealt with in order to move forward. Lament and learning how to lament has been an experience that has helped the people involved to move forward beyond denial and guilt. The loss, grief, suffering and brokenness of spirit for Aboriginal Peoples and communities are so enormous that the only compassionate response has been lament.

The process of healing being lived by the UCC aims at helping the church as a whole, and its individual members in particular, to overcome the obstacles that prevent them from moving towards justice and reconciliation. Towards that purpose, the church has adapted the framework developed by Joanna Macy, ecology and peace activist, for what she called "despair work": "(...) the first step of moving from grief to repentance and transformation [should] be that of opening ourselves to the experience of pain, past and present. Then comes a turning point when we realise that the deepest source of our pain and solidarity lies in interconnectedness and solidarity with those who have suffered."22 That turning point can move towards authentic repentance and transformation.

Protestant churches do not commonly use lament, but in the experience of the UCC lament has been an integral part of healing, since there is need to process the truth of what happened at the level of the heart. It is a faithful and biblical response.

In dealing with the legacy of residential schools, lament is an important response because: - some stories are horrific, it is right to be overwhelmed; - lament is an expression of feelings which are not neat and tidy; - grieving is part of healing.23

Repentance and a change of heart are important steps in the healing process as well. Metanoia - as a biblical concept that helps in the understanding of repentance, metanoia as reorienting our perceptions, thinking and way of living - is required. What needs to be changed for me, personally? "What does repentance mean for the institutional church, which believed that its mission required that people give up their 'spirits' to save their 'souls'."

Metanoia requires turning away from
Making acceptance of Western culture a condition for acceptance of the Gospel; racism and assumptions of Western cultural superiority; an expectation that the church has a privileged place in the state; hierarchy and dominating power or 'power-over'; belief that the church has a monopoly on the truth; belief that mission is a mandate to take the gospel as we have defined it to people with no gospel;

Why is repentance and change of heart important in relation to the residential schools' legacy? Because we burden ourselves by carrying the wrong things around forever; because we hold on to things that cause pain to others and ourselves: because we need to be opened up to what is next - deep transformation and rebirth.24

On the journey towards justice and reconciliation, repentance calls us to acts of acknowledgement, confession and the search for ways towards redress, restitution. Gregory Baum notes that, "while the past cannot be erased, reconciliation requires a leap of faith to redefine a path toward a life-filled future. Those who have inflicted pain on others, who have participated directly or indirectly in acts of oppression, must recognise the evil origin of their power and privilege, repent, and be willing to make restitution."25

3. Seeking the Spirit

Living the two processes described above - in which listening to the painful stories and working way through it are realities - leads us to a self-emptying place, where we know that reconciliation is required. At that point, God's guidance is the way: "How can we go on? Where do we turn? We turn to God. We need to invoke the Spirit. Although the Spirit has been with us in the truth-telling, lament, and confession, this is the stage where, instead of acting, we need to wait upon God. Instead of talking, we need to listen."26

Turning to God is the search for ways, for answers to determine actions that can make things "right" based in spiritual wisdom. It is to trust in the divine wisdom and not solely in our human wisdom to "make it happen" on our own. There is no magic recipe for reconciliation. Reconciliation unfolds as "mystery and grace. We need the gifts of the Spirit - patience, humility, compassion, gentleness, and respect - things we cannot manufacture ourselves".27

Aboriginal Peoples' spiritual wisdom has highlighted the experience of seeking the Spirit through their own understanding that "the connection to the Creator is possible through attention to the small, the mundane, the daily detail. Calling on the Spirit is in the drawing of water, provision of food, the telling of a story, the honouring of an elder. In practising a balanced life, one is connecting to the Spirit of the Creator."28

Theological reflections on seeking the Spirit29 led to an understanding that only the Spirit of God can pull us away from paralysis in the face of terrible pain - of the residential school legacy - and move us instead down the path of justice and reconciliation.

The steps described here characterise the process the UCC is working through. As part of that process, the church has clearly expressed its apologies to First Nations' People. In August 1986, on behalf of the 31st General Council, the UCC moderator apologised for the period during which the church had linked acceptance of European culture to the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and simultaneously suppressed First Nations cultures.

The 36th General Council of the UCC expressed repentance in 1997 for its role in residential schools. That statement committed the church to a journey of repentance. In 1998, the General Council Executive formally apologised for church complicity in the system. "The apology arose out of a sense of corporate sin of commission for those times in which the church has participated in the system. Also tied to the sin of omission for those times in which we had not spoken against national policies and practices which gave rise to the schools system."30

The justice and reconciliation process is being pursued at the local level. At the same time, the General Council established a Healing Fund in 1994. Created as one way for the church to live out its 1986 Apology to First Nations, it is a fundraising and educational campaign. Many healing programmes in Aboriginal communities have been supported by the Fund. These programmes are initiated, designed and carried out by Aboriginal People.

