31 May 2012
‘‘If people can see there’s forgiveness on each side, I think it can help to heal the scars in this country.’’ - Kate Carroll, 31 May 2012
These are the inspiring words of the widow of murdered PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll, who has identified the essential link between forgiveness and healing. But how often do we see forgiveness publicly displayed in Northern Ireland – a place where even the word ‘forgiveness’ can be contentious.
There has been much talk recently over the Cohesion Sharing and Integration Strategy. This is absolutely essential as a practical framework for how we live together but no matter how brilliant the strategy, the Executive cannot make people forgive each other. Without the beginnings of genuine forgiveness, trying to resolve the conflict with the CSI Strategy is like trying to treat cancer with a sticking plaster.
When we talk about forgiveness we risk being labelled as naive or trite. Quite the contrary, forgiveness is often raw, painful and very costly. In Northern Ireland we know the sad reality of countless victim’s families holding out for justice and relief that they will never see in this life. Forgiveness is not condoning something. Forgiveness is not forgetting something. Forgiveness is not giving up on justice. Forgiveness is not disrespecting victims. Forgiveness will not instantly solve all our present problems. But too often forgiveness is politicised, theologised and chained to pre-conditions rather than actually ventured.
We do not believe in a sacred secular divide and so in our recent response to the Programme for Government we called for Christians in the Executive and across the country to lead the way in practising an attitude of forgiveness. This may involve simply crossing the street or for some crossing the abyss. As Christians we have each experienced the transformational power of forgiveness in our own lives. We have been rescued, restored and reconciled to God. When we have been personally forgiven by God we are compelled to forgive those who sin against us, even our enemies (Luke 11:4).
Forgiveness could truly change the political narrative of Northern Ireland and there is a part for every Christian to play. Our primary identity is as Kingdom people. Where are those who are publicly willing to take up the heavy, painful and often misunderstood cross of forgiveness? It may be mistaken as a sign of weakness rather than an incredibly strong foundation for the future. It will not be easy, it may be costly at the polls but it’s the right thing to do. Which party is going to take the first painful and humbling steps of genuine forgiveness?
Our challenge is to flood our society with faith, hope and love. We must champion a hopeful future of understanding, repentance, forgiveness and peace.