Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Forgiveness Challenge

As I wrote about in my previous blog article, Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa on April 27, 1994. He was the first black president in that country that had long been dominated by the white minority.
At the time of Mandela’s election, there was still considerable anger and resentment among the blacks because of the decades of abuse and mistreatment under the cruel system known as apartheid.
There was also considerable fear and anxiety among the whites, who were no longer in control of political power. They had every reason to fear violent reaction by those who for so long had been victims of injustice. And there was unrest that did result in some violence.
However, President Mandela took a conciliatory attitude and led in the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1995. Mandela chose Desmond Tutu to be the head of the TRC, and he was an excellent choice.
Tutu (b. 1931) was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960. He served three years as the Bishop of Lesotho in the late 1970s and then as Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985-86. Tutu was then installed as the Archbishop of Cape Town (one of the three capitals of South Africa) in 1986, a post he held until 1996, the year he turned 65.
Tutu’s work for peace, justice, and reconciliation began long before 1995. In fact, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, while Mandela was still in prison and the majority population of South Africa was still under oppressive white rule.
But in his tireless opposition to apartheid, Tutu advocated only nonviolent means for change.
Tutu’s new book “The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World” was published just last month. It was co-authored with his daughter Mpho. She is also an Anglican priest who now lives in Virginia.
Having just read their splendid book, I highly recommend it—especially if you have any lingering feelings of anger or resentment toward people who have hurt you in the past.
The Tutus’ “fourfold path” to forgiveness includes (1) telling the story, (2) naming the hurt, (3) granting forgiveness, and (4) renewing or releasing the relationship.
I am not sure what all it is going to involve, but beginning on May 4, the Tutus are leading the “Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge” on the Internet. I have signed up—along with people from more than 120 other countries—to receive the daily emails and other information about forgiveness.
If you are interested, the address for learning more about the Forgiveness Challenge, as well as for signing up, is And while you will probably be encouraged to buy their book, that is not required and signing up for the online activity is free of charge.
In promoting the challenge, their website declares, “The Forgiveness Challenge will help you discover how the act of forgiving can bring more love and peace to your life. When enough of us forgive–we can change the world!”
I think that is quite true. That is the reason I am writing about this—and encouraging you to respond to the forgiveness challenge.
Although Desmond and Mpho Tutu are Anglican priests, their book is not explicitly religious. It is based on a deep understanding of human psychology and verified by the experiences they have had, especially his experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
And it is by no means just about South Africa. It is for all who need to forgive—and to be forgiven by others.


  1. The first sermon I ever preached, at 18 years of age, was on forgiveness. I've thought about it frequently. This book you review here and the global initiative sound promising, and I'll look into them at your suggestion.

    I can't help but comment, though, that such activity must surely also be part of a larger program of fighting for greater justice, which requires another kind of passion--a more critical and confrontative spirit.

    Coincidentally in the last week we've watched both movies, "Mandela" and the earlier "Invictus." Mandela demonstrated for us all a most unusual and noble spirit--a fighter for justice who knew too the importance of forgiveness.

    1. Anton, I continue to appreciate your faithful reading and commenting upon my blog postings.

      I am glad you were about to see the two movies about Mandela. June and I watched "Invictus" for the first time on the day of his funeral, and then we saw the new movie about Mandela about a month ago and really enjoyed them both.

      Certainly Mandela and Tutu both worked long and hard against "apartheid," being, of course, strongly critical of that unjust system, and they actively confronted the government that perpetuated that system. But Mandela from the time he got out of prison and Tutu through the years used only non-violent methods in their confrontation and were more conciliatory than combative.

  2. Local Thinking Friend George Melby sent an email response to this morning's article that included the words, "Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head." That is consistent with what the Tutus are saying about the need to forgive.

  3. Thinking Friend John Tim Carr in California wrote,

    "Excellent Leroy!

    "I signed up too!

    "This reminds me of your new affiliation with your new church."

    He is referring to how June and I are now members of a Mennonite church. (John Tim and I grew up together in the same Baptist church in northwest Missouri.)

