The Case for Reconciliation as the Mandate of the Church in South Sudan

BY: Tongun Lo Loyuong, FINLAND, MAY/13/2013, SSN;

One is truly left bemused when one reads statements against the assignment by President Mayardit of the church to lead the reconciliation process in South Sudan. As such in light of our apparent muddling through pertaining to our reconciliation efforts in South Sudan, it seems timely to put this issue to bed, and make the case for reconciliation as the mandate of the church, and to inform ourselves about the doctrine of reconciliation or salvation in the Christian faith tradition, which justifies this mandate.

Some cynics remain doubtful of church reconciliation mandate, and declining of any genuine reconciliation outcome in South Sudan that is led by civil society and faith-based institutions. They argue that the church should not have been assigned to spearhead a process that is meant to redress what are strictly governance and political challenges related to past atrocities and current political failures.

Because the problems are political in nature and scope, and have not been created by the church, they cannot be resolved by the church, but by political actors, so goes the two wrongs make a right reasoning. In other words, it is argued that political actors should be the ones cleaning their own mess beginning with the President himself.

What I find utterly debilitating is that, some of our brothers, even those with no expertise and academic authority to speak on the issue have weighted in their un-informed opinion. Some continue to cry over the spilled milk caused by the withdrawal of the delegated powers to the Vice President to spearhead the reconciliation process. Few have started opinionating under several authorship names by the same individual promoting the same argument, to create a false impression that the view is shared by multiple thinkers and analysts.

Such an undertaking only amounts to multiple personality disorder and blatant academic dishonesty. Are these people actually serious about contributing to South Sudanese efforts of wanting to build a nation and a just state or are they rather in need of serious psychological help and counselling?

Not that I am against the Vice President Dr. Riek Machar. I actually admire his political maturity and the progress in character he has made since the tragedies that befell our people during the 1990s. The Vice President’s issuing of public apology to the Bor people for his potential role in the 1991 massacre takes a lot of courage, and reveals remorse and change of character that can only signify that there is a change of heart from his part.

In fact I wouldn’t hesitate voting for him, or for President Kiir or whichever candidate. As is the case with most South Sudanese, we are swing voters who need to be persuaded through a political agenda that outlines strategies for good governance and service delivery.

In this sense, I will cast my ballot even for the devil, as long as the fundamental rights that guarantee my dignity as a human being are protected, and the policies that are being pursued are downwardly accountable to the people to better our life and create a peaceful just and prosperous nation.

As the age-old adage attests, “to err is human and to forgive divine.” But the Vice President is not the right man to lead the reconciliation process, precisely because he is seen as a lead actor in the ongoing conflict resulting from the 1991 division in the liberation movement.

I am all about freedom of expression and the protection of the basic human right of access to information among other fundamental human rights that safeguard our dignity as human beings as enshrined in our Transitional Constitution and regional and international bills of rights and conventions. However, freedom of expression must come with utmost responsibility. Not anyone who has learned few English words can just write some rubbish under the pretext of free expression, without any expertise and authority in the area about which they are opinionating.

If I cannot resist commenting on a specific policy issue, I must be an authority or an expert on the subject, or at least be familiar with the literature and debate about it, or have rich experience with issue, in order for my views to count. How can such un-informed views of some of our opinionated brothers constructively contribute to our nation-building aspirations?

It is very unfortunate that in South Sudan today even the cattle herder from the village is purporting to be a public policy analyst and opines on governance issues in the Republic.

While I agree with most informed views that identify the numerous challenges confronting our fledgling state as strictly political and related to issues pertaining to the (mis)governance of the land, I disagree that the church must be separated from the state, particularly as it relates to the national reconciliation process and other issues of social and economic service delivery.

After all it is common knowledge that throughout our history the church has always served as our peace broker, and often assumed the role of our true government not only in relation to our spiritual and moral management, but also in terms of delivering services.

Why then are we now trying to keep the church off the loop, and render its rich experience and expertise of sustaining us for decades irrelevant, particularly as we strive to reconcile?

Shockingly, the view that reconciliation mandate is the exclusive function of the government and political actors to the exclusion of the church and other civil society stakeholders, seems to be shared by non-other than the new chair of the reconciliation committee, his most reverend Bishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak himself.

