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No Reconciliation Without Repentance

Posted: December 2, 2016 by Rob Voyle

There is much talk in our society today about coming together, unity, and reconciliation. And most of the talk is actually making things worse rather than creating unity and reconciliation. My personal response to most of the calls for reconciliation is: "reconciliation, you have got to be crazy ... over my dead body (I hope it doesn't come to that) but my revulsion to the idea of reconciliation is pretty intense because I will never reconcile with hate and the denigration of others."

As those who know of my recent work, I am on a mission to teach the world to forgive, so the issue of reconciliation often comes up in conversation, especially because forgiveness and reconciliation are two very different realities that are often confused.

Forgiveness is how I deal with my past and those who have hurt me. It is totally independent of the offender, forgiveness is how I chose to live today in response to what others have done to me in the past.

Reconciliation is about the future, it is an agreement between two or more people about how they will live and work together in the future. And my basic rule is, never be reconciled to those who violate my values. Jesus forgave the Romans, even as they pounded nails into his body, but he was never reconciled to the mission of Rome.

However, I also believe that we have been given a ministry of reconciliation, not a ministry of tolerance, nor of conflict management, but of reconciliation. So how are we to reconcile.

I don't think there can be any reconciliation until there is repentance. In South Africa, it was Truth and Reconciliation, not denial and reconciliation, nor truth and punishment. We can not gloss over those acts where lives were destroyed and others profoundly restricted in their access to the resources they need for daily living and thriving.

So before there can be any reconciliation there needs to be repentance.

To actually repent we need to do three things - the 3Rs of Repentance.

We need to "Recognize" that we have done wrong or are heading in the wrong direction. We can not reconcile with anyone who does not recognize what they have done wrong, and similarly we can not reconcile until we recognize that we have also done wrong.

We then need to "Regret" that we have done wrong. This is counting the cost of what we have done. Many people know they are doing something wrong but don't regret it, especially when the cost of their actions is not immediate. Sadly, we may only discover the real cost when it is too late to halt the consequences we have set in motion. With respect to reconciliation we need to regret the enormous cost of sustained hatred. Unfortunately in our society we put such a huge value on revenge and getting even that we rarely count the cost of our hate motivated social and political processes.

We need to "Reorient" from what we have been doing and turn to what we need to be doing. We can not be reconciled unless we turn from our hate based motivations. Here is where we need to reorient from hate to curiosity and compassion to discover the deeper values that we do share and on which we can build a foundation of reconciliation.

At the moment we are arguing over strategies to achieve something of dubious value, and the real issues are being unexplored. For example when people are living in poverty they are not interested in being great, they are interested in their next meal. And as long as there are people in our world who think a cold, secondhand chunk of pizza would be great I have failed, and we as a nation have failed, to repent and reorient which are the precursors and path to reconciliation.

I wish you a Blessed Advent with much repentance and path straightening as we prepare for the coming of the one we follow and call Lord.

Rob Voyle
Director, Clergy Leadership Institute

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