FAQs – How is post-apartheid history relevant to issues of abuse survivors, perpetrators, and the community?

The following is a comment I made on Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: Which came first, the thug or the theology?

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Much to ponder in the last 10 posts or so that have helped, I believe, in moving us ever closer to a more coherent interpretation of the fact-base on here and toward broader application to paradigm systems and ministry movements out there.

I have recently been writing extensively about the meanings and practices of taking responsibility for spiritual abuse. One thing that strikes me especially after reading @John Hubanks’ thoughts (September 27, 2014 at 1:32 pm) is the difference between *being responsible* for something that happened, versus *taking responsibility* for our part in it.

And that reminded me of a much earlier comment by @Mike Morrell (September 24, 2014 at 8:31 pm) where he suggested formation of a “Truth & Reconciliation Committee.” I don’t know if he was referencing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) set up in the Republic of South Africa in 1995-1997, but I happened to be reading about that recently as well as watching related documentaries. And I obtained one of the original flyers about the TRC, written in both English and Zulu, and distributed in South Africa in the mid-1990s. It notes that “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created by the Government of National Unity to investigate and report on gross human rights violations committed between 1960 and 1993. It will also consider applications for amnesty by people who committed political crimes.”

Three thoughts emerged out of my studies on the abuses of apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s facilitation of a culture of forgiveness, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that all ties together the issues of survivors, perpetrators, and the larger community. I think they hold some stark and astonishing potential parallels to what we’ve been seeing happen here.

First, it was clear to me that black South Africans sharing their stories was crucial for their healing as individuals, and reclamation of their dignity as a people group. They spoke of atrocities of violence committed on themselves, of family members tortured and murdered. They received catharsis that had been withheld from them by requiring they hold on to their narratives in silence, as if they and their loved ones were of no value. They reclaimed truth about what had been lost and dignity in who they were. Some were able to openly forgive their oppressors, including the specific individuals who had harmed them.

Second, the opportunity for amnesty gave others the chance to search their actions and clear their consciences of misdeeds that had brought great damage to others. I was startled as I watched excerpts from the TRC hearings and other interviews when white South African policemen and security agents described specific tactics of terror and torture that they’d used on black South Africans. Several whites also spoke of how their separation from blacks under apartheid was all they’d ever known, and that they’d believed it was right, and so they had been willing to commit themselves to its protection – including doing whatever it took to preserve their way of life. Some were in visibly shaken by the realizations of their toxic beliefs.

Third, now the nation knew both sides of their history and could not officially hide. A much fuller knowledge of the horrific truth had been laid out in public hearings and in printed materials and could not be retracted, even if someone then willfully chose to ignore it. But those investigations and hearings for justice were also part of a larger relational movement toward health and unity as a nation, and hope for a united future after decades of official apartheid that had followed over three centuries of subjugation of blacks by white European settlers.

I blogged about post-apartheid South Africa a few days ago. That article has links to key resources I’ve used in my studies, in case you’re interested in more.

Final thought: As I mentioned early on in this thread (September 15, 2014 at 11:39 pm), I was one who watched this story unfold five years ago. I am thankful for the emergence of more details and witnesses, even while wishing this had happened back then instead. Maybe it wasn’t the right timing then, not a “chairos” moment. But it seems that the larger network of contemporary Christian communities has much to reflect upon from what has unfolded here recently. May all sides involved and those beyond all learn from what is happening in this potent moment.