We said previously that today there is a growing movement of peoples for truth-telling, acknowledgement of past and present wrongs, challenges to impunity, calls for healing of relationships and reconciliation processes. The experience of the UCC is a reflection of that reality. It shows deep levels of commitment - a costly commitment - to re-establish right relationships with Aboriginal Peoples. The reflection and analysis upon the living experiences have already affected understanding of what mission meant and should mean today; they have also offered a response to the search for radical ways to address racial justice concerns.

Beyond the more extensive reflection on the experience of the United Church of Canada, we would like to give a few more brief examples of some present efforts towards transformative justice from a racial/ethnic perspective.

VI. The United Methodist Church in the United States

What has already been said about the UCC and other Canadian churches applies equally to the mission of the United Methodist Church in the USA: the effort to "Christianise" went hand in hand with the push to "Westernise", and the white European culture and its presumed superiority laid the foundations for the mission of the church. Belief in superiority justified racism and the conquest, enslavement and evangelising of non-Europeans.

The myth of superiority continues to operate not only in how those of white European ancestry relate to the Indigenous Peoples and African-American People, but also to others presently migrating to the USA: Chinese, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Jamaicans and Haitians. These people are given menial jobs, inadequate housing, education and medical services. A colonial mentality still prevails, promoting inequities.

The church's analysis holds that little has changed in practice in the United States with regard to social, economic and political institutions. Racism and racial discrimination continues. Some institutions have eliminated obvious discriminatory language and practices, but racism is still practised. The institutional church also discriminates, despite its efforts to eliminate racism.

The power and privilege of those of white European ancestry remains.

Conscious of that reality, the United Methodist Church in its Charter for Racial Justice Policies states:
We are conscious that "we have sinned as our ancestors did; we have been wicked and evil" (Psalm 106:6, Today's English Version). We are called for a renewed commitment to the elimination of institutional racism. We affirm the 1976 General Conference Statement on the United Methodist Church and Race, which states unequivocally: "By biblical and theological precept, by law the law of the church, by the General Conference pronouncement, and by episcopal expression, the matter is clear. With respect to race, the aim of the United Methodist Church is nothing less than an inclusive church in an inclusive society. The United Methodist Church, therefore, calls upon its entire people to perform those faithful deeds of love and justice in both the church and community that will bring this aim into reality.31

With this statement, the church committed itself to transformation in many areas of its ministry. In line with that commitment, a 1992 Confession to Native Americans acknowledged that the Christian churches and the United Methodist Church and its predecessors participated in the destruction of Native American people, culture, and religious practices, and that the churches had not confessed sufficiently their complicity in this evil.32 The General Conference recommended that local churches develop similar statements of confession as a way of fostering a deep sense of community with Native Americans.

In 1996, the General Council in the Sand Creek Apology extended apologies to the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples, and asked for forgiveness for the death of over 200 persons, mostly women and children, who died in the state of Oklahoma.

More recently, the United Methodist Church, through its Commission on Christian Unity and Inter-religious Concerns, prepared and distributed a study guide called "Steps toward Wholeness: Learning and Repentance". The agency and the church's Council of Bishops are sponsoring the study. The guide aims at helping United Methodist congregations prepare for "acts of repentance for racism" and to aid in pan-Methodist conversations on union between the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches and the United Methodists. Delegates and visitors to the United Methodist General Conference in May 2000 participated in an Act of Repentance for Reconciliation. Apologies were made for acts of racism that prompted the creation of separate black denominations and also for segregated units in the predominately white Methodist Church from 1939 to 1968.

In developing the study, the church aims at involving other United Methodists throughout the world as well. A call in the introduction to the study guide states:
While this study is focused on churches and history centred in the United States, this history and its lessons can be instructive to United Methodists outside the United States as well. The Methodist churches considered here exist side by side in countries outside the United States, and issues of cooperation and unity take different shape there. Yet all are affected by the stories and struggles detailed here, and all are invited to join the study. 33

The experience of the United Methodist Church points to the fact that little has changed in the USA with regard to social, economic and political institutions related to racism. The experience highlights another essential element and presents a great challenge in the discussion of transformative justice and the struggle for racial justice in church: that of addressing the existing division of the churches on racial and ethnic lines. The lessons learned from the United Methodist Church's study on that matter can be an important contribution to other churches which want to address the same challenges, aiming at establishing new relationships with those who have been wronged and excluded by past and present racist attitudes and actions.

VII. The Lutheran Church of Norway and the Roma People

We wish to acknowledge the meaningful steps for justice and reconciliation taken over the years between the Church of Norway and the Sami People, generating the creation of the Sami Church Council and other initiatives. We have chosen, however, to highlight briefly the church's most recent action with regard to the Roma People.

