|Restorative Justice in the Healing of our Nation
The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
October 25, 2008
Excerpts from the Pastoral Address of the Bishop to the Diocesan Council on 25th October 2008
[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] The tragedy of our Nation is the rapid deterioration of universal human values. People’s rights and needs are being systematically disregarded. This trend is compounded with the absence of a constructive opposition and civil society intervention. The triumph of corruption, intimidation, divisiveness, violence and lawlessness is dangerously gaining social endorsement. Correspondingly, the drive for good governance, social integration and law and order has ceased to motivate the people. Many are either too frightened or pessimistic to attempt change.
To make matters worse the population is being suffocated by the unprecedented high cost of living. While world economic trends make some impact on the cost of living, corruption and the lack of financial vision and planning aggravates the local situation. We often hear of allegations of the abuse of public office for personal gain, and financial extravagance and waste by those holding responsible office. As at present little is being done to arrest this trend which hits the poorest segments of our society, hardest.
The deterioration of law and order continues to be worrying. Brazen and violent acts of crime occur frequently. Media personnel in particular have been subject to assassinations harassment and intimidation. After arrest and a long period of detention without charges, the Sunday Times Columnist Tissanayagam’s case continues to drag. Lawyers who intervene in human rights cases are subject to acts of violence and threats. The attack on Mr Weliamuna’s house is a current case in point. In-spite of the rhetoric hardly any detections are made by an otherwise alert intelligence service. The net result is that the natural course of justice is seriously impeded and the people increasingly lose confidence in the law enforcement authorities.
Plight of Tamil Civilians
The Tamil community continues to undergo severe hardship in all parts of the Country. Many are trapped in the struggle for military supremacy and the divisive political agendas of the warring sides. Tamils are also treated with growing suspicion and are subject to harassment as the anti terrorist propaganda taints them all as threats to National security. The recent requirement for Tamils only, from the North and East to register with the police, sent out signals that Tamils particularly must be kept under surveillance. Little thought was given to the hostility that these equal citizens consequently encounter in their neighbourhoods.
The inability of the majority of sensible peace loving Sri Lankans to discern the signs of the times contributes to this worsening situation. We today breathe the political air we have helped to create. What we are now experiencing is; ‘anomie’ a word coined by the early 20th Century sociologist Durkheim to describe a society influenced by the absence of norms. For Durkheim the way out of ‘anomie’ was through education; both formal and non formal. We however need a much more comprehensive counter-trend to return to a value based society.
What this Country needs immediately is an ethos of democratic pluralism in which dissent will be welcome, diversity respected and minorities treated as equals. Visionary and inclusive leaders and multi cultural schooling will be indispensable for this process. It is as we stop demonising the other and our children associate with each other that we will learn to co-exist.
The need for dialogue
Our violent approach to resolving conflict and historic grievance must also change. Security is a requirement in a modern State. But war, the recognition that our own will be killed in confrontation, even out of provocation or desperation, is never the answer. Time tested methods of dealing with conflict such as negotiations, dialogue, consensus and compromise need to be affirmed and pursued instead. From here we will grow to understand that the devolution of political power within an united Nation is the path that an enlightened people travel. Our numerous peace conversations and agreements of the past and the experiences of other countries are resources that need to be harnessed with humility.
A substantial answer to the erosion of law and order is the implementation of the 17th amendment. This will ensure impartiality and accountability in the sectors that maintain law and order and lead to the reduction of corruption and crime. It will also enable Civil Society, the Media and the several democratic institutions to impact on the process of good governance.
The Church, like all religions has a part to play in this transformation. A particular contribution that the Church can offer towards the healing of the Nation is restorative justice. This demanding but rewarding shift will enable forgiveness and reconciliation and bring healing to both victim and perpetrator. It breaks the cycle of revenge.
We should however bear in mind that Christians are just as much to blame for what our Nation has become. So we are called to demonstrate both repentance and faithfulness in Christ. We must be converted and take on the role of servants, pastors and prophets. It is only then that we will become useful instruments of peace, justice and reconciliation in the Nation.
In November this year our Diocese will join a Confederation of Churches along with several Churches affiliated with the National Christian Council. On the two previous occasions that we met at Council we voted almost unanimously to do so. This is now a decision that we are committed to. I once again remind all our Clergy and Congregations to study the changes this will bring and to enter this new relationship with humility and hope.
Confederation will require us to deliberate and act together with our sister Churches in our common witness for Christ in Sri Lanka today. Our choice for Confederation will from now on deprive us of the right to refrain from joint action in certain agreed areas. We will be called to discover our place in a wider fellowship and process and this will take time. There could also be set-backs. But if we are prepared to work hard and move with humility and discernment, the common witness of our churches will be enhanced and Christ honoured. So may we rise up, pick up the basin and be prepared to wash one another’s feet.
If we give this step and the process that follows our best effort in Christ there is every possibility that we will grow together into a United Church under Christ for Sri Lanka. I call the Diocese to study, prayer and commitment and urge as many as possible to attend the services on the 30th of November in Colombo and elsewhere.
Important as Confederation is I would like to place this step in the context of a much wider calling. Denominational ecumenism should always be a step in the direction of wider ecumenism and National Integration. Our coming together in Christian Confederation must foster greater understanding among the faiths and communities of our beloved Sri Lanka.
This is necessary for several good reasons; but let me mention two. We are a Nation of worldreligions and we are a Nation in turmoil. We are therefore compelled to live with mutual respect for each other and to harness our collective spiritualities and resources to bring stability and dignity for all our people.
I am immensely grateful for all initiatives taken by our Clergy and Congregations in building inter-faith solidarity leading to social trust in various parts of the Country. My Pastoral visit in early September to Vavuniya ended with a Dana given by the Chief Incumbent of Vavuniya. The local Christian leaders who participated were all Tamils. Our conversation around the table centred on our role as religious leaders in the current National crises. Here then, is just one example of how inter faith solidarity contributes to social trust in a very tense part of the Country.
This excellent work must go on but there is now a new emphasis that is required. These friendships of solidarity need to be directed towards the interaction between the Gospel/Dhama and our socio-political context. Sadly for some, perhaps many, the context leads to a compromised redefinition of the Gospel/Dhamma. This is not a stance that faithful adherents of any religion are expected to adopt. The better way and indeed the only way of faithfulness is that the Gospel/Dhamma should highlight the discrepancies in the context and then offer a vision of hope and steps towards peace.
So it is imperative that the Gospel/Dhamma should compel us to speak and respond to situations of war, poverty, corruption, human rights violations, injustice, oppression, intimidation, discrimination and so on. We must never grow weary of striving in this direction. We must never imagine that evil will triumph over our shared spiritualities. We must never be silent even if all around us voices grow dim. We must repeatedly reclaim our right to intervene on behalf of the people and refuse to allow this to be the sole domain of the politician. The promise of transformation and hope for all our people is adequate to sustain this journey.
Lambeth Conference 2008
There were three prominent thrusts that echoed through the Lambeth Conference (of Anglican Bishops that I was privileged to attend this year). These were first, the recognition that God was at work in and through the Anglican Communion. Stories and experiences that were shared, demonstrated the humble faithfulness of Anglicans in varied challenging contexts. This very positive feature must never ever be forgotten or hidden by the undue publicity that the current controversy receives.
Second, there was the assertion that our common heritage, traditions, spirituality and practices were far more stronger than our differences. While recognising that differences must be addressed, an overwhelming majority of Bishops present, wanted to stay together. We did not see separation or schism as a way forward in Christ.
Finally, there was unanimous acceptance that the crises of the world required our energy and attention over and above our internal disputes. We realised that it was here that faithfulness in our witness and mission would be tested. In fact the call to respond to Gods torn and divided world as a reconciled Body was seen as perhaps the strongest reason for the Communion to heal our divisions and learn to live with our differences.