In this pamphlet, based on a 2011 plenary address to the Friends General Conference Gathering, Bruce Birchard writes of love and reconciliation through stories on three levels: personal/family, Religious Society of Friends, and in a nation that experienced genocide. Each level required a personal experience of love that made it possible to tell the truth. Paradoxically, truth telling made possible the discovery of love. Using the concept of “God” as a verb instead of a noun, when the process works, something else is also going on, a “power beyond our own making” that is God “happening.”
Birchard has come to understand that “activist” and “reconciler” are not mutually exclusive but two sides of the same coin. Both depend on truth telling and also on the kind of love that Friends have found enables us to search for and find that of God in another.
The personal/family level of reconciliation is illustrated by the story of Birchard’s gay brother and their traditional father. The love for one another and for the entire family was stronger than the fear of rejection or of homosexuality. Reconciliation was only possible with telling—and living with—the truth.
Since the early nineteenth century Friends have been divided over a variety of issues, and we—who boast of being a peace church—continue to cherish our differences and divisions. Birchard’s second example, of personal reconciliation among FGC, FUM, and EFCI Friends, has much to say to Friends of all varieties today. Reconciliation does not require a change of mind nearly as much as it requires a change in attitude. If we, individually and as a group, can understand our own part in the distancing, it is more likely that we will be able to extend and receive forgiveness. We are not being asked to compromise into homogeneity, but rather to understand and love one another in our differences. We are challenged to accept one another, to trust that each is trying to find and follow divine guidance.
Reconciliation at the national level seems impossibly difficult in the United States today. Yet in genocide-torn Burundi and Rwanda, hundreds of individuals are finding it possible to forgive and live with those who murdered their loved ones, and those who did horrendous things can accept forgiveness and be reconciled with those they wronged. Birchard showcases the extraordinary work of the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) and its Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC).
The common thread through all three examples is a willingness to tell—and hear—the truth. But beyond that, if both parties are willing, there is something more. It can be described as “God happening,” grace, the presence of Love.