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A Christian Vision of Reconciliation

The components of Christ-based reconciliation go beyond strategies of peacemaking or conflict resolution.

this birthed a “Reconciliation and Re-Entry” program, connecting victims, perpetrators, and those people no longer content to remain on the sidelines.

The coalition’s story reveals God’s powerful truth: the spine of lament is hope. The prophet Jeremiah warned about cheap and shallow versions of reconciliation, of those who love to say, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Shaped by the biblical discipline of lament, we see that hope requires that we truthfully name the brokenness, the pain, and the divisions.

What do hope and peace look like? Prodigal Son John August Swanson
Reconciliation depends on the hope that God is always doing something new in the world (Isaiah 43:19). And so Christian reconciliation also requires the discipline of learning to see and to name that hope (1 Peter 3:15). In order to do this, God has given us the gift of stories.

Scripture teems with stories of “a cloud of witnesses” for peace that illuminate what hope looks like: Abigail daring to confront David and turn him toward mercy for an enemy (1 Samuel 25); Jesus washing the feet of those about to betray and deny him (John 13); Peter agreeing to go to the house of a Roman military commander named Cornelius and learn there that the gospel includes reconciliation with Gentiles (Acts 10).

We are also surrounded by many witnesses and signs of hope in our world today. These stories confirm God is already breaking through the stubbornness to invite us into his revolution of love. In a post-9/11 world, at an epicenter of Christian-Muslim antagonism, the work of our friend Paulus Widjaja in Indonesia teaches us what this looks like. At the university where he teaches peace studies, Paulus insists that Christians and Muslims learn in the same classroom. He requires the Christian students to study the Koran, and the Muslim students to study the Bible, to enter into intense conversation by walking in one another’s shoes and learning to see the world from the standpoint of the other.

The dominant peace paradigms focus on tools for addressing conflict. But the vision of Christian reconciliation assumes that we are the ones that need to be worked on—and this happens in part through stories. This is both internal work within individuals and external work within communities, and reconciliation recognizes the inextricable relationship between communal and personal hope.

In his book Resurrection, Rowan Williams speaks of “communities of resurrection” that are “deliberately created in response to an overwhelming failure in the society,” communities such as “multi-racial ‘cells’ in a racist society” and the “giving-and-receiving of the L’Arche communities.” Communities of resurrection provide stories that correct and expand our imagination about new possibilities. We learn from them what it means to practice an incarnational reconciliation that is enmeshed in history, time, place, and structures. These are more than ministries—they are a means of grace, a school of conversion, a ground where people are being saved by dying to old identities and living into new ones.

Why me? Why bother?
This journey of reconciliation that God invites us into is beautiful, yet it is not sentimental. It is an invitation to be raised into new life with the one who “for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Reconciliation calls us into the hard space between the “already” and “not yet.” The questions “Why me, why bother?” will confront us at critical times when the cost is too high, forgiveness too painful, the hurt too deep, the resistance too strong, Christ seemingly too far away.

This requires a way of living that names the truth—and the gift—that we are not God. Christian reconciliation keeps God’s action, not ours, at the center.

Desmond Tutu held together three truths usually forced apart: seriously engaging the truth of past and present captivities; the vision of a shared future between estranged enemies; and the truth that there is, as Tutu puts it, “no future without forgiveness.” We must take seriously the work of God behind Tutu’s witness. We have two favorite images of Bishop Tutu. One is from the cover of his biography, Rabble-Rouser for Peace , where Tutu is preaching before a large crowd. This is the public Tutu, the fiery prophet speaking truth to power, the Tutu people know. We have much to learn from this public Tutu about what reconciliation requires. Yet inside the book is another photo, one of the hidden Tutu. He is sitting quietly in the beautiful chapel he built in his