“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)
What do we mean by “reconciliation”?
Reconciliation means different things to different people, and we embrace the idea that our various constituencies may want to focus on different aspects of racial reconciliation. This may be because they are people of faith or not, or because of their demographics or particular organizational mission, or because they are at different places in the work of healing and reconciling on the basis of race.
Our work can encompass this diversity, but we share a vision for what reconciliation includes.
We begin with these classical stages of forgiveness:
Acknowledgment requires, first, a sufficient understanding of our history and contemporary reality with regard to race. This involves educating ourselves and others, so that we can accept, embrace, and acknowledge the full depth and significance of what has transpired and what we face today.
Acknowledgment requires more than merely adopting a color-blind view of race relations and a commitment to diversity and equality. To acknowledge every person as part of the body of Christ, as a beloved son or daughter of God, entails learning to see the profound ways in which racism has shaped each and every one of us, so that we can come together in deep and meaningful relationship with one another. In this way, white Christians in particular can learn to see beyond a vision of people of color as victims, and themselves as saviors, and to see the rupture in our community as involving each and every one of us.
Repentance entails apology and true repentance. The most outward manifestation of repentance may be simply saying, and genuinely meaning, “I’m sorry.” Even this simple act, however, requires a genuine understanding and acceptance of the nature of the transgressions, both historical and contemporary, for the apology to be meaningful and the repentance to be genuine.
Finally, repair includes personal and interpersonal healing, and the restoration of frayed relationships, as well as communal efforts towards repairing both spiritual and material harm. As Christians, we must not simply offer to help others to overcome the legacy of slavery and racism, and to achieve racial justice. We must be prepared to receive the anger of many of our sisters and brothers, and to see ourselves as deeply enmeshed in a pernicious system and in need of changing. We must not merely seek to exchange stories and to become friends, but to hear the painful truths of others, to do the hard work of reconciling with them in Christ, and to make sacrifices as Christians in order to support efforts towards racial justice out in the world.
“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil … your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach.” (Isaiah 58: 10-12)
We therefore embrace a vision in which reconciliation involves:
- Coming to understand our shared history and the contemporary reality of race and racism
- Acknowledging our shared past and its legacy today
- Enabling people to tell their stories and to be actively heard
- Building equitable and respectful relationships to restore unity with God and each other
- Collaborating as partners and advocates for justice
While people may be interested in, and prepared for, different aspects of this work, the order in which each person engages in the work of reconciliation can matter. For instance, it is not possible to fully acknowledge and atone for our collective past and present without first understanding these reasonably well, and casting aside convenient myths which serve to limit what we feel we must acknowledge. Those myths, about the past and the present, must also be set aside in order to hear and understand the stories of others with regard to race. Collaborating for racial justice may be undertaken without finishing earlier steps, but this must be done with care, in order to avoid offending others or undermining their work, which may be based on a better understanding of our present racial reality.