Indaba and Dialogue – they work!

This December two great events have shown to the world that Indaba and dialogue works.

Indaba Works

No one believed that 195 countries with different aims, contexts and desires could find any agreement on climate change, but in Paris they did. How did they do it? They used a Zulu concept of Indaba to enable all parties to voice their opinion and to find a way to consensus.

The result is not perfect. Most environmental commentators believe it is not enough, but they are also saying that it is the beginning of a journey and that they have hope.

Indaba worked because all were encouraged to speak honestly and openly. Everyone was given the assurance of being listened to and that their honesty would not be abused or manipulated. They needed to trust one another.

Dialogue Works

The Nobel Peace Prize went this year to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet who transformed conflict in their society. Representatives of the four most divided power groups in the nation decided to trust one another and to put the interest of the nation first above the interests of their own lobby. Their honest conversation with an eye to putting the interests of others above their own saved the nation from the kind of melt down experienced by their neighbours. It was an Indaba in all but name.

The Anglican Communion

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba introduced the concept of Indaba to the Anglican Communion in the run up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference and in 2010 he explained why it is a Biblical concept – making a direct parallel with Paul’s response to the divisions in Corinth. Indaba and dialogue work because they are the consistent models of conflict transformation in the Bible.

The Anglican Communion understands Indaba to be a process of honest conversation that seeks to build community, energize mission, and provide a context in which conflict can be resolved. It draws upon 1 John 1: 1-3 as an inspiration, understanding the priority of relationships in community and goes on to require dialogue in order to stimulate mission.

It begins with trust building to build those relationships. Difficult and sensitive subjects cannot be engaged with until trust is formed and relationships developed. This is what the Bishop of New York describes as the key value of Indaba in his diocese.

Across the Communion Anglicans have been engaged in dialogue on many issues in many societies and communities. Some have consciously used the process guides of Continuing Indaba to develop trust, cross barriers and draw strength from one another to proclaim the kingdom of God. Where it has been used it has transformed ethnic conflict, enabled people to cross cultural barriers, and resulted in Church growth.

The pilot programme was evaluated by a research team led by Dr Paula Nesbit who believes that Indaba has made an invaluable contribution to helping people across the Anglican Communion to hear and understand one another across cultural and theological differences, and to find common ground where they can pursue mission together as the Body of Christ in the world.

Based on her research and analysis since 2008, she believes Indaba has been more effective in any other process in the following areas:

  • Creating a way for those from communal and consensus cultures to enter into conversation and decision-making as authentic equals, by virtue of having opportunity to explain how shared concerns are affected by their particular cultural contexts, and having others learn and respect their experience. Westernised processes of resolutions and voting have favoured those skilled and eloquent at debate, often at the expense of trying to understand a concern from all sides and striving to move forward together.
  • Creating an awareness among those who are situated in positions and cultures that have dominated or marginalized others. Authentically hearing the different understandings and experiences of others on sensitive or painful topics can transform their way of living and acting in the world.

    One wealthy businessman commented that the experience of Continuing Indaba gave him “an opportunity to learn what I could never have learned otherwise.” Another added, “It put a new direction in my life. I learned the value of prayer. It changed my relationship with the diocese.” [Participant comment based on field notes, Continuing Indaba final conversation]
  • Creating cohesion and depth of trust and relationship among people across cultures. The depth of personal and spiritual sharing, self-honesty, and authentic respect shown to one another has led to repeated expressions of experiencing the Body of Christ.

Indaba “is God’s gift. It is what we do with this gift that counts.”

Indaba is “the blending together as all one body of Christ . . . it becomes close to the perfect church that God intended.”

Indaba “provides a blend of experience and talk that gives depth. We have created a holy space here, to show how each of us is so valuable.”

“This opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. This is how real change and movements begin.”

[participant comments based on field notes, Continuing Indaba final conversation]

Indaba and Reconciliation

Kenyan theologian John Mark Oduor identified the essential components of Indaba as:

  • The priority of relationship
  • The appreciation of our uniqueness within a whole community
  • The significance of a place of meeting
  • The need for conversation
  • Forgiveness and healing

These are essential ingredients for reconciliation. We need to recover the knowledge that God loves us, to be honest in conversation, find a place where we can be safe to meet so we can appreciate uniqueness within a community. In all this we cannot forget our need to confess, be forgiven and forgive so that genuine reconciliation can take place in our Church, communities and world.

Indaba works, not because it is magic or manipulation, but because it is faithful to the way of Jesus Christ.

Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others. Amen.

The Revd Canon Phil Groves is the Anglican Communion’s Director for Continuing Indaba.