“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
On the same day this is posted, I’m sharing a related, though much briefer devotional reading with folks in my denominational context based on this passage from 2 Corinthians. Some of that devotional will be included here, but I want to use this platform to expand on my thoughts in light of conversations I’ve been a part of over the last two weeks, in particular, but also from time to time over the course of my adult life.
The term “reconciliation” denotes the existence of something broken. Though I know there are some who are still in denial, it’s hard to deny with any integrity that the broad existence of racism, ethnocentrism (belief in the superiority of one’s ethnic group), and xenophobia (fear, hatred and/or distrust of that which is foreign) in our world indicates a fundamental brokenness in the ability of human beings to be in healthy relationship outside of one’s preferred group. Even within groups, culturally rooted sexism, which so often undercuts women’s legally equal status, points to real brokenness and explains the discouragement many women experience regardless of their economic status.
From the very first post on this blog, I’ve been clear about my beliefs and my commitment to what I believe is the objective voice of GOD as expressed in His word, what we commonly call the Bible. I start here because of things that I have heard and have had said to me from some, including a few who claim the same faith as I.
We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:26-27).
We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22: 37-40; see also Leviticus 19:18)
We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21).
We cannot square manifestations of relational brokenness with “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28; see also Colossians 3:11).
The marginalization and minimalization of any created being, whether an individual or a member of a nation, tribe or tongue is irreconcilable to the purposes and will of GOD for humanity. And yet, here we are!
One of the reasons for our being here, at least for those in the USA I believe, is the attitude of “I didn’t do it so I’m not responsible.” This alone is an explicit rejection of biblical oneness. Our Senate Majority Leader used this argument recently when asked about an issue related to slavery and its continuing impact on American civil life, “None of us currently living are responsible.”1
Personal and collective responsibility to earnestly attempt to right wrongs is rejected. The hyper-individualism built into the fabric of this nation enables people to effectively push back on pleas to do something. We see this, unfortunately, in much of evangelicalism where righteousness and justice have been separated as twin principles of goodness and replaced by a heavy emphasis on personal piety as the sole standard bearer of what is good. This combined with the refusal of responsibility easily leads to a “not my problem” attitude. The net result is a state of national sin (We may have a problem…) and its legacy which no one wants to own (but it’s not my problem).
This is understandable, again in light of the highly influential American ideal of individualism, but as an excuse, it is historically invalid. Here are three examples I point to as highlights:
- The Ancient Israelites. The sins of the generation of formerly enslaved Israelites following 400 years of Egyptian slavery were so broad and continuous, despite the blessings of GOD (presence, provision, and protection) that He caused them to wander in the desserts of Sinai and Arabia for 40 years. They were not allowed to enter the promised land. The entire culture was judged and held accountable. It was only after this generation died that entry was possible. And the same faith and obedience required but not demonstrated by their parents was required of this new generation. They were raised in the midst of consistently disobedient and spiritually derelict people. This was a major component of their legacy. And while the new generation were given opportunity and help in not repeating the mistakes of the past, and even despite their pledges to be faithful, their track record was inconsistent, and it degraded over time in ways that modeled the previous generation. The result: once again, the entire culture was judged and held accountable. Who among them were able to say, “I didn’t do it so it’s not my problem.” It was everyone’s problem.
- The Shoah (Holocaust of the Jews during World War II). The genocide of 6 million Jews by the German Nazi regime and their proxies (along with 5 million Poles, Russians, Roma, and homosexuals) was inarguably among the most horrible set of events in human history. In the last 70 years, however, in the old West Germany and now in the consolidated country, reconciliation efforts have been extensive, continuous and genuine. One result is Germany’s ascendant international popularity within the international community..2 What is more astounding are the number of Jews who are opting to move to Germany as a place where they feel safe and comfortable.3 This remarkable outcome could not have happened without the collective support and engagement of a majority of the German population.
3. Japan and Korea. To this day, tensions remain between Japan and South Korea expressed in political and trade disputes. The roots go back 100 years and was vividly evidenced during WWII. During the war, Japan conquered and occupied Korea and made many Koreans forced laborers (slaves). Additionally, many Korean women were forced into sexual slavery through a system referred to as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. The demands for Japan to repair the damage caused by their atrocities have not been sufficiently met according to the South Korean government. The Japanese, however, have staked out a position that all matters are settled,4 e. they are no longer responsible for what happened in the past. This unresolved tension is a sensitive issue for the Japanese, one for which it is not politically correct to openly discuss. Many young South Korean adults, on the other hand and born decades after the war, have taken this on as their own issue of current political protest. It remains a problem.
Each generation’s failure to confront and address the sins of prior generations perpetuates participation in the sin, not because we necessarily overtly commit them (although we can) but because we omit acknowledging and confronting their existence and impact (James 4:17). If we truly are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, not being the cause of something does not mitigate against responsibility for wrongs against our siblings because. long after those who have caused the problem have passed into eternity, the impact of the wrong remains. A society that depends on the “I’m not responsible” argument is one that is not supported by history. The sins and failures of each generation have this way of following succeeding generations. The argument ignores the corporate nature of the human body…and most certainly the GOD-defined nature of the body of Christ.