Roma people have been present in Norway for almost 500 years. The so-called Gypsies - Vlach, a distinct ethnic group - came to Norway around 1850. The Roma population is approximately 20.000 people out of Norway's 4.3 million population. In their traditional way of life, the Roma people used to travel and earn their living by trade, handicrafts and various forms of repair work.

State intervention in the lives of the Roma People included policies related to forced segregation that even made it legal to shoot Roma people (until the end of the nineteen-century). Priests who gave baptism, confirmation, wedding or funeral to Roma people were stigmatised and risked losing their jobs in the church ministry.

Forced assimilation was another government policy. During most of twentieth century, children were taken from their parents. 1700 children out of a population of less than 10.000 were either brought up in other peoples homes or in institutions. Laws were enacted to make it impossible for the Roma to continue their traditional living, and they were subject to forced sterilisation, often without their knowledge.

Many of the organisations involved in the suppression of the Roma culture were run by the church or managed by clergy. The most prominent was the Norwegian Mission among the Homeless, which is now believed to have been responsible for at least 40% of forced sterilizations of Roma women in the 1930s and 1940s.34

In the last few years, the Roma people's struggle for respect of cultural heritage and for status as a national minority has received greater visibility. However, many Roma people did not want to be called a "minority" because they feared further stigmatisation.

The 1998, the General Synod of the Church of Norway received a report of a long-term dialogue between representatives of the Roma people and the church Council on Ecumenical Relations. In the light of that report, the General Synod in the name of the church confessed and asked for forgiveness: "We have a sin and shame that we can not carry further. Therefore we ask on behalf of our church: Forgive us our sins." Further,
2. The Synod asks the bishops to send a letter to all the congregations on this issue. This letter should contain information on what has happened, and that this is brought to the forefront at the Human Rights Sunday 1999, second Sunday of Advent. We propose:

An offering to the work of the organisations for the Roma people, in order to strengthen their culture and identity.

That the Commission on Liturgy under Church of Norway National Council formulates liturgical elements that help the parishes to ask for forgiveness for our common sin.

3. The Synod points to the fact that Norwegian authorities have a particular responsibility to give the Roma people restitution and restoration - as individuals and as a people. The Synod asks that Norwegian government and Parliament give priority to this work.

4. The Synod sees that reconciliation takes time, and asks that the ongoing dialogue must continue. The Synod asks that Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations take the dialogue forward, and seek ways that the Church of Norway can contribute to reconciliation in the people, and support to the Roma people in their work on the government.35

However, the process of justice and reconciliation between the Roma People and the Lutheran Church of Norway suffered a break at that point. The Roma People criticised the Apology as half-hearted. The controversy referred to a proposal - that was carried by 43 against 40 votes - that proposed that the violations referred to be general and not the specific responsibility of the church. A wording change from "We [the church] carry a heavy sin and much shame", to "our people carry" was seen as an attempt by the church to evade its responsibility for the wrongs committed against the Roma People.

The question of "we" [the church] or "our people carry" brings us back to the concern about corporate responsibility for historical wrongs. As Christians, we are called to acknowledge and confess our individual sins with regard to racism. However, that does not isolates us from the fact that we carry a history with us, a history that is ours because of heritage and ancestry. It is a history of power and privilege of some, and of all the benefits that come with that over against the exploitation, oppression and, often, the death of others. It is our responsibility to account for the wrongs of our ancestors as much as it is our responsibility and privilege to acknowledge and cherish their good deeds. The churches do have a prophetic role to play in the wider community to counter a widespread notion that, as citizens, we have no responsibility for the actions of previous generations.36

Continued dialogue between the Church of Norway and the Roma People led to reconsideration by the 2000 General Synod. The synod unanimously decided to ask the Roma People for forgiveness for the injustice and the violations perpetuated against them by the Church of Norway.37

The Church has since committed itself to helping the Roma People of Norway reclaim their own culture. A reconciliation process in which "the offenders let the victims define what is necessary for a real restitution"38 indicates the approach the church is taking to continue dealing with its historical wrongs against the Roma People.

VIII. Comment on the challenges of racism confronted by the Churches in South Africa

The notion of reconciliation has been central to theological debate in South Africa. In Christian churches, this dates at least to the publication by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the Christian Institute of a "Message to the People of South Africa" in 1968, and finds its most critical expression in a Kairos Document39 almost twenty years later (1985).

