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Talking peace with all in mind

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An anti-apartheid leader who worked alongside the late South African President Nelson Mandela will speak May 3 at the annual William R. Laws Peacemaking Lecture.

The Rev. Allan Boesak, 69, will speak on the topic “The Bridge to Reconciliation, Social Justice and Global Peace From South Africa to Indiana.” It will be followed by a question-and-answer session and public reception.

The lecture series is part of the work of First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, where the late Rev. William R. Laws was a civil rights champion.

Boesak has a four-year position as the Desmond Tutu Chair of Global Peace, Justice and Reconciliation Studies for Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary, both in Indianapolis.

He worked closely with Mandela and Tutu, a retired Anglican archbishop and South African social rights activist. Boesak was a leader in South Africa’s transition of power with the 1994 ending of apartheid, a form of segregation that curtailed the rights of the country’s black majority for nearly 50 years.

Boesak first became known as a liberation theologian with the publication of his doctoral dissertation, “Farewell to Innocence.” He was an influential activist against apartheid, especially in the 1980s.

Merry Carmichael, among the organizers for the event, called Boesak’s appearance a coup for Columbus. She said it will be a chance for Columbus residents to learn more about acceptance of people outside the community’s mainstream.

Carmichael has organized several local meetings in the past year-and-a-half, some led by her mediation-expert brother Philip Stewart of Maine. The events have focused on reconciliation and acceptance between those of differing ethnic, religious, political, socioeconomic and other groups.

“This (lecture) is about being open toward all people,” Carmichael said. “We still can learn to cross boundaries maybe that we don’t normally cross and really try to get to know people who may look or act different than we do, through things such as religion, race or sexual orientation.”

Keith Weedman, chairman of the task force for the event, said organizers began late last year seeking Boesak to speak, through work with Interfaith Forum of Columbus, First Presbyterian Church and others. Ironically, Boesak’s publication of his doctoral work in the 1970s coincided with Columbus’ most renown business considering expanding in South Africa.

Late Cummins Engine Co. Chairman J. Irwin Miller had considered expanding into South Africa in the mid-1970s. However, reports from a leader that he and Chief Executive Officer Henry Schacht had sent on behalf of the company showed that apartheid and other problems would make the company’s equal-rights values impossible to uphold, and the idea was abandoned.

The Laws Peacemaking Lecture, normally conducted at First Presbyterian, was moved to the 550-seat North Christian to accommodate a larger crowd, Weedman said.

Columbus resident Sandi Hinshaw heard Boesak speak in the fall in Indianapolis and found herself moved by his passion for equality.

“He has the same principles as Rev. Laws,” Hinshaw said. “And like William R. Laws, he has always worked well beyond the doors of the church.”

Hinshaw said she believes Boesak’s message of inclusion is a strong one.

“It includes all ethnic groups, all faiths, all people,” Hinshaw said. “And I emphasize the ALL in capital letters.”

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