In the last few years, a new term has crept into our public discourse,
seemingly innocuous but in fact enormously powerful, the term ‘moving
I think I first noticed it when our national leader in Australia
declared that there was no need for an apology to the Stolen
Generations, as he and the people had moved on.
So too have we moved on from the question of Weapons of Mass Destruction: it doesn’t matter that none were found.
The sensible thing to do, we are told, is to move on.
Moving on is offered to us as the way of life.
And so it is in many important respects.
But might it also be immoral – or at the very least something that we can only do with a troubled conscience?
Those of us who are counsellors or simply friends to someone in grief, someone who has been hurt, victimised, abused—we know that there is an important point at which a person needs to move on.
But how to move on seems to be crucial to the process of healing.
Last year in South Africa I heard first hand the story of a young woman who, after a decade or so, met with the neighbour who had raped her, to tell him that she forgave him. The young man had been imprisoned and was now released: but she wanted him to be released in terms of their relationship, as well. A journalist observed how such acts of forgiveness were astonishingly common, she said characteristic, of the new South Africa.
This woman was not claiming to be a moral hero. Nor would she be a victim. She wanted to move on, in a constructive, just way: to recognize the wrong, the hurt, the abuse: and to move on.
There is something really confronting, deeply challenging here. South Africa was guided by the great Desmond Tutu into seeing that they could not move on, they could not be a new South Africa, without truth and reconciliation.
The nation could not live in freedom without moving to good conscience. The truth had to be told and then reconciliation had to be made. Forgiveness and restoration, not retribution, is the justice they are seeking.
Here, I want to suggest is a deeply challenging issue.
It seems to me vital to say that conscience cannot settle easily. It is necessary in this time that conscience should be troubled, uneasy.
There are things we need to remember. There is a popular misnomer, ‘forgive and forget’. The theologian Paul Tillich once wrote that to forgive requires in fact that we remember. But it is a particular kind of remembering. I believe Australia needs a lot of remembering.
We need to remember the invasion of this land.
We need to remember the stolen generations, and the genocide of the indigenous nations.
We need to remember the destruction of ecosystems.
We need to remember the injustices to women, to people of Asian origins and cultures, to asylum seekers and homosexuals and people of faiths other than the dominant church religion.
We need to remember the appalling stories of abuse within church institutions.
We need to remember Iraq.
We need to remember Vietnam and the awful despair of the veterans, especially those conscripted for that war.
We need more than dollars and programs of welfare, we need to find a conscience, a troubled, uneasy conscience, and live with that.
I think we need to accept a troubled conscience, an uneasy conscience. Moving on must not mean just copping it or opting out, as if there is nothing we can do.
Moving on must mean a definite commitment to the truth, to justice, and that means a willingness to work towards right relationships.
This kind of conscientious truthfulness says: here is something we must deal with —this sorrow, this injustice, this deception, this abuse of power or privilege; but that is not all there is: we now must find a way forward together. Then, together, we can move on.