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Rwandan Genocide survivor Celestin Musekura speaks to South Sudan military and police chaplains about forgiveness. (Photo credit: Micah Mandate, Trevecca Nazarene University)

Rwandan Genocide survivor Celestin Musekura speaks to South Sudan military and police chaplains about forgiveness. (Photo credit: Micah Mandate, Trevecca Nazarene University)

By Faith J. H. McDonnell (@Cuchulain09)

Throughout the years of war waged by Sudan’s National Islamic Front regime against the people of South Sudan, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile, certain catch phrases were frequently heard — particularly by the media and by humanitarian aid groups. “Human rights violations by both sides” and “South on South violence” were among the phrases used not merely to portray the war scene accurately and with no bias, but also at times to depict the two sides as morally equivalent.

In the working paper by South Sudan’s Committee on National Reconciliation, the Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul, Sudan’s Anglican Archbishop (Episcopal Church of Sudan) writes with dismay about how not long after the great celebration of South Sudan’s independence, outbreaks of violence took place. “Before we could finish celebration, we hit the headlines again,” he recollects. “But all for the wrong reasons! Hundreds were reported killed, many wounded, children and women abducted and much property, including health centres and schools damaged.”

Deng informs that the current violence taking place in South Sudan “can trace its roots to the decades of war.” He explains that not only was South Sudan attacked directly by the Islamist regime in Khartoum, but the war was pursued in the South by Southerners and between Southerners. “The enemies of South Sudan used divide and rule tactics, setting tribe against tribe, brother against brother, and sister against sister,” says Deng. He refers to the “tragic split” in the liberation movement in 1991 that pitted Southern resistance movements against each other, and declares, “The time has now come to rediscover our nationalism, putting aside these artificially created divisions.”

“We cannot have fellowship without forgiveness, reconciliation and healing,” Deng states. He says that the people of South Sudan need to “exercise mercy towards each other.” There is a precedent for this kind of reconciliation. In 1999, in Wunlit, the New Sudan Council of Churches facilitated a “People to People Peace Process” conference between Dinka and Nuer people groups. The reconciliation that took place after this conference led to the reunification of the SPLA. “Now is the time to stand together as a nation, as we have done before when the need is great,” Deng declares.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit has also spoken to the people of South Sudan to say that “the time for war is over and never again should the brothers and sisters of South Sudan go to war against each other.” In a speech to the National Legislative Assembly in April 2013, Kiir said, “We must work to heal the wounds created during our long struggle for independence and equality. We must work together to build a nation worthy of the sacrifice of our many martyrs and innocent victims.”

Archbishop Deng says that “forgiveness is painful but it is the bitter pill we need.” The Church can help people to understand that in granting forgiveness, they do not have to deny that wrong has been done. Often people are afraid to forgive because they believe that it somehow diminishes the pain that they or their people have endured. But the Church can teach that true forgiveness is modeled by Christ, in His undeniably agonizing crucifixion who prayed, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Deng also explains that the people of South Sudan “have to swallow our pride for the sake of the survival of our young nation.” He says that “the pride of tribe, of clan, of class, of creed, of political party, and of personal ambition must not obscure the focus on the future of our nation.” Pride can often stand in the way of receiving forgiveness, too. It is actually quite a humbling experience to be forgiven, because we have to be willing to admit that we have done something offensive or injurious, something wrong. In fact, in today’s modern Western culture, offering forgiveness is often perceived as a self-righteous, morally-passé action and is often resented!

It would seem that the exhortation of Archbishop Deng to the people of South Sudan is good advice for all of us.