Transform and reconcile

Letter by Richard Bickle, chair, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Milan Rai recently (PN 2608–2609) highlighted the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) as an exemplar of ‘middle-class pacifism’, concerned with harmony above justice. However, even a cursory glance at our website (where our slogan ‘Nonviolence in Action’ is prominently displayed at the top) would make it clear that ‘only harmony’ is not what we are about.

FoR campaigns against war and militarism in the churches and society; we were there at the DSEI arms fair protests (as we have been for many years and at many other demos); our members are arrested for their nonviolent witness. We absolutely reject the passive associations of the language of pacifism and seek to apply the principles of active nonviolence to all our work.

However, we are not going to reject a goal of reconciliation. You don’t get true peace without justice, but once we have justice we need to enable everyone to live alongside each other. This is part of the power of nonviolence: it isn’t just an effective means of social change, it creates that change without permanently destroying relationships or the chance of peaceful coexistence.

It is unfortunate that, in the century since FoR was founded, the common understanding of the word ‘reconciliation’ has somewhat narrowed. We believe that reconciliation between peoples of different social, economic, religious, ethnic, gender, political and sexual identities is both possible and vital for the future of human beings and the planet. However, this is only possible by facing up to the violence and injustice in the world. Our approach to this structural violence (or structural sin if you use religious language) is to seek transformation not avoidance or accommodation.