The opportunity is to either correct the past or to ignore the past, wishfully thinking that the past will resolve itself. Perhaps, like the ancient Israelites, it will take direct action by GOD to address the wrongs of both the far and near past. The Germans took it upon themselves to look themselves in the mirror and courageously face their past. The result is that something wondrous is happening. For the South Koreans and the Japanese, the situation remains to be seen, although it seems both sides have the feet dug-in.
Like any unresolved conflict, the result of ignoring the past or suppressing it just forces conflict to bubble over (or explode) at another time and perhaps in other ways. Not sure about that? Ask Dr. Phil or any competent psychological counselor. That’s what I believe we are seeing in the USA today, the reemergence of long-simmering conflict repeatedly ignored and suppressed by the denial of its existence and the refusal to acknowledge any responsibility, individual or collective.
Another reason we’re here is because whenever an individual or group experiences injustice, someone else benefits, materially and/or psychologically. When these benefits accrue to one (or to some), are the beneficiaries not complicit in the injustice if they accept the benefits? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then these beneficiaries bear a responsibility to correct the injustice. Refusal to move toward correction is a tacit approval of the cancerous condition of injustice where it produces privileges for some and penalties for others. A ‘no’ answer to any complicity is a validation of the injustice and a commitment to the status quo.
Whenever restrictive and discriminatory housing practices, predatory mortgages, prejudicial treatment toward retail customers, inequitable treatment by police, inequities in educational access and delivery for children, use of urban settings for environmental dumping, neighbors who harass those who are exercising their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (e.g. walking, jogging, backyard barbecuing, enjoying public parks, birdwatching), and a list of other examples that are common negative experiences of some folks, there is an opposite positive experience for others. Something limited or denied to some is made readily available to others. This is a corrosive reality which has had and continues to have important negative side effects across a broad spectrum of the American population.5
Finally, I return to the word “reconciliation” which I mentioned early in this post and a word I’ve heard lot lately, to hardly anyone’s surprise. Societal clashes of various sorts tend to raise the profile of that particular need. Reconciliation was a significant theme in the Promise Keepers movement in the 1990s. I went to several of those stadium conferences and one or more of the speakers were designated to speak on the topic. All of them did I great job, I thought…although we’re still talking about it.
In March 1992, I was at a conference held at a Youth for Christ camp outside of Johannesburg, South Africa during the S. A. referendum on ending apartheid. Only white citizens were able to vote in that referendum, and all of us in the conference (members of my denomination from the African countries south of the equator along with a handful of Americans and Europeans) waited in great anticipation at the outcome. Even while various people were speaking, a small box radio (remember those?) was tuned in the back of the room so that we could track the voting returns. That historical vote opened the door to a powerful and deeply needed work of reconciliation in that country that had known so much strife and bitterness rooted in racial separation and domination.
Four decades ago, the first description of reconciliation I heard in my local church was this: Reconciliation is when something broken, like a dinner plate, is carefully pieced and glued back together. The cracks from the brokenness will still be visible, but the plate is whole once again and fit to be used for its intended purpose.” I recall this illustration every time I hear the word “reconciliation.”
A question I’ve asked often over the years (usually to myself) is, if Christ was able to reconcile the entire world to the GOD the Father, why can’t we be reconciled to one another, person to person, group to group? I believe we can, but I think the cost is big, perhaps too big for some.6 It requires of each person a decision to be the reconciliation just as Jesus was. It means having a broad vision of and for the world. It means following in Christ’s footsteps in the deeds of reconciliation as well as its words.
Reconciliation flows from the inside out and reflects the desire of the heart to be one with other hearts. While it may be motivated by an external influence, the movement toward reconciliation cannot flow from anything outside of us. It won’t come from some source other than the spirit of reconciliation at work within us. As 2 Corinthians 5:18 says, reconciliation is a ministry given to the Church. This means those of us who are the Church: everyone who counts themselves as a member of the family of GOD who loves the world.
How wonderful it would be for us to be the glue that binds the broken pieces together. This is extremely hard and self-sacrificial work, and for too long many have pushed it away and that’s why we’re still here. My prayer is that GOD’s way will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“Every time in history that men and women have been able to respond to the events of their world as an occasion to change their hearts, an inexhaustible source of generosity and new life has been opened, offering hope far beyond the limits of human prediction.” – Henri Nouwen
1 – Corky Siemaszko, NBC News digital, July 8, 2019.
2 – Greg Rienzi, “Other Nations Could Learn from Germany’s Efforts to Reconcile After WWII,” John Hopkins Magazine, Summer 2015.
3 – Daniel Estrin, “Thousands of Israelis Make Berlin Their Home and Make Their Cultural Mark,” NPR, March 7, 2019 and Isabel Vincent, “Why American Jews Are Moving to Germany,” New York Post, January 5, 2019.
4 – South Korea and Japan’s Feud Explained, BBC News, December 2, 2019.
5 – Karina Bland, “Blue eyes, brown eyes: What Jane Elliott’s famous experiment says about race 50 years on,” The Republic, AZCentral.com, November 17, 2017 and 2015 Stress in America:The Impact of Discrimination, The American Psychological Association, January 2015.
6 – See Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, New York: Touchstone (originallypublished by Macmillan), 1959.
© Byron L. Hannon, 2020. All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.