Cross-cultural program examines reconciliation and race in South Africa

lawrence-burnleyLawrence A. Q. Burnley, M.Div., Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Multicultural Programs, Messiah College

Extending education beyond the classroom helps faculty members like Lawrence Burnley develop students’ appreciation for cultural traditions significantly different from their own, including contemporary and historical tensions and contradictions.

During a recent, three-week cross-cultural experience in South Africa, Burnley and Kate Quimby, senior lecturer in Humanities, led 11 Messiah College students through an examination of the emergence of apartheid, the role the Church played in supporting and then dismantling apartheid, and the effectiveness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).  The group traveled as members of Messiah’s Racial Ethnic and Reconciliation Immersion Program (RECRIP), in partnership with Cornerstone Christian College, and the Religion and Theology Department at the University of the Western Cape.

RECRIP, created by Burnley and Quimby, asserts that in order for a Christian to be effectively engaged in the ministry of racial reconciliation he or she needs to critically examine the contradictory role the Church has played in supporting and opposing racial ideology.  The South African journey allowed students to do just that.

“It is critical that students examine how the church’s role in social, economic, and political dynamics have contributed to the impoverished conditions in South Africa and at home,” says Burnley, the associate dean for multicultural programs and special assistant to the provost for diversity affairs at Messiah. “Only through such examination can students develop a critical understanding of the realities of poverty, discrimination, and ultimately reconciliation.”

“We could see the students transform right before our eyes,” says Burnley.  “At first they seemed awestruck by the intensity of what we witnessed-mothers forgiving murderers, prisoners extending grace to guards, survivors of massacres seeking peace, churches reconciling guilt. Then, students become more engaged, and the nature of their conversations became more sophisticated in terms of their depth of understanding of reconciliation.”

One of the most memorable and poignant moments on the trip—a tour of the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum in Soweto—paired Burnley, Quimby, and students with a survivor of the massacre that killed 572 protesting students in 1976.  Says Burnley, “We were profoundly touched that this man, who had never stepped foot inside the museum until that day, did so to honor our visit.”

Later, the Messiah contingency met with the South African Council of Churches, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. They then visited Stellenbosch University-where the theological foundation of apartheid was engineered. The group was so well received that Burnley was invited to share his views on 180 degrees, a national morning television show similar to NBC’s Today Show.

Perhaps no one is more suited to define reconciliation than Burnley, who has dedicated his life to unfolding the critical and dramatic implications of what has been described as the “costly discipleship.”

“It’s a journey that begins as a response to God’s love,” says Burnely, “where those involved seek to create healing and wholeness where incredible pain and brokenness prevail.  Where individuals must be willing to speak truth, candidly, in love, realizing that engaging in that kind of journey can be very painful but also very liberating.”

Posted in About Reconciliation, Faculty, Majors & Minors | Comments Off

Posted on May 4th, 2009

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