Neville Chamberlain writes about Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and the beginning of the peace process in war-torn Brechin
Pastoral Letter from the Bishop
Sunday 13 February
I have been aware for some time that the dispute at the Cathedral has caused anguish and confusion. As Bishop I have found myself in a number of conflicting roles including those of advocate, adversary, pastor and litigant.
The press publicity has been harmful and people are rightly bewildered. Over the past six months I have tried to decide issues which have become more complicated and more difficult to resolve. The result has been a debilitating for the parties concerned and for the Diocese.
While ill with the ‘flu’ after Christmas and after much prayer I became convinced even at that late date that there had to be another way to resolve the difficulties within the Diocese; and that that had to be a better way. What this was I did not know. I believed however, that God, as in the story of Abraham’s call, was inviting me to let go of everything and trust in an uncertain future. On Sunday 16th January I preached in the Cathedral on the theme of The God of surprises and asked Nathaniel’s question:’ can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Can anything good come out of the situation at St Paul’s Cathedral? The answer of course had to be ‘Yes’. This God of surprises can do anything. To quote Martin Luther King: “when our days become dreary with low or hovering at clouds and our nights and darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the Universe whose name is God who is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into light tomorrows”. That night I went back and re-read Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s recent book There is no Future without Forgiveness, sent to me over Christmas by an American friend Stephen Jones, who was the chief Defence Attorney for Patrick McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber. It is a moving and tearful account of the Archbishop chairing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Miraculously, families of victims of death squads and the perpetrators come together in mutual forgiveness ready to restart their lives. The inspiration of this Commission was not only Jesus Christ, but Nelson Mandela, a hero emerged from his twenty-seven years in prison on the Robben Island, not with anger nor bitterness but with ‘gratuitous magnanimity’. His message was to forgive and to forgive. Yes, there has to be repentance where possible, an acknowledgement of guilt, but the overriding message was that mercy has a far higher value than justice. This is an impossible ideal by which to act or live. Natural justice demands punishment. Yet, here we have two of the finest symbols of hope for the world, saying that there is a way other than that of natural justice. For the sake of ubuntu the African for ‘social harmony’, and for the wholeness of spirit and body, forgiveness is the answer; that mercy has a higher value than justice.
It was while wrestling with this deeply Christian paradigm on which I had preached before but which had escaped me over the past year, that I felt that I had to talk with Archbishop Tutu. Of the six billion people on this planet no-one has had more experience of conflict resolution than this Nobel Peace Prize winner and no-one I felt could help us in our of immediate problems than he. I had to meet with him. This was a dream of course, I did not know where he was, except that he was recovering from surgery for cancer. I revealed my ‘Epiphany’ to the Primus, Richard Holloway, way who felt that only something as outrageous as this could provide a ‘ third way’. Then the miracle occurred. Through the good offices of the Primus, Archbishop Tutu agreed to see the Provost and me in Atlanta, Georgia over two days last week. He is a visiting Professor at Emory a university. Because of the sensitivity of this venture and the fact that it was open ended, we started on separate planes and stayed in different locations. We ended with each other covenanting a Truth and Reconciliation Process for the Cathedral and hopefully for anyone else in the Diocese as well.
Before we arrived in Atlanta, Archbishop Tutu had contacted all the religious communities in the Province or of Southern Africa to pray for him and for us during our time there – not mentioning our names. With those hundreds of people already praying for a resolution of our problems, including the College of Bishops and Clergy such as Canon Bill McAusland, we both felt supported in prayer.
The Archbishop saw us separately and together. He set us tasks such as reflecting on over thirty Bible passages on forgiveness and reconciliation. He shared his own experiences of the appalling breakdown of human relationships over death, necklace burnings, bombings, imprisonment, cheating, lying, and how, in many cases through kindness, repentance, courage, and risk taking, both perpetrator and victim came together and worked through their passionate feelings for revenge or their sense of guilt. This did not occur without cost. On the whole it has been the victims in South Africa full have borne the cost of democracy and who have prevented civil war. They have paid the price. Naturally the Archbishop linked this with the price paid by Jesus on the cross — a price asked from Christians to help create a greater harmony.
A key part of our time with the Archbishop centred on the need to listen to others, to put others first. This is not always easy and it is something to which both though Provost and myself will have to give heed. He told us that we and those who have been hurt by us in any way are good. “God looked on creation and saw that it was good.” More, “God saw that it was very good”. The Archbishop wanted us to see the good in each other and enable the good in others to come out when we got back home. He could ever do a limited amount with us. The future was in our hands. We had to start work, there and then, in Atlanta before we came home. The great man had done his best. The prayers had been said. It was now up to us.
Suffice to say that the end result has been that I and the Provost have covenanted to try to settle our differences and have agreed to discontinue the formal civil and ecclesiastical proceedings which have been pending. The immediate effect of this will be the withdrawal of the various court actions and of the canonical the Accusations, the lifting of the suspension of the promised and the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Process. This will be chaired by an outside person who will work with several other facilitators to bring together in confidence the various injured parties. The Process is there to promote reconciliation, not to achieve it. The prize is too great not to give it a chance. It is only a beginning, however, and I am aware of the many pitfalls on the way.
My hope and that of the Provost and of Archbishop Tutu is that the conditions have now been set for a catharsis and a healing process which if you and others in the Diocese can uphold the in prayer, will work. Senior colleagues, the Cathedral Vestry, and they Cathedral Chaplain Canon Mackay are very supportive.
My belief is that all of us who see ourselves as players in this sad story will experience something of the gratuitous magnanimity of a Nelson Mandela and the searing costly forgiveness of a Desmond Tutu.
Please continue to pray for us all and help us build on the what seems to me an example of the grace of a guard and the wonder of the God of surprises.
Yours in Jesus Christ