A Christian Vision of Reconciliation
One result of the wars, violence, divisions, and turbulence of our time has been the growing field of peace studies. This response is understandable: faced with the horror of conflict, is there anything we can do to change it? Traditional approaches include conflict management, conflict resolution, and peacekeeping. They are mostly focused on negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy. A later paradigm of conflict transformation went a step further to engage both the roots and the grassroots of divisions. The next development, peacebuilding, added the insight that the end of one conflict rarely marks its resolution, and it included concerns about how to make peace sustainable. Restorative justice provided another corrective by reframing the focus of justice from punishing offenders to restoring broken people and relationships.
In 2005, a leading voice in the field, John Paul Lederach, departed from the approach outlined in his own ground-breaking book, Building Peace . He declared that the idea of the “engineering of social change” is fundamentally flawed. “The evolution of becoming a profession, the orientation toward technique, and the management of process in conflict resolution and peacebuilding have overshadowed . . . the heart and soul of constructive change.” His new book, The Moral Imagination , argued for less emphasis on technique and skill and more on the “art and soul of building peace.”
So when we talk about reconciliation at the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, which of these paradigms do we mean? Actually, none of these fully captures a Christian vision of reconciliation. If the God of Israel changed the course of history by raising Jesus from the dead in order to reconcile a world of destructive conflicts back to himself—if the heart of what Christians profess to be the gospel is true—then reconciliation demands the Christian vision of power and life that transcends conflict resolution, peacebuilding, or even moral imagination. What Christians believe and who we worship make it possible to embody a fresh presence for peace and justice in the world.
The New Reality of Reconciliation
A Christian vision of reconciliation is not just another program to help us get along with our neighbor. It is an invitation to enter a new reality that God has created, another vision of life where we are called to be God’s new creation.
This reconciliation is grounded not in strategies, skills, or sociology, but in a story. The short version goes like this:
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view. ... So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself though Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).
Several crucial things emerge from this story:
• Healing conflict and divisions does not begin with us and our strategies. Reconciliation is God’s initiative, restoring the world to God’s intentions. Reconciliation is therefore a gift, participation with what God is already doing with the gifts God provides.
•God reconciled the world to himself, not just individuals. The scope of God’s reconciliation is personal, bodily, social, material, and cosmic.
• The “message” of reconciliation is far more radical and beautiful than a call to humanitarian tolerance. God’s “new creation” is a whole new dimension, a way of thinking and living that is different from our cultural assumptions.
• Reconciliation is not a theory, technique, or achievement. It is a journey. And this journey has not been entrusted to professionals and specialists. Reconciliation’s ambassadors are “anyone in Christ,” everyday people. It is the ministry of the whole church. Because reconciliation is “in,” “through,” “for,” and “of” Christ, this journey is shaped by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
• Reconciliation is both “already” and “not yet.” The change is real and happening, but also yet to be fulfilled, for “the old” resists. It takes time to learn and live into God’s new reality. This is the call to conversion into the way of Christ, a profound turning from an old place to a new place.
What does stepping into this story look like? And how does it shape a