I had a whole morning free so I spent it exploring the site of the Battle of Hastings in the hot Sussex sun. It was fascinating but sad. So much blood has been shed in conflicts over the years, normally because of selfish, power hungry leaders.
I was on the South coast to speak at meetings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whilst we were living in Jerusalem we developed a deep concern for reconciliation. I was responsible for 60 staff, many of whom were Jewish or Arab Israelis. I knew a lot about Jewish culture and attitudes, but not so much about Arabs. I therefore spent a good deal of time listening to the Arab staff. It was very illuminating. I had gone out there to major on relating to Jewish people (which was my job description) and I was quite pro-Israel. But talking with the Arabs (including some Palestinians – the same people group as Israeli Arabs but without Israeli citizenship) transformed my understanding and removed some misconceptions.
One meeting was held in the Roman Catholic Church. I was brought up to believe that Roman Catholics probably couldn’t be Christians(!) and here I was speaking in a Roman Catholic Church and being warmly welcomed by the priest. Obviously I had long since realised, through talking with many of them, that Catholics can be wonderful Christians. I was also thrilled that there were 15 Ministers present in the audience, from Pentecostals and Independent Churches through to Anglicans. At the invitation of the priest, they all stood at the front to bless the congregation. Since then a group of Poor Clares (Catholic nuns) have been in correspondence with me and gone on my mailing list.
Another meeting was chaired by the Dean of the local Cathedral. He had been very active in reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants when he ministered in Liverpool. He said publicly that he was surprised, having been on General Synod during my campaigning days, to hear me emphasising reconciliation and balancing the needs, pain and fears of Israelis and Palestinians. He was even more surprised that I publicly admitted changing my mind over women priests, after voting against them in the 1992 General Synod debate. He would not have known all this had he not heard my talk.
The whole trip illustrated one of the main points I was stressing in my talks. We must listen carefully to both sides in the Holy Land conflict. That goes for all human relationships where there is tension. At times over the years I have been totally convinced by a wife that her husband was responsible for their marital problems – until I have listened to the husband! Only then could I get an accurate picture.
So lesson number one in reconciliation is listen (directly) to both sides, listen (directly) to those with whom you disagree. Only then will it be possible to reach that reconciliation which is always God’s will, even if it means agreeing to disagree (as I still would with those I opposed in General Synod). Only then will it be possible fully to reach that attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation which Jesus said is a condition of being forgiven by God.