Reconciliation: A Possibility and a Must

“As long as humans are less than perfect, there will be a need for admitting failures, confessing sins, seeking and granting forgiveness”, says Antje Jackelén introducing her speech on Reconciliation – A Political Possibility for the Anna Lindh Lecture on 13 April.

However, reconciliation is hard. And increasingly so, as the world is, Jackelén explains, tormented by what she refers to as the five Ps: polarization, populism, protectionism, post-truth and patriarchy.

Whereas polarisation tears us apart, populism pits elite groups against one another. Protectionism makes us put our own interests first. Post-truth, the spread of misinformation and fake news, distort our reality. Finally, patriarchy, Jackelén says, “dehumanises women as well as men by’ not letting women and children flourish”.

The five P’s, driven by fear, are in the way and makes reconciliation harder than ever. Fear is problematic:

“It often makes us defensive, opposed to change, prone to rigidity – attitudes that directly feed into a new loop of the five Ps”, says Jackelén. “We end up with a vicious circle, counterproductive to reconciliation, healing and peace. Unwillingness to care about hope and to deal with guilt will damage our humanity.”

What is reconciliation?

Jackelén shares her view on reconciliation: “Reconciliation is a process that can bring healing and in the long run create and sustain just peace.”

To restore and to repair a relationship takes acknowledging the harm that was caused. It also means taking responsibility for one’s actions as well as making efforts to rebuild trust and repair the damage that was done.

The process can be difficult and complex and often requires a willingness to listen to and understand the perspectives of others, as well as a commitment to making amends and preventing similar harm from occurring in the future.

Jackelén brings up the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa after the fall of the apartheid regime – one of the most famous ones.

Desmond Tutu, a South African Anglican cleric and theologian, played a key role in the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa of which he was the appointed chairperson.

Tutu believed that the pursuit of truth was essential to the process of reconciliation. Without an acknowledgement of the wrongs that had been committed, it would be hard to move forward as a society. He famously stated that “there can be no future without forgiveness”.

But even though the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission did start processes of healing, it has been, Jackelén says, criticised for not bring about the whole truth. Hence, could not help the whole nation to heal.

Jackelén refers to Tutu’s book No Future without Forgiveness in which he describes that he was surprised that Mandela appointed him – a theologian instead of a lawyer – to chair the commission. Tutu believed that the ‘president must have thought that the work of the Commission would basically be spiritual’. Jackelén adds; ‘reconciliation is a theological term. It has a bearing concept in many religions.”

Just like Tutu does, Jackelén reflects on the concept of the ‘wounded healer’: “Perhaps one can only effectively contribute to reconciliation as a wounded healer”.

The idea behind the wounded healer is that their own experiences of pain and suffering allow them to better understand and connect with the experiences of others who are struggling. They can use their own journey of healing to guide, support, and give hope to those who are also in need of healing. (The concept was first established by Carl Jung.)

What does reconciliation take?

Jackelén takes us through four pillars of reconciliation, identified by Tore Johnsen, a Sami scholar in Norway:

1) to acknowledge the past (to establish the truth)
2) to repent (to name the hurt)
3) to restore
4) to forgive

As simple as these may sound:

“Reconciliation is not a linear process. It entails moving back and forth between the different stages. Friction, confusion and setbacks are common features in a process of reconciliation”, Jackelén says.

The Sami: Reconciliation in Sweden

In Sweden, the Truth and Reconciliation commission is frequently referred to the Truth Commission only. Jackelén believes that this is a mistake; as “truth is but one step of the process”. Albeit important, truth only represents 25 % of the job. The rest is reconciliation.

Reconciliation, is, as mentioned, difficult for all involved. But it is a necessity, “or else we will betray our true human dignity as well as the future of our children and grandchildren”, Jackelén says.

She shares her experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Between the Sami People and the Church of Sweden:

In 2000, the Church of Sweden stopped being a state church. As state church, it used to be involved in the colonisation of Sápmi, the Sami’s territory.

1. Establishing the truth

When the Church started to explore historical relationships with the Sami, in the 90’s,it discovered abuses committed against the Sami. The knowledge led to books and a conference.

This was establishing the truth.

2. Naming the hurt

Once truth, the first pillar, had been establish, the second, “sensitive stage” would include apologising, naming the hurt.

An official apology would come, but when?

“Moving ahead too quickly would mean the risk of not paying enough attention to the gravity of the abuse”, says Jackelén. “It could make the apology look premature and not trustworthy. Waiting too long would be risky, too.”

“We who represented the perpetrator had to be touched by the facts and the experiences, both intellectually and emotionally”, says Jackelén.

Also, could the church demonstrate that repentance and commitment was strong enough? “Could we, representatives of the former State Church really be trusted?”

Aware that an apology that goes wrong can make everything worse, the Church knew that it had to create trust first. Finally, in 2019, the Sami Church Council (Samiska rådet i Svenska kyrkan) informed the Church of Sweden that the time had come for an official apology.

Due not only to the pandemic, but to preparations and conversations with the Sami the apology did not happen until the end of 2021.

“It took more than two years to realise the apology, mainly because it took time to achieve consensus around the apology and the commitments to go with it.”

“An apology is an acknowledgment of the moral responsibility of the failing party – without the other party being expected to respond by forgiving.”

An apology, Jackelén says, must always “be accompanied by commitments leading to concrete action”.

As for where the apology would be made “it was decided that both places were necessary. Hence, the apology was first expressed in Uppsala Cathedral on November 24, 2021, and almost a year later, on October 23, 2022, in Luleå Cathedral.”

“Expressing an apology requires a performative setting, a rite””says Jackelén.

A lot of thought and energy was had to be and was put into the ceremony that tool place towards the end of November, 2021.

3.  To restore

Eight commitments went with the apology along with 40 million SEK for the work over ten years.

All thirteen Diocesan Boards of the Church of Sweden agreed to the commitments. Several rounds of conversations with Sami civil society organizations and all the parties of the Sami Parliament, Sametinget, were needed.

It took courage on both sides.

Jackelén concludes that reconciliation is and must be a political possibility.

“The theological aspects of reconciliation should be considered, even in seemingly secular settings. All four pillars of reconciliation are needed.”

“Truth is only the first step. Moreover, pragmatism is not enough. Reconciliation processes require the best of ideas and virtues – space for anger, grief, remorse, repentance, pain and compassion. They require an apology that is embodied in space and time. In addition, they require changes of mindset and actions that can be quite costly.”

“Reconciliation processes must be based on human rights as well as on the wellbeing of the planet. Without justice, there will be neither reconciliation nor peace”.



Share with your friends
Scroll to top