After the publication of the Kairos Document, prophetic voices within the churches called on the churches to confess their guilt for apartheid on behalf of the nation, and to work for reconciliation on the basis of justice. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was also a key figure in that regard. A number of major conferences and documents focused on reconciliation and the need for repentance and reparation.40 These and other experiences prepared South African Christians for the process on truth and reconciliation. All of those processes culminated in the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up in February 1996 41, two years after the democratisation process began, people, including the churches, had high hopes and expectations for it. Because of the presence of many church people in the TRC, especially of Archbishop Tutu and of several commissioners, many people thought that the church was represented in the TRC. This was an erroneous assumption; as was the assumption that the TRC's objectives were spiritual and theological.42

Responses to the TRC from religious communities, including churches, were not as significant as expected. Responses came rather from individual congregations and ministers or specialised groups, with very little coordination. There was absence-silence of the Black and the poor in the truth and reconciliation process what might itself have been part of a silencing process.43

(...) One the most astounding realities is that although churches are home for both Lions and Rabbits [offenders and victims], facilitating reconciliation has not come naturally to them. Reconciliation is something which needs to be made and "orchestrated"- and various organs in society, including the church must do this. Churches can play a role in encouraging the increase, spread, variety and quality of discourse about reconciliation. That discourse in South Africa so far is white and male. It has to be spread between blacks and whites, male and female.44

At a Conference on Racism held by the SACC in October 2000, Bishop Mvume Dandala in his opening address evoked the need for reconciliation, and for the churches to tackle racism from within:
Those of us who are in leadership of our churches, churches that for many years were led by white people, would sometimes like to believe that racism has been wiped out from our churches, particularly when we find that the majority of those leaders are black. But the truth is that in South Africa many Christian Churches on Sunday meet according to their racial categories. Many of our churches find every excuse for remaining within the racial categories that are convenient to them.

(...) We can no longer as the church continue to challenge this country to find a way to defeat racism when we accommodate racist practices within our own churches.45

Bishop Dandala expressed his belief that the churches had not done enough to respond to the challenges put before them by the TRC's revelations. He identified two challenges that could help the churches to find solutions:

- commitment to establish authentic, racially-inclusive congregations who will share their faith, their culture and their resources together;

- commitment to look again at ways to work together ecumenically to heal the wounds of the past and get people together.46

With regard to healing in particular, he suggested that interfaith places of healing for victims and offenders, places that can be set apart by communities as places for spiritual healing, be identified.

Post-apartheid South Africa is in the process of transformation towards a non-racial, non-sexist society. That vision has been maintained with a clear understanding that the poor should take priority when strategies are defined. Poverty is one of its greatest challenges. At present, poverty is being addressed by affirmative action and Black economic empowerment. Effectively addressing socio-economic inequalities and establishing a thriving economic environment is understood as a priority.

Esterhuyse, in the article mentioned above, says that "there cannot be enduring reconciliation in this country without the transformation of that which apartheid left in its wake. In fact, the values entrenched in the constitution of the country - the development of a non-racial, non-sexist democracy on the basis of reconciled relationships - is impossible without a far-reaching transformation."

A far-reaching transformation in South Africa today, therefore, relates to consistently addressing the legacies of apartheid and racism, in churches and society. It relates to the process of truth and reconciliation and applying transformative justice in the structural and institutional levels of South African society to redress the deeply rooted inequalities expressed by poverty of its Black People.

IX. Comment on the reparations concern

The question of reparation for the victims or descendants of victims who suffered death and violations of their human rights is a very controversial one. This was illustrated during the process towards the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) in Durban. Despite the fact that many civil society organisations - particularly those of African and African-descendants in the Diaspora - were convinced that reparations must be paid, no material reparation can possibly repair the immeasurable harm done in the past by colonialism, slavery, the slave trade, the genocide and ethnocide of Indigenous Peoples and the many historical wrongs that were perpetuated.

South Africa, for example, is still facing difficulties in that area. There was a debate on the differences in decision-making power between the Committee on Amnesty and the Rehabilitation and Reparations Committee. The former had the power to extend amnesty straight away, whereas the Rehabilitation and Reparations Committee - which dealt with reparations for victims - could only make recommendations to either the president or a parliamentary standing committee.

Another element to be mentioned is that "granting amnesty to persons who made a full disclosure of all the relevant facts" did not require the offenders to demonstrate any remorse or show any willingness to make reparations for their actions, only to make full disclosure.