    Although they were not Mennonites, Mandela and Tutu certainly acted in ways consistent with the Anabaptist tradition.

    The Mennonite Confession of Dort (1632) declared, "Regarding revenge and resisting our enemies with the sword we believe and confess that the Lord Jesus Christ has forbidden His disciples and followers all retaliation and revenge . . . ."

  4. As an "African" at heart (and still think of it as home), I am inspired by some of the great leaders who have developed on that continent. (Of course it is well worth noting that many tyrannical despots also made their marks as well.) Social media connections maintains that connection with ex-pats, citizens, and the non-citizens born and raised there.

    Forgiveness is a good answer to bitterness. Humility is a good answer to arrogance. Both are difficult to pursue because we are human. I will have the opportunity to address both with work associates today who are at each other over a petty issue. Both are right. Both are hurt. I can related, I have been there. And I have caused my share of trouble - much of it unintentional - over the years.

    Justice is also a hard concept - by any definition. It is a heavy sledge hammer which is used viciously far to often by those of each definition - with the best of intentions.

    Two of my favorite movies are "Invictus" and "Forever Young", both using a rugby platform to which I can relate as a former hooker, tighthead prop, and outside centre.

    The values of forgiveness, humility, and justice must be personally demonstrated to be taught. This is not easy for humans - it is not our tendency.

  5. Thinking Friend Anali Kratz Mathies of St. Joseph, Mo., sent comments about the previous blog article as well as about this one. She wrote:

    "Thank you Leroy, for this important topic and your thoughtful comments.
    I had the privilege of hearing Bishop Tutu speak - an amazing man indeed.
    Mandela's legacy is a national treasure and international witness."

    And then she also wrote,

    "Tutu has retold and recorded Bible stories for "Children of God: Storybook Bible." It was published by Zonderkidz in 2010. Quite lovely to hear his voice telling some of the stories, though they're all very short. Didn't know if you'd heard of the book, in case your kids/grandkids are interested."

  6. Reading your article I confronted a conundrum. Parallel, I was nearing the end of one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read, "Allah, Liberty & Love" by Irshad Manji, and yet I could not remember her once mentioning forgiveness. So I decided to finish the last few pages before commenting on this. And then, on page 258, she mentioned forgiveness. Amazingly, her comment was inspired by something she read even as she was writing. It was a harangue (her word) from "Our American Family, USA." It took a loud-mouth American to make her feel a need to forgive. Well, there we are.

    Manji was born in Uganda, which her family fled as refugees from Idi Amin. They settled in Canada, where she grew up in Vancouver. She writes with such a clarion call for reform in her faith, Islam, that I was inspired to think similar thoughts about my Christianity. Her central message is "ijtihad" which is word I struggle both to pronounce and to spell. She reports it is an ancient but neglected principle of Islam that she defines as "Islam's own tradition of dissenting, reasoning and reinterpreting." (page 2) She does all this with such grace and skill that she got to page 258 before I noticed her slowing down to forgive anything!

    I never imagined such a Muslim could exist, or actually did, until I happened to see her being interviewed by Charlie Rose. I was so impressed I ordered her latest book, and then let it sit in my stack of important books to read later. Well, later came because my Sunday school class started reading Stephen Prothero's "God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World." This made it seem a good time to read my unread Islamic book. Prothero started with Islam in chapter one of his book, because he expects it to be the most important (even if not the largest) religion in the 21st century. I hope Irshad Manji is a big part of that importance. Her take on moral courage, integrity, and high expectations inspires me to be a better Christian, which is one of the best interfaith messages I can imagine.

    As for forgiveness, yes, it is very important. What comes after forgiveness is very important, too.

    Manji previously wrote "The Trouble with Islam Today" and has been featured in a PBS special, "Faith Without Fear," that was broadcast in April 2007. So I am a little embarrassed to just now discover her. Her day job is directing the Moral Courage Project at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. People writing glowing blurbs on the back cover of her latest book are Deepak Chopra, Bill Moyers, Lesley Stahl, Gloria Steinem, and Fareed Zakaria. Her web site is: