Can anger give way to peace? It did in the life of Nelson Mandela. He fought against apartheid in South Africa. He was captured and was imprisoned for 27 years.
Then the President of South Africa, F.W. DeKlerk, began to visit him in prison — a white man with power, having private discussions with a black man with no power. They discovered they were both Christians. A plan was hatched for legalized racism to be dismantled, for Mandela to be eventually pardoned, and for a nation to avoid civil war.
At some point revolutionaries may shift from tearing down to building up; to leave behind "It's time for change!" and move into "How should we then live?" Nelson Mandela made this shift while still in his prison cell. A man of war became a man of peace. He forgave his enemies, he was elected president, and he began to govern all the people, not just his own kind.
Once he got power, he did not use that power to oppress his former oppressors. Such was his example.
That political miracle in South Africa is hard for us to appreciate from a distance. You see, after Mandela was elected to his first four-year term, his popularity was so very high that he could have easily been president for life. But Mandela gave it up.
He did what the white DeKlerk regime had just done — he gave up power. How rare this is! Mandela loved the people more than he loved his privilege; thus he preserved democracy. This national transformation was due solely to the leadership grace operating in this one man. He suffered for what was right and thus gained humility and wisdom. I was an eyewitness to this story.
We saw it firsthand because my wife and I were missionaries in the Republic of South Africa, living in Johannesburg in 2001. Apartheid had ended but racism, hatred, and violence continued. We were frequently at risk as we lived or worked there. When we drove into Soweto to minister, we knew there were gangs of black criminals whose slogan was, “One bullet, one white man.” Whites were targets of home invasion, robbery, carjacking, rape, murder, and kidnapping.
The grocery store that Lana and I often walked to in order to shop had guards at each door with shotguns. Stores even had watchtowers above the parking lot with guards armed with rifles. Our apartment had a guard at the gate with a gun and was surrounded by a high wall with electric wire on the top (220 volts!).
While driving our rental car, we learned to not completely stop at intersections, but to slowly roll past the stop sign so carjackers in the crowd couldn't smash our car windows. How real was the danger? Well, in the mall, I saw personal flame-throwers for sale that were intended for drivers to use on carjackers. The newspaper had daily reports of whites being robbed, raped, and killed. So many blacks still wanted revenge. Crime was rampant. But God kept us safe and at peace while we taught God's word to precious people we loved.
What can we learn here? How do leaders handle the demands of justice with the need for reconciliation? Both are required for lasting peace. In South Africa, President Mandela wanted the violence to cease. To achieve this, he worked with Christian leaders in the church.
Bishop Desmond Tutu was appointed to lead a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Every white person, guilty of torturing or murdering blacks, could voluntarily come before the Commission, publicly confess all of their crimes, and then be legally pardoned with no consequences. But those who concealed their crimes were arrested, prosecuted, and punished.
This is how God's eternal justice system still operates for us human beings because of sin (read Psalms 32:1-5). Reconciliation is available by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, but only if we come forward and confess the truth.
Ron Wood pastors Trinity Assembly of God located at State Blvd Extension and Chandler Road. www.trinitymeridian.com. (601) 483-8189. Hear Ron on the Father's Power each Sunday at 8 a.m. or 7 p.m. on SuperTalk radio 103.3 FM.