To my dismay, during the recent handover of the national reconciliation documents to the new committee by the Vice president, Bishop Bul is quoted as saying that reconciliation is not the sphere of the church. “The field I am coming into is not my field; it is not a religious field,” reserved the Bishop (Sudan Tribune, May 5, 2013).

I would like to think that Bishop Bul was being humble, and that he did not mean what he said by declaring that reconciliation is not an area of religious expertise. Else one is left speechless and wondering about where the Bishop received his theological training from and whether or not he is up to the task. If reconciliation is not the function of the church, I don’t know what is.

Even a catechumen or a casual lay reader of the Christian faith tradition will know that the grand narrative of the Christian faith is reconciliation, and therefore the church mandate is to primarily moderate the reconciliation of humanity and the world to God, and with ourselves. This understanding of the Christian Gospel as centered on the reconciliation mission is shared by the overwhelming majority of Christian faith practitioners and theologians.

For example, the prominent twentieth century German Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, concluded in his “Church Dogmatics” that reconciliation is the core of the Christian message. In the Christian message of reconciliation or “Versohnung” in German, Barth argued, “we enter that sphere of Christian knowledge in which we have to do with the heart of the message received by and laid upon the Christian community, and therefore with the heart of the Church’s dogmatics.”

It is true though that the term reconciliation originates from secular Hellenistic settings to describe ancient political realities and processes seeking to amend ruptured societal relations caused by some form of political injustice inflicted on a political community. On the individual level, the term also references efforts to address tensions in interpersonal relationships.

In the Hellenistic world therefore, the Greek form of being reconciled “dialassomai” is a compound of the Greek verb “allasow” which means “to exchange,” and derived from the Greek adjective “allos” which means “the other.” Reconciliation as understood this way, is meant to exchange other or be in each other’s shoes so to speak, in order to understand and ameliorate each other’s grievances and pain.

“The words thus carry with them the sense of exchanging places with ‘the other’, and therefore being in solidarity with rather than against ‘the other’.”

Reconciliation, is therefore the practice and process of “overcoming alienation through identification and in solidarity with ‘the other’, thus making peace and restoring relationships,” as John W. de Gruchy aptly contended in his book “Reconciliation: Restoring Justice.”

While the grand narrative of the Christian faith speaks of reconciliation using its cognates, such as salvation, redemption, atonement, or even justification, the Bible and Christian traditions also explicitly speak of “reconciliation” as such, as our moral and spiritual goal.

For example, the gospel according to Mathew attributed reconciliation as an integral moral message of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, even more important than offering prayer and sacrifice to God. “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-4).

As is the case with most of his theological explications in the New Testament where he consistently incorporates concepts from Jewish traditions and Greek philosophy and vocabulary, Apostle Paul is credited with importing the secular Greco-Roman reconciliation term into the Christian square to elucidate on the salvation history of the Christian faith in the language and reason of his targeted audience—the Gentiles.

Thus the term reconciliation, which only occurs 15 times in the New Testament, is almost exclusively found in Paul’s letters. In his letters to the Roman and the Corinthian Churches, Paul uses the metaphor of reconciliation in emphasizing the contrast between hostility and peace, and love and hate (cf. Rom. 5:1-12; 8:31-9; and 2Cor. 5:14-21). In 2Corinthians particularly, Paul exposes reconciliation as the means for being newly created in Christ, and as the righteousness of God and the mission of the Church.

However, what makes the Pauline understanding of reconciliation different from the Greco-Roman conceptualization and praxis of the process is that in all Pauline reconciliation discourse, God is the subject or the initiator of the act. Whereas in the Hellenistic culture, akin to the dominant contemporary practice of reconciliation process, the offender is the one expected to demonstrate guilt and seek forgiveness.

This is not the case in the Christian way, however, where God who is the offended takes the initiative to reconcile with us who are the offenders. As Christians we are then expected to behave likewise towards our brothers and sisters who have offended us, without any pre-condition of demanding or expecting the offender to issue a public apology, or show remorse and beg for forgiveness.

As victims in the Christian faith, we are the ones expected to initiate the process and forgive the perpetrator already. In short, reconciliation is not only the core of our faith, but also the primary mandate of the church.

Of course, reconciliation continues to be the domain of the secular political discourse. In the conflict resolution arena, reconciliation has gain acceptance as part and parcel of transitional justice practice or peace-building, more generally.

I will enumerate on this in some detail when we discuss the way forward and the peace-building model that best suits our reconciliation efforts in South Sudan, in order for the process to deliver the intended results of restoring harmony and healthy relationship in our broken society.

Until then, I encourage our brothers and sister, elders and mothers, political leaders, spiritual leaders, and traditional and tribal leaders to form a cohesive unit and rally behind the national reconciliation initiative.

Let us begin to think of strategic planning and design of the process that can better serve our aspiration of peace-building, nation-building, and state-building in South Sudan. END

13 Comments

  1. simon peter says:

    It looks good when we talk about peace, DR. Machar was one who planned this peace and reconcilation. then he took it to president Kir, then after that the paliament confirmed it, so the president was misled by his gang group, OOh, this man is taking the show. His Gogrial ministry who were busy in looting our country’s money are the ones to be blamed. Look, the president is not well secured. he took the money out from bank to his office, still is not secure. If the bank is not secure, his office is not secured either. what about the president himself? Is he well secure?? I don’t think so, we all need peace and reconcilation, but without security is not a good thing. I like your article and thanks. Simon peter

    • bolabokdit says:

      Dear, Simon
      My idea may be the same with yours but it differs a bit. In my opinion I suggest Dr. Riak to take on the role of reconciliation and don’t attempt to contest for presidency. The reason is that I want him to restore confidence forward. The other things I want him to give advice based on the advantage and disadvantage of his past experience.
      Vice president have to tell those still creating instability in South Sudan that they are creating a bad image on themselves. This can happen if Dr. Riak accepts his wrong doing and he wants to win back people’s trust. Then after five to ten years of consultation with problem makers we will nominate him as a president of our nation when people saw his sincerity and transparency.

  2. Amigo says:

    Tongun.
    You sound like those who keep on blaming Dr. Riek for fighting for the independence of south Sudan by saying that he has a change of heart when he apologising to Bor community. When indeed every one knows that what happened in bor was a mere tribal war between the Lou Nuer and the bor Dinka just like what happened between the Lou Nuer and murle community under kiir’s leadership. The 1991 incident was just politicised by Dinka community members in the Splm to secure support from N.P.A and other western NGOs but you seem to buy in to it when every body knows the fact including the Dinka themselves.

    Mr. Tongun, the issue of reconciliation requires both politicians, religious leaders and all citizens of south Sudan to be actively involved in order to achieve a meaningful reconciliation and i suggest that it should start with the truth about everything that took place in south Sudan during the struggle that had led to the issues we are talking about today. Otherwise, the religious leader in question is doomed to fail because he failed his two previous assignments in his home state. How will he manage to succeed nationally?

    Unless you people don’t want this reconciliation process to succeed as i can comprehend from your writing. How can you bring some one from no where and who knows nothing about what happened of a situation he knows nothing about from your academic perspective, as you seem to challenge other academics? The president is completely out of touch with the reality, otherwise he should be the one in charge of the whole process all together or call it truth and reconciliation commission and appoint an independent body with experience in conflict resolution. Politicians, faith based groups and other civil society organisations like the truth and reconciliation commission then should work together in this regard.

    If You really want to help this failed president, you have to get closer to him and tell him what needs to be done better, though I doubt your open-mindedness. The SPLA under Garang and Kiir did a lot more worse atrocities/massacres to the Nuer community than any other community in south Sudan and those who were in the movement from its inception know about all these facts. Why aren’t the Nuer crying about it every day? It’s because they know the Dinka are only doing these to justify their rejection for dr. Riek from taking the top job. Because they see nobody else who is willing to challenge them for leadership. The same thing Garang told the Dinka that the 1991 split was because the Nuers want the leadership while the problem was the independence of south Sudan versus the united socialist Sudan. People, please, learn to be honest.

    • Tongun Lo Loyuong says:

      Amigo, which means friend as am sure you know…I appreciate your friendly and honest remarks. As I mentioned in the body of this piece I am not opposed to honorable Mr. Vice President Dr. Riek Machar. If anything, I feel comfortable speaking the truth around him (if we can call it that), because I feel he will understand. As I have been arguing all along, the reconciliation process that is being pursued in South Sudan is not about him and personal credits, but about South Sudan, and containing our current escalating ethnic tensions, in order to unite our ranks in intent and purpose for peace, and for the good of our country.