Offenders and victims were treated differently in this process. This provoked much criticism by ordinary people and commentators. Victims did not get justice. "They don't get the truth. They just get their stories recorded."47 The perception of many Blacks was that Whites got amnesty for their crimes - plus all the power and privilege from which they already benefited during the apartheid regime, while most Blacks got nothing in return, just as was the case during the apartheid regime. Was that the "truth and reconciliation" to be pursued?48

From the government's perspective, there is a problem in addressing "individual restitution" - the term used instead of reparation. A search for a communal response - for example, in infrastructure that services to the poorest of the poor and those who were victims - must be found.49 Assessing the situation, Bishop Dandala says that "for restitution to be meaningful, there must be a way of helping those who benefited from apartheid to begin to appreciate the value of the process of restitution".50

Rev. Brian Thorpe, senior advisor of Residential Schools Steering Committee of the United Church of Canada, similarly comments on reparations, saying that the Healing Fund, for instance, established with the intent that Indigenous Peoples within the church be the ones to make decisions about funding community-based projects proposed by Indigenous Peoples in the wider community, could hardly be considered a sacrificial offering on the part of the church. 51To date, the fund has been supported by individual contributions and by some monies from the General Council. The UCC knows that it needs to move further in that direction.

Another concern in the complex discussion on reparation is related to history and her-story: the stories, philosophies and religious understandings of peoples and cultures, particularly where churches were involved.

Dandala refers to this concern when he says, "the church played a very key role in storing our archives. There must be a lot that we have not unearthed and that must be unearthed. It may not be unearthed by the World Council of Churches itself, but it can be unearthed by the ecumenical movement by creating a situation that would make it imperative for churches to surrender the archives that belong to Africa back to Africa".52 How the ecumenical movement and WCC member churches could respond to that challenge is one of the questions that remain before us.

Similarly, Thorpe comments that another still largely unexamined issue is the loss of languages, family systems, culture, spirituality. The courts do not currently consider those to be causes of action and, thus, neither the government nor the church are under any legal obligation to pay reparations for these losses (There are cases before the courts, but these will likely take years to reach the Supreme Court of Canada for any definitive decision). Through the court system, settlements with those who were sexually abused in the schools have been addressed. However, in the meantime, church and nation are challenged not to wait until the courts have decided in order to address the whole issue of reparations. Thorpe believes that this will be an important area in which the wider church community, through the World Council of Churches, could be of great help.53

The above comments very well highlight the complexity of the matter. There are different forms of reparation and it is necessary to make that distinction. Most often, especially from a legal perspective, reparation is equal to economic reparation. However the concept of reparation is broader than that. It includes, for example, symbolic reparation. Apart from the examples already given, in many cases relatives of disappeared people in Latin America asked for a place where disappeared persons are remembered - a monument, a street, a square - rather than for economic restitution. Relatives of the disappeared understood this as a way to show that these persons were not criminals but victims of state terrorism. The symbolic reparation was a public acknowledgement of what happened. In all its different forms, reparation means also healing, reconciliation.54

X. Racism as a sin revisited

The ecumenical movement, the WCC and its member churches have produced many unambiguous statements which condemn racism. Over the past few years, churches have issued many apologies and confessions of racism committed against Indigenous Peoples, African-descendants and Ethnic minorities. A few of them are mentioned in this paper. These, as well as their statements, are most often based on the belief that human beings are created in the image of God (Gen. 1.26), that all human beings are created equal, and that racism is a sin.

Racism is a sin because it separates us from God and from our fellow human beings, making us blind to the reality of people's suffering. This opens the door to perpetuating racist attitudes, practices and institutional racism. Racism is a sin because it leads to silence and omission. Racism is a sin because it is a blatant denial of the Christian Faith and incompatible with the Gospel. Racism is a sin for its flagrant violation of human rights.

It is sinful not only because, in assuming that human beings are not equal before God, it is contrary to the biblical teachings, particularly that of Galatians 3. 28, or because it denies basic justice and human dignity. Racism is primarily a sin because it destroys the very source of humanity - the image of God in humankind. Racism desecrates God's likeness in every person. Thus, it repudiates the Creator God; it repudiates the Creation and its goodness. We are truly human only when the divine flame of God's Image shines within us to dissipate evil, as individuals, churches and societies. The struggle against racism is an affirmation of the truth and of life in its fullness.

The call of the WCC's VIIIth assembly - "Turn to God, Rejoice in Hope" - is an ever-present reminder to all of us to (re)turn to our true humanity, turning away from the sin of racism and repent. We are confronted once more with the need to experience metanoia, to change direction (see page 5) via a heartfelt process in which we become ready to be transformed. That recognition tells us that the mission of the churches cannot go on as usual. We must acknowledge that the actions of individuals, churches, and societies have to be transformed by the power of God. The eradication of racism is a task that we accomplish in the understanding that God-self is applying restitution, through us, to God's Creation of all things and peoples.
In fact, the creation of the universe and humanity by God is characterised by diversities. Creation is not a monolithic reality; diversity is a salient feature of it. In the story of creation told in the book of Genesis, diversity is a dominant reality. However, along with the emphasis on diversity, the book of Genesis also speaks of coherence, harmony, interaction and unity as inherent qualities of creation. These two aspects show that in the context of God's creation, diversity is a source of enrichment that acquires its true meaning and value through unity. In fact, the creation of the universe and humanity is in its essence a concrete manifestation of unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Diversity is a gift of God that must be preserved for the integrity and sustainability of creation. This basic affirmation of Christian theology is common in all living faiths.

