LOUISIANA: Convention explores reconciliation process

March 9, 2008

Bishop Johannes Seoka of the Diocese of Pretoria in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa recently challenged members of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana to engage in "the quest for reconciled living" by seeking "restorative justice…to restore broken relationships so that people can live in harmony and peace in the new dispensation."

Seoka was the preacher at Evensong during the 171st Diocesan Convention, held February 29-March 1 at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge.

North Dakota Bishop Michael Smith, who assists Louisiana Bishop Charles Jenkins, preached at the convention's Eucharist.

Evensong honored the convention's theme "Be Reconciled to God" from 2 Corinthians 5:20.

"My reading of the gospel is that God in Jesus Christ sought to amend the breached relationships between himself and his creatures -- humanity that has separated from him through sin," Seoka said in his sermon. "Jesus therefore is the gospel of reconciliation himself."

He quoted the Rev. Kenneth Leech, an Anglican priest and social-justice activist, who said that "the good news of reconciliation which has been accomplished in Christ, and the 'ministry of reconciliation' (2 Cor. 5: 18) which is a continuing work, are central to the work of the church."

To listen to the sermon, click here and scroll midway down page for link "To hear Bishop Seoka's sermon click here."

Jenkins told the convention that he believes the solutions to the problems of the diocese and the state "are not simply technical but of necessity must include a change of heart as well."

"The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to our situation in Louisiana," he said. "Our diocesan ministry includes both technical and adaptive attempts at bettering and inviting a transformation of lives. How can we as Christians seek to enable the adaptive change, the change of hearts and minds so needed in our state?"

Still, Jenkins warned, "we cannot simply do the same things over and over again and expect differing results."

The diocese has been considering a truth and reconciliation process, based on the experience of the Anglican Church's role in such a process in post-apartheid South Africa, he said.

"There is great resistance in the religious, business, and government communities to this idea," Jenkins said. "People are frightened by this idea; it seems safer to do nothing or continue our current efforts and hope for the best."

He suggested that the diocese's work in truth and reconciliation could become a model for the rest of the country. "I am convinced that in most cases when you speak of New Orleans, with the notable exception of elevation, you can easily substitute other municipal names such as Baton Rouge; Jena, Louisiana or Newark, New Jersey," he said.

Seoka also spoke to the convention on March 1. From his experience of seeing the impact of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Seoka drew parallels between the apartheid system in South Africa and the racism exposed by Hurricane Katrina.

"You may not have had horrendous experiences such as we did under the apartheid system, but most of you in this State of Louisiana can tell stories that are dominated by subtle conflict between the minority and the majority people of this ‘free land'-- particularly the majority who have reserved for themselves the greater effect of most rights and privileges, yet claiming equal rights for all," he said.

"To some degree you have had similar occurrences though not legislated as was in the apartheid state. Like us in South Africa, the minorities in this Diocese have for many years, been subjected to racism. Therefore, your struggle for basic human rights has not been unreasonable but fair and just for those who have felt the pinch of discrimination. Katrina exposed the U.S. to the world regarding how certain citizens are treated differently from others based on attributes, which only those in authority know but which most of you in Louisiana can imagine."

Seoka encouraged those in attendance to begin "finding the truth about the past" in order to heal past wounds.

"Jesus spoke of truth as a freeing agent, and I want to emphasize this by saying that the truth marks the beginning of a move towards the healing process that ultimately produces reconciliation," Seoka said. "Of course, reconciliation is difficult to define but it is an experience of being free of anger, fear, guilt and desire for revenge."

During the convention's Eucharist, Smith praised the mission partnership between the two dioceses, and said that he and Jenkins are at the "diverse center" of the Episcopal Church.

Smith said that he and Jenkins are committed to remaining in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, explaining that they believe the Windsor Process and eventual commitment to what is at this point a proposed Anglican covenant is "the place of reconciliation."

"But I need to warn you that it is not a pleasant place to be," he said. "You will be attacked and criticized by both sides. Some will label you as ignorant, fundamentalist and homophobic; others will call you institutionalist, revisionist and apostate. Your motives and the quality of your commitment to Christ and the Gospel will be questioned. You will be accused of having no spine or backbone and of burying your head in the sand.

"But that's OK. These are small prices to pay for the One who 'came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Mark 10:45)."

To listen to his sermon, click here and scroll midway down page for link "To hear Bishop Smith's sermon click here."

More information about the actions of diocesan convention is available here.

 

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends, as well as news of the dioceses of Province II. She is based in Neptune, New Jersey, and New York City. Heather Parker, Diocese of Louisiana's publications coordinator, contributed to this story.

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