      If you look at the practice of reconciliation all over the world in countries that have had major political transition, from Sierra Leon through Rwanda to South Africa through Germany and Czech Republic to Argentina and Chile, you will notice that the success of these truth and reconciliation processes if we may simplistically conclude this way, depended on being led by a neutral body, mainly under church leadership. It is for this reason, I am advocating for the church to spearhead this process, which we all know owes much to the vision of the Vice President and his keen awareness that the only way for sustainable peace to prevail in our country is by establishing a reconciliation process and redressing our atrocious past to open a new chapter in our history.

      As for the point about my desire to help President Kiir by getting closer to him, I suggest you read my article entitled “Why South Sudan Liberation is Gone Awry,” published in South Sudan Nation, where you will be informed about my attempt to work for the government not so much as to help Kiir, but to serve my country. If you read that article you will see that I even offered to work as an intern without pay, simply because I wanted to be the change that I want to see in my country, but to no avail.

      My assurances to the concerned minister about refraining from public criticism of the government, if I am serving my country country in the government, equally fell on deaf ears, hijacked by nepotism and patronage politics. In consequence I decided to go back to the West. I hope now you know my social location.

  3. Wani Tombe Lako says:

    Tongun Lo Loyoung;

    This is a refreshing and an enlightening piece of thinking and intellectuality. It is a pity that; it is addressed to us, in our state of nature, in South Sudan.
    God bless and give you more courage and wisdom!!!!!

  4. Kong Puok Tongluot - Finland says:

    Dear Tongun Lo Loyuong
    Perfect, you have got the core of misunderstanding to whom deserved care of national reconciliation. Of course national reconciliation doesn’t avail any spiritual scope or nature, just a political scheme. One would in his rational act as Dr. Riek Machar Teny to rescue and delete the heart-wounds caused during Liberation. But some idiotic advisers had blindfolded our President Salva Kiir Maryardit and appointed on curious church committee. Now let’s pay attention at current committee led by church and results.

  5. Dhaal Mapuor says:

    Tongun… Many thanks indeed for your wise contribution.

  6. Morthon Akol says:

    I am really don understand about what so call reconciliation. the some people under the leadership of Dr. Deng Bul carry out the some reconciliation in Jonglei State but nothing changed in Jonglei. so with this reconciliation now what is going to be new in order to bring change to the county? and they are going to reconcile whom whith whom?

  7. GatCharwearbol says:

    Mr. Tongun Lo Loyoung.

    But Dr. Machar divests the idea when you Churchgoers were busy with trivial matters. Dr. Machar was busy thinking up ways to unite our people and thought best that National Reconciliation would be the only viable way to nurse back to health the long pain that had been residing within our people.

    Where your church people going to think this idea up? I do not think so. Please let us give credit where it is due. Dr. Machar deserves to take credit for this brilliant initiative of National Reconciliation. Let your church people do something else to help restore the peace we all badly needed.

    Let them not wait for other people ideas so they can jump in to claim they are the best people do it. Why didn’t they start it in the first place? Let Dr. Machar continue with the National Reconciliation process and let him oversee it to its finishing line.

  8. bolabokdit says:

    dear Tongun,
    I agree with your opinion that the church has a role to play specially in national reconciliation. We Christians always believe we are one in Christ and we should heal our misunderstanding as Christians. However, the political devil being exercised by some politicians is beyond church reconciliation, because this chaos was created intentionally for personal gain.

    Imagine a politician took the lives of thousand innocent people simply to be the president and after he failed he decided another way round. This is the same scenario of looking for leadership as in the past and I am sure if this attempt did not work out people will die.

    How many reconciliations we would expect in every term when self interested people lose presidency/election, legislation or whatever position in their interest? The souls of people who were killed are invisible, but they are following the guy who victimized them day and night and they have so many questions that need answers.

  9. Domac says:

    Mr Tongun, it is true that the reconciliation committee cannot be led by the ringleader of 1991 massacre, otherwise this reconciliation won’t work. thanks, good article.

  10. Joseph Motong says:

    It’s very important to accept the reconciliation but not people from church who tend to leave church and go for politic when they hear of money. we should not do things to earn but for the benefit of our country.
    These issue church, it may be all the bishops of south Sudan to go for that reconciliation.
    good article

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