This is the time that presents itself to us, allowing us to live out our multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies as a reality of our everyday life as well as in our church communities. We are called at this time to overcome our perceptions about "them" and "us", whether in relation to different racial-ethnic peoples or to human beings and creation. The radical conversion that our ecumenical commitment calls us to is to understand that we are one, as peoples and as one creation. When we understand and act accordingly, our transformation moves forward and our commitment to life as a whole is enhanced. All human beings - regardless of religion, race, national origin, colour, creed, or gender - are living icons of God, innately worthy of such respect and dignity. Whenever human beings fail to treat others and creation with this respect, they insult God, the Creator.55

Church is a community of disciples that should constantly regroup and reconstitute itself around issues of suffering. Often the churches fail to centre on the suffering, dispossessed and degraded people in society. The churches are constantly yielding to the temptation to forget those who are forgotten and not heed the voice of those claiming racial justice. To varying degrees, the histories of our churches bear witness to their constant drifting away from the poor and powerless towards the rich and mighty.56

We have confessed that racism is a sin, not only as individual Christians, but also as churches at large. To affirm that racism is a sin has radical implications to the churches: a radical commitment to overcome it.


XI. Commitments towards transformative justice

Our assurance is that God's Spirit is present, guiding and opening our hearts and minds, that transformative justice comes to strengthen the prophetic role of the churches and that it is not a human project alone. God's Divine work for transformative justice is already operative in the world. Thus, we are called to cooperate with God's Spirit, which urges and initiates this dynamic in the world. That is the belief that leads us to present the following commitments emerging from the reflections presented in these pages.

1. a) Commitment to racial-ethnic-caste-gender justice as well as environmental justice, as an affirmation of God's image in humankind and God's Creation. It is an affirmation of truth and of life in its fullness. In that light, the richness of cultures, identities, racial and ethnic diversity must be upheld as gifts of God, and just and inclusive communities should follow. Thus, community values should be promoted in the face of accelerating individualism. We must aim at building multi-racial communities that safeguard diversity, where different identities and unity interact, and where the rights and obligations of all are fully respected. From this commitment another one arises: for the churches to address and to transform the existing division of the churches on racial and ethnic lines.

b) Recognition of sin and repentance: individual and corporate. The term "collective sin" is appropriate because it indicates that racism has so permeated the churches and societies that it has become part of everyday life. The contemporary challenge to the churches and to all peoples today is that, despite not being personally involved in past actions, we are nonetheless linked to the legacies of our own societies, communities and churches.

c) This understanding implies that we, as churches, must overcome our superiority complex and belief that our white Western European tradition, interpretation and understandings are normative to church life in all corners of the world. Churches must be open to learn from peoples' cultures and wisdom.

2. The need for churches to be critically conscious and aware of the history and her-story of their relationships with peoples impacted by their mission, that is, mainly Indigenous- Aboriginal Peoples, Africans and people of African-descendent, Dalits, Ethnic minorities. The reflection and analysis upon the experiences have implications for the understanding of what the mission of the churches meant and should mean today, in the light of Gospel and culture and racial-ethnic-caste-gender-environmental justice concerns. Attention should be given to the new waves of Christian evangelism among Indigenous Peoples. This commitment should have priority in churches' actions for transformative justice.

3. a) In addressing racism and historical wrongs, it is essential to hold together acknowledgement, truth-telling, confession of complicity, omission or commission, apologies, asking for forgiveness, restitution, "putting things right" in relationships, reconciliation, healing and wholeness. That is a great challenge of which we are aware. However, all these are different stages which are closely interconnected.

b) A path to achieve justice must be commonly defined in every society and community. It should take into account all those involved, both victims and offenders, oppressors and oppressed, all peoples of churches and communities. The path should open the way to real community in the future, and should make sure that justice is achieved for peoples and creation.

c) Transformative justice implies that churches be open to discuss, to study and to pay reparations, taking seriously the views and approaches of those who were harmed, as the primary subjects and definers for the re-establishment of just relationships.

