The Outside Prognosticator: Apologizing Toward Bethlehem

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Outside magazine, January 1996

The Outside Prognosticator: Apologizing Toward Bethlehem

A few blocks from where the LAPD showed Rodney King that we can’t all get along, John Dawson is trying to prove that we can–if we say we’re sorry. A native New Zealander, Dawson, 43, is a jolly, furry, eminently Caucasian Baptist clergyman and founder of the L.A.-based International Reconciliation Coalition. His book Healing American’s Wounds, has
sold 50,000 copies and made him the reluctant pinup boy of the “mass atonement” movement, a fin de siècle cultural phenomenon that has inspired Christian flocks in the United States and Europe to congregate at sites of great historical evil, such as the Wounded Knee massacre. Once there, they decry past misdeeds and pray for forgiveness. This premillennial upswell has
already inspired Southern Baptists to prostrate themselves over slavery and Japanese Christians to take a spiritual spanking for Tojo-era imperialism.

Goosed last year by Pope John Paul II’s declaration that Roman Catholics “cannot cross the threshold of the new millennium without…repentance of past errors,” mass atonement could go platinum in 1996. A Canadian crew is filming a five-hour documentary based on Dawson’s book, and a series of events to make amends for the Crusades kicks off this Easter in France. In the United
States, a man named Ed LaRose plans to walk the entire Trail of Tears–toting a cross for that extra dollop of sorrow.

It’s not just me causing it to get bigger,” says Dawson. “There’s a yearning for comfort, answers, healing. This represents water to a thirsty man.”

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