Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Segregation, Conquest or Reconciliation?

My previous post on the Pilling Report was not a comment on the different arguments in the debate about human sexuality. If you want to know about that or discuss arguments for or against then there are plenty of other blogs and forums out there. Instead my comments were actually about the more general principles of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence set against the backdrop of the debate on human sexuality within the Church of England. These principles, however, would be applicable in any sphere of conflict or disagreement.

In any contentious or controversial debate we will all have views and deeply held beliefs and it is impossible for anyone to be truly neutral on any subject. However, in a situation of conflict - whether it is political, religious, ethical, social, or related to class, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity or simply just a difference between two individuals - the default human position is to attack the opposing position. When we feel that we are right this of course feels the most obvious solution: ‘the other person believes something outrageous - or is simply different - and I must defeat them and make them believe what I believe and behave as I behave.’

However, the human impulse to conquer and defeat those who are different - even if they hold views that we see as immoral - is always wrong. In any situation of conflict there are three options: segregation into tribes, destroying and conquering those who disagree or who are different, or learning to peacefully co-exist through active reconciliation. The first of these two options are easy but will ultimately lead to further hatred and in some situations to people losing their lives. The last is the most difficult.

That said, I am not saying that there is no place for robust debate and trying to persuade others of our argument. Reconciliation is only possible when two sides are open and honest. Reconciliation is not about brushing our differences under the carpet and pretending to be one happy family. It is about having our differences in the open but dealing with them in a way that is constructive and doesn’t involve segregation or conquest. To reiterate this is not easy but history shows it is possible.

In the United Kingdom, for nearly four decades a bloody counter-insurgency war raged in Northern Ireland. Neighbours were divided by politics and religion. Thousands on all sides were killed. Some of these were combatants (paramilitaries, soldiers, police and politicians) but many were also innocent people in Northern Ireland, the British mainland and the Republic of Ireland. Terrible things were done by both sides. But now there is peace on a scale unimaginable even in the 1990s. Yes, there are still pockets of violence but the vast majority have learned that peace is better than war. Reconciliation doesn’t mean that difference disappears - divisions still remain in Northern Ireland to this day. But reconciliation - learning to live with those who hate you and those who you hate - is the only way that peace is possible. And peace is always a compromise because you cannot have peace and conquer others, and you cannot truly have peace and be segregated from other human beings.

In all areas of conflict, reconciliation and diametrically opposing sides learning to live together is possible but not easy. It doesn’t just happen automatically. It needs peacemakers who will help enemies to learn how to live together. Peacemaking doesn’t mean we have to compromise our beliefs or who God has created us to be, but is does mean working to find ways to live together - however imperfect it may feel to us. 

Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies. This is quoted often, but it is genuinely a tall order. It is also a lot to ask, especially when there has been real hatred and hurt done to individuals. It’s something that as a flawed human being I struggle with, and I am no expert in loving anyone. But, however hard it is, it is the only way to end conflict and bring about reconciliation. The history of conflict has taught us that segregation and conquest only stores up more trouble for the future. Reconciliation is perhaps the most difficult thing a human being is asked to do, but do we really have any alternative?

So where does reconciliation start? It begins with kindness to all those who God created. Who knows what might happen to our enemies if we learn how to love them.

“ ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12: 19-20