4. a) A permanent need for anti-racism awareness programmes and tools to sensitize congregations against beliefs, whether religious, cultural or historical, that supported and still support racist attitudes and practices towards the peoples mentioned in commitment 2.

b) The myth of White superiority continues to operate and needs to be dismantled. It justified racism and the conquest, enslavement and evangelising of peoples. In many countries, it targets its own inhabitants, Indigenous Peoples, African-descendants, Ethnic minorities, as well as others who are presently immigrating to those countries.

c) The commitment to transformative justice in the racial justice struggle implies a paradigm shift for radical change: transformed "thoughts, words and deeds" that must be reflected in the laws, policies, structures and practices of both church and state. In this regard, matters such as loss of languages, cultures, spiritualities, community-family systems should receive special attention. Institutional racism and other forms of disguised racism, such as legal measures that support the separation and discrimination of different peoples and ethnic groups in, for instance, immigration policies, must be abolished.

d) Power imbalances must be redressed. History witnesses that where imbalance of power exists, the abuse of power follows. Applying transformative justice in the structures and institutions of societies means redressing the deeply rooted inequalities expressed in the poverty of racially and ethnically oppressed peoples, especially women and children.57 The churches have the responsibility and need to commit themselves to rectify the injustices, and to work to redefine power systems and relationships which should cease to be racist, colonial, paternalistic and/or patriarchal.

We offer these commitments in the hope that they will guide our churches and communities towards transformative justice, and that they contribute to God's Work of Justice in our world.


27 June, 2002

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25 ROGERS, Barbara. Race: No Peace Without Justice. Geneva, World Council of Churches, 1980.

26 THORPE, Brian, Comments on "Being Church and Overcoming Racism: It's Time for Transformative Justice", Geneva, 2002.

27 UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, Charter for Racial Justice Policies in an Interdependent Global Community. Adopted in 1980 by the General Conference of the UMC. .

28 UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, Confession to Native Americans.

29 UNITED NATIONS, Declaration of the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Durban, 2001.

30 WEAVER, Jace (Ed.), Defending Mother Earth: Native American Perspective on Environmental Justice. New York, Orbis Books, 1996.

31 WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, "Background Information" in Gospel And Cultures Study Process. Churches in Mission, WCC, 1995.

32 WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, 'Challenge to the Church, A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa: The Kairos Document and Commentaries' in PCR Information, Special Issue. World Council of Churches, Programme to Combat Racism, 1985.

33 WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, In the 2000s: Koinonia Without Racism. Report of a consultation organised by the Programme to Combat Racism. Geneva, 1991.

34 WORLD Council of Churches. 'Racial Justice: an issue of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation' in PCR Information No. 26. WCC, Programme to Combat Racism, 1990.

35 WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, Racism in Theology and Theology Against Racism, Report of a Consultation organized by the Commission on Faith and Order and the Programme to Combat Racism, Geneva, 1975.

36 WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, "Suggested Guidelines for Local Groups" in Gospel And Cultures Process. Churches in Mission, WCC, 1995.

37 WRAY, Harmon, Hutchinson, Peggy and Connelly, Brenda. Restorative Justice: Moving beyond Punishment. USA, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church, 2002.

38 YOO-CROWE, Seongja and CROWE, Crowe, Multicultural Ministry: Report of the First International Network Forum. Sydney, Multicultural Ministry, Uniting Church in Australia, 2000.



FOOTNOTES

1
Declaration of the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, 2001, p. 6.

2 Idem, p. 17.

3 BRAITHWAITE, John, "Restorative Justice and a Better Future", Australian National University, 1996, in Restorative Justice Selected Readings, World Council of Churches, International Relations Team, p. 4.

4 KEHR, Howard and MIKA, Harry, "Fundamental Concepts of Restorative Justice", in Restorative Justice Selected Readings, op. cit., p. 1.

5 BEST, Thomas and ROBRA, Martin, editors, Ecclesiology and Ethics: Ecumenical Ethics Engagement, Moral Formation and the Nature of the Church, WCC Publications, Geneva, 1997, p.47.

6 DEIFELT, Wanda, Together on the Way, 2.3. Metanoia, on the theme of the Eighth Assembly of the WCC, "Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope", 1998, p. 1.

7 ESTERHUYSE, Willie, Truth as a trigger for transformation: from apartheid to transformational justice, 2000, p. 149. In Looking Back Reaching Forward: Reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, VILLA-VICENCIO, Charles and VERWOERD, Wilhelm, editors, University of Cape Town and ZED Books, London.

8 BEST and ROBRA, op. cit., p. 41.

9 The Kairos Document, in PCR Information, WCC, Programme to Combat Racism, p. 11.

10 The present session is based on the content presented in Justice and Reconciliation: The Legacy of Indian Residential Schools and the Journey Toward Reconciliation, a resource for congregations, The United Church of Canada, Division of Mission, 2001.

11 Ibid., p. 7.

12 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, People to People, Nation to Nation, in Justice and Reconciliation, op. cit., p. 8

13 Ibid., p.9

14 Ibid., p.14

15 Ibid., p.11

16 Ibid. In the fall of 2000 there were close to 500 claims in court against the United Church. These represented approximately 10% of the total claims filed in regard to residential schools. Some of those relate to the liability of the church and the government in relation to allegations of sexual and physical abuse. P. 72.

17 Royal Commission, in Justice and Reconciliation, p. 12

18 Ibid., p. 4

19 Ibid., p. 21.

20 The content of three stages described here is taken from pages 23-49 of Justice and Reconciliation

21 Ibid., 35

22 Ibid., 38

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., p. 41

25 Ibid., p. 44

26 Ibid., p. 47

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Pages 47-48 of Justice and Reconciliation give further content to the theological reflections on this theme, based on II Corinthians 5:17-18 and John 3:1-8.

30 Ibid., p. 54.

31 United Methodist Church Charter for Racial Justice Policies in an Interdependent Global Community. Adopted in 1980 by the General Conference of the UMC.

32 United Methodist Church Confession to Native Americans.

33 Steps Toward Wholeness: Learning and Repentance, The General Commission on Christian Unity and Inter-religious Concerns, The United Methodist Church, 2001, p. 2.

34 Steps Toward Wholeness: Learning and Repentance, The General Commission on Christian Unity and Inter-religious Concerns, The United Methodist Church, 2001, p. 2.

35 Church of Norway and the Roma People, Apology by the General Synod, 1998.

36 Rev. Brian Thorpe, Comments, op. cit., p.2

37 Ibid., p. 3.

38 Ibid.

39 At that time, when the Kairos Document was issued, there was a State of Emergency, and no signs of 'regret', 'repentance' were shown on the part of the apartheid regime. The document made clear that "no reconciliation, no forgiveness and no negotiations are possible without repentance", and furthermore, that "to be truly biblical our Church leaders must adopt a theology that millions of Christians have already adopted - a biblical theology of direct confrontation with the forces of evil rather than a theology of reconciliation with sin and devil." The Kairos Document, Nov. 1985, in PCR Information, WCC, Programme to Combat Racism, Special Issue, p. 18

40 A brief account of such conferences and documents is given in DE GRUCHY, John, COCHRANE, John and MARTIN Stephen, 1999. In Facing the Truth, South African Faith Communities and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, edited by John Cochrane, John de Gruchy and Stephen Martin, David Philip Publishers, Cape Town and Ohio University Press Athens, p.3-4.

41 The TRC was established by the state of South Africa. Seventeen commissioners, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, emeritus Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, were appointed by the-then president Nelson Mandela, and represented a broad political, ethnic and cultural spectrum in South Africa. Its task was to investigate the nature, causes and extent of gross violations of human rights since March 1960 to April 1994; granting of amnesty to persons who made a full disclosure of all the relevant facts; affording victims an opportunity to relate the violations they suffered so that measures aimed at their reparation, rehabilitation and restoration could be taken; the making of recommendations in relation to the violations and victims, and of prevention of violations of human rights. The TRC had three sub-committees: on Human Rights Violations, on Amnesty and Reparation and Rehabilitation.

42 Op. cit., p.69.

43 MALULEKE, Tinyiko S., Truth and Reconciliation Discourse, 1999, in DE GRUCHY, John, COCHRANE, John, MARTIN, Stephen, (eds), p. 107 and 113

44 Op. cit., 197.

45 Address by Bishop Mvume Dandala - president of the SACC and presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa on the occasion of the opening of the SACC's Conference on Racism, held in Kempton Park, Johannesbourg, October 2000. P. 2

46 Ibid.

47 Maluleke makes the following critique, in MALULEKE, T.S, "Truth, national unity and reconciliation in S.A.", April 1997. In Missionalia, the Southern African Missiological Society, volume 25, number 1, pp. 66-67

48 See MALULEKE, Tinyiko S. "Can Lions and Rabbits Reconcile?", 2001. In the Ecumenical Review, Volume 53, WCC, pp. 190-192.

49 Op. Cit., p. 4.

50 Ibid.

51 Rev. Brian Thorpe, Comments on "Being Church and Overcoming Racism: It is Time for Transformative Justice", p.2.

52 Idem.

53 Idem.

54 Dr. Guillermo Kerber, Comments on " Being Church and Overcoming Racism: It is Time for Transformative Justice", p.2.

55 Statement of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW for the United Nations Durban World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, p. 1.

56 Racism in Theology and Theology Against Racism, Report of a Consultation organized by the Commission on Faith and Order and the Programme to Combat Racism, WCC, Geneva, 1975, pp.13-14.

57 There is a need to remain aware that racism thrives in the intersections of race, caste, colour, age, gender, sexual orientation, class, territorial borders, ethnicity, nationality, language and disability. The dismantling and eradication of racism requires that we address all its manifestations and historical expressions.