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Presentation by Hon. David Kilgour

To a gathering of the Canadian Baptist Ministries

National Press Club, Ottawa, 18 October 2001 


*Check against delivery

It is such a pleasure to be with you here this evening to speak to you. Gatherings such as this one provide an opportunity to look beyond political positions and parties and allow us to focus on those values and principles that bring us together: the principle that all human life is of equal value; the human right to live with dignity; freedom to realise one’s own salvation and to live freely; and of course those eternal values of love, generosity, honesty loyalty and  truth.  In no way should these principles be understood as Christian or Jewish, Muslim or Hindu.  These are values that are shared across all faiths, and that are consistently espoused in our political arena, at events such as the Inter-faith prayer service held in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th.  No matter how many buildings crumble, these values will always stand tall.

Canadian Baptist Ministries is one of those organizations that has throughout its history helped spread these values to those in greatest need.   One just has to examine some of its core values: individual rights are to be balanced by individual responsibilities; justice for all; seeing the family as a loving, nurturing, stable environment for the development of individuals – these are values supported by most Canadians of any faith.  Over the course of its 127 years of work, Canadian Baptist Ministries has reached out and touched people in over 20 countries, with over a thousand devoted participants serving voluntarily.

I’d like to personally reflect on some of the above-mentioned, ecumenical, values.  In thinking about what I might say tonight, I came across a book, The Forgiveness Factor-Stories of Hope In A World of Conflict (Grosvenor Books,1997) by Michael Henderson. The foreword by Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, asserts that the contents will draw readers to what he terms a “Reconciliation Highway”.

Henderson refers in the preface to Desmond Tutu (who has among many honours been voted the most inspiring Christian leader today in the world) on his work as chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “One lesson we should be able to teach the people of Bosnia, Rwanda, and Burundi”, says Tutu, “ is that we are ready to forgive.” In Henderson’s thesis, forgiveness knows no national borders and holds the power to break circles of hate wherever they flourish.

I’d add here a personal comment. Having been to visit Rwanda twice, I’ve spoken to as many as possible of the survivors of the 1994 Genocide. One of them told me that when Tutu first arrived in the country not long after the catastrophe, he called on the people to forgive. He then toured some of the disaster scenes and was so troubled that, according to the Rwandan woman I spoke to, he changed his mind in favour of forgiveness following justice for the perpetrators.

For the purposes of this presentation, I’ll refer briefly to some citizen-diplomats from various corners of the world who are discussed in The Forgiveness Factor.

Gordon Wilson and Paddy Joe (PJ) McClean–Northern Ireland

In 1987 in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, Gordon Wilson heard his 20-year-old daughter, Marie, say, “Daddy, I love you very much”, just before she died in the rubble of a bomb blast. The next day in words which still reverberate he said to the media: “Marie’s last words were of love. It would be no way for me to remember her by having words of hatred in my mouth.”

PJ McClean was arrested in 1971 for his struggle against British rule in Northern Ireland. While in prison, he began to re-examine the hatred in his life and finally concluded that “Catholics and Protestants and people of no religion” all need a level playing field so that all can feel themselves to be equal parts of the community and each enjoy a fair chance to move ahead. As he puts it, “Society as a whole has paid dearly because unfairness created alienation, and alienation became a breeding ground for terror...A cease-fire in the head is every bit as necessary as the cease-fire on the streets.” PJ currently represents his political party, the Democratic Left, at the Forum of Peace and Reconciliation that has been meeting weekly  in Dublin since 1994.

Joseph Lagu–Sudan

In 1971, Lagu was the military and political leader of the guerrilla movement in the south of Sudan during the first civil war between the predominately Muslim north and the largely Christian south. A plane from the north crashed one day in a region controlled by Lagu’s soldiers; there were 29 survivors. His colleagues wanted them killed, but in reflecting overnight Lagu recalled that Jesus, when asked how many times one should forgive a transgressor, had replied, “seventy times seven”. The northerners were accordingly released unharmed; their message about this at home in Khartoum helped to persuade the government of the day there to negotiate the Addis Ababa agreement, which ended at least for seventeen years of armed conflict.

In 1994, Lagu and another Sudanese general, Mohamed Zein elAbdeen, a Muslim and a northerner, together shared a podium at a spiritual retreat centre at Caux, Switzerland. The northerner told the audience: “We generals are living in one room, very friendly. He (Lagu) starts in the morning reading his Bible: I read the Quran.  I have got something which we can share together because we believe in the same God. A just and lasting peace can only be achieved through a process of reconciliation, compromise and confidence-building.”

Douglas Johnston – United States

At the height of the cold War, Douglas Johnston served underwater in a Polaris, ready to defend against a nuclear attack against the Untied States.  He works today in Washington D.C., where he is executive vice-president to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank which includes a program on preventive diplomacy.   As the chair to this program, he is particularly focussed on the role of spiritually motivated people in resolving national and international conflicts.  He believes that in future conflicts will be rooted not in ideology but in clashes of communal identity , whether on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion.  He is the principal author of Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft.  The book contains important case studies and has numerous lessons not only for government officials but also for religious leaders willing to take initiatives for peace.

Johnston addressed an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London in 1995.  He is quoted as stating that “ ¼although  spiritual factors will play an increasing role in resolving political conflict, political theory has not caught up with this reality.  Insensitivity to spiritual influences on politics, has led to uninformed foreign policy choices.” 


In summary, the spiritual influence on violence is one that should no longer be ignored by persons of any faith.  Let me leave with some words from a leader – President Olesgun Obasanjo of Nigeria – who knows all too well the difficulties in reconciling faith, politics, and spirituality:

“True believers, be they Moslems or Christians, know all humans are created by God and ought not be harmed, but loved.”

Your history proclaims Canadian Baptist Ministries to be an organization committed to reconciliation at many different levels.  As you continue to pursue that Ministry well into this third millennium, I encourage you to persevere in choosing, commissioning and supporting extraordinary people who will not be afraid to face tense and difficult situations, transforming them through love and compassion.

To the degree that you are successful in that calling, you will contribute to the lives of the needy, and to the quality of life in many nations, including our own beloved Canada.

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