On the sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks, Desmond M. Tutu, Anglican Archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa delivered a message of forgiveness to those gathered at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the campus of General Theological Seminary (GTS) in New York City.
Tutu's plenary address "Can There Ever Be a Future without Forgiveness?" was part of the three-day inaugural conference called "Reconciliation at the Roundtable" that helped to officially open the seminary's Desmond Tutu Education Center.
On September 12, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori helped close the conference with her speech "Through Justice to Reconciliation: Bearing Fruit on the Ground."
More information about the mission of the center, which had a formal opening September 9, is available here.
"Forgiveness is not pretending that things are other than they are," explained Tutu. "Forgiveness is the willingness to face up to the awfulness of what would require forgiving but foregoing the right to retaliate."
Forgiveness, Tutu said, is "wanting to give others a chance for a new beginning."
Tutu asked why do people at odds take themselves through unnecessary "anguish and mayhem" when in the end they "must sit down and work out an agreement."
"Real, lasting stability comes when adversaries sit down, negotiate, debate, argue and eventually reach a settlement," he said. "To succeed, you have to be ready to compromise, give a concession."
Reminding those gathered that "we are members of God's family, the human family,"
Tutu gave an example of forgiveness in action when citing the 30 years of unrest between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Belfast that has now become more peaceful.
"What a difference when I visited last May," he said. "The people were aware that they were at the birth of an exciting new era."
He said that part of the ingredients for a "new era" includes attempts to "come to terms with a past" with the help of something similar to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"The only way that we can be secure is together; the only way that we can survive is together; the only way that we can prosper is together," said Tutu.
Restorative justice at heart of reconciliation
Jefferts Schori said on September 12 that reconciliation restores right relationships between human beings and God, between and among human beings and with the created world.
"The sacramental matter of reconciled relationship is what we call justice," she said, adding that restorative, not retributive, justice is the goal.
"Restorative justice seeks a recovery of God's dream for creation, through the repudiation of violence," she said. "The gift of life is meant to produce more life, not its diminishment."
Jefferts Schori said the work for reconciliation and justice bears fruit when people "get down on the ground, maybe even on our knees, and get our hands dirty." The work runs the gamut from "wiping runny noses" to "insisting that our warring siblings cease their name-calling and grenade tossing."
The Episcopal Church champions the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as a path of toward restorative justice "because it seems to be the best global example of what the Reign of God could look like in our own day."
However, she added, the MDGs only aim to go halfway toward alleviating the problems of extreme poverty and even still "in most parts of the developing world we are falling short, far short. People of faith must push for both the achievement of the MDGs and reach on toward the great eschatological dreams of our faith."
Jefferts Schori urged her listeners to use "the power of prayer (both silent and shouted from the housetops), the power of the vote, and the power of persuasion," to build a society of peace with justice.
"You and I have the ability to help the rest of the church and the rest of this country realize the vision of the reign of God -- in Africa and Asia, as well as in New Orleans and the Bronx," she said.
Participants of the conference came from all over the world.
Larry Swandby, a parishioner of Cathedral Church of St. Mark's in Minneapolis, Minnesota, said that attending the conference was important and that having interfaith dialogue is "very necessary in today's world."
"There is no future without forgiveness," said Petrina Pakoe of South Africa. "If black people in South Africa had not been willing to forgive white people we would not have the level of peace that we now have."
Pakoe said that naming the building after Tutu was a "great honor and affirms his message."
"I think [the Center] is important because of who he is and the authenticity of his witness and the amazing capacity to effect hope in the face of hopelessness," said the Rev. Canon Edward W. Rodman, professor of pastoral theology and urban ministry at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a member of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council. Rodman led a workshop on Race Relations at the conference.