THE Archbishop of Canterbury has urged the Government to set up a Joint Reconciliation Unit (JRU) to create a “joined-up approach to reconciliation straddling humanitarian, economic, social, ethnic, cultural, political, spiritual, and religious factors”.
Archbishop Welby, leading a debate in the House of Lords last Friday on the part played by reconciliation in British foreign, defence, and international development policy, told peers that “the very heart of the doctrines of the Christian faith and Christian practice is . . . the doctrine of reconciliation of humanity to God through Jesus Christ,” and that this should be replicated in the Government’s work.
He went on: “But the concepts that are central to reconciliation — words like forgiveness, peace, and grace — are not only in the Christian faith but in other world faiths, and in many of the philosophies around humanism. Their application can benefit all alike. . .
“Peace does not mean the absence of conflict, or, indeed, simply putting a sticking plaster on wounds after conflict. Peace and reconciliation is the ability to deal with conflict by non-violent means.
“Reconciliation is the strategic end-state of sustainable peace, using every tool available to us to create a framework that can transform violent conflict into non-violent disagreement. . . I think it was Bill Shankly who said: ‘I teach my lads to get their retaliation in first.’ We need to learn to get our reconciliation in first.
“Reconciliation happens from the top of society down, from the bottom of society up, and from the middle of society out. It must include women, youth, and minorities. If any group is left out, peace will not be sustainable.”
Faith-based groups, he said, particularly the Anglican Communion, were important in leading reconciliation efforts, as they were there “before, during, and after conflict”.
“I have, before holding this role, visited a colleague, now a bishop, in the eastern DRC, during a period of heavy fighting, when, like the boy who stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled, most NGOs had gone. But this clergyman stayed on, and I was working with him and learning from him as he went out to bring refugees through the battle lines to safety. Before, during, and after conflict.”
The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, also spoke in the debate. Dr said: “Like the most reverend Primate [Archbishop Welby], I have been shaped by the Coventry story, with its profound narrative of both the human propensity towards disruption of relationships, with the danger, destruction, and death that ensues, and the power of hope to prevail over even the darkest forces — a hope built on the restorative capacity of reconciliation; a virtue that needs to be operative even during war, preparing the way for peace. . .
“The ministry of reconciliation that rose from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral thinks in three dimensions: across, towards other people, communities and nations who have become enemies to each other; downwards into the earth, the environment on which we depend but which we have damaged; and upwards towards God.”
Dr Cocksworth went on: “We can begin to heal the wounds of history by acknowledging that, where we have been involved in a conflict in some way, we bear a level of responsibility for the suffering that it brings. Regardless of judgements about the justification for our involvement in coalitions of conflict, the sheer fact of our participation brings with it a moral responsibility to join long-term coalitions of reconstruction that restore and repair the damage of war.”
He concluded: “In June this year, standing in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral before a combined German and British congregation, my son made solemn vows to a wonderful German woman. As they declared the power of love to overcome all ills, I looked at their grandmothers, who had lost their childhoods during the war.
“As I thought of their grandfathers, who had fought for each other’s deaths during that war, I knew then that, finally, the war was over. My family, at least, had walked that long road to lasting reconciliation, and we were healed. After we danced the night away, I prayed for the peace of Europe and the peace of the world.”
In response, the Minister of State for Defence, Earl Howe, told the Lords: “I begin by acknowledging the obvious: that reconciliation is a vital part of ending violent conflicts which claim so many innocent lives and immeasurably harm the lives of so many others. Reconciliation is also the ultimate safeguard to prevent a relapse into conflict or repeating cycles of violence. . .
“The Most Reverend Primate has proposed the creation of a joint reconciliation unit. A concept of that sort, if it is designed correctly, could make a contribution to addressing gaps in our work, and on behalf of the Government I undertake to consider it seriously. . .
“We must learn to persevere, and to support communities and nations emerging from violence not just to coexist, but to make reconciliation what it ultimately is: a personal experience based on truth-telling, inclusiveness, and a sense of justice.”