Practices and situations that contribute to division, