The road of forgiveness

In South Africa's Western Cape there is a rapidly growing bakery with the unusual brand name: "Amy's bread - the bread of hope and peace." The local communities know its significance. Amy Biehl was a Fulbright Scholar who was murdered in the Western Cape in the run-up to the 1994 elections. The bakery, run by the Amy Biehl Foundation, exists because her parents, Peter and Linda Biehl, from California, decided to walk the road of forgiveness.

Amy's killers, who had been sentenced to prison, were granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a decision the Biehls endorsed. At the amnesty hearing, Mrs. Biehl embraced the mother of one of the killers who was wearing an Amy Biehl Foundation T-shirt. It was a gesture Archbishop Desmond Tutu said "sent electric shocks down your spine."

We can be grateful for those like the Biehls who point the way for us as individuals and nations to enter the new century less encumbered by the hurts and hates of the past. Indeed, Mr. Tutu says that without forgiveness, there is no future.

It is noticeable around the world how many people and institutions are prepared in varying ways to draw a line at the past. The Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, resolved their centuries-old doctrinal split. Jubilee 2000 is pushing for debt relief for the world's poorest nations.

Koreans and US Korean War veterans in Ohio are finding healing together for a massacre in that war that was recently uncovered. Benin President Mathieu Krkou is convening a meeting the week of Nov. 29 where he plans to apologize to African-Americans for African complicity in the slave trade. In Oregon, leaders came together April 22 in an unparalleled way for a Day of Acknowledgment of past racist history and a commitment to strengthen racial unity.

A delightfully simple approach to forgiveness has been adopted by thousands in Britain. It is the brainchild of Edward Peters, a worker with an Oxford charity. Apologizing to several people for quarrels he'd had with them, he realized how easy it is to carry baggage from the past - whether broken relationships, guilt about something we've done, or things we've put off doing. Wouldn't it be wonderful, he thought, to have a clean slate to deal with all this baggage rather than carry it with us into the new millennium.

Out of this thought grew the Clean Slate Campaign, an invitation to people in Britain to use this year to do something to start fresh. Each person is asked to take at least one practical step during 1999 toward wiping his or her slate clean, the only condition being that the focus is on what "I" and "we" can do, not on what "they" should do. Thousands from all backgrounds have responded to mailings and articles about the campaign - many communicating to Mr. Peters what they've decided to do.

For instance, on BBC radio recently, a Sikh editor called the campaign one of the best projects he has come across. The mayor of Oxford designated the week of Nov. 29 Clean Slate Week. Baroness Flather wrote, "I have been hurt by the gender discrimination I often experience within my own Asian community. I have decided to clean my slate of this hurt, and not allow it to make me angry or have a negative effect on the way I treat others."

Columnist Libby Purves, in The (London) Times, called the responses, "An endearing snapshot of people willing to throw out resentments and prejudices and present a smiling, open face to the new century." She added, "The humble, private notion of apology and restitution and a fresh start needs encouraging in the private domain, not least because in the public domain it is virtually extinct."

Columnist Dick Godfrey, in the Newcastle Journal, opened his column "to those brave souls who wish to come clean." He wrote, "I have already decided that I shall cease to be as assertive and domineering in the home as I know I am inclined to be."

Finally, the Church Times had a cartoon picturing two prisoners in jail, with one saying, "My mistake was having all my Clean Slate pledges published in the local paper."

Reader, have no fear. I won't publish what you decide in the privacy of your own heart.

*Michael Henderson is an English journalist and broadcaster living in Oregon. His forthcoming book is titled 'Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate' (Book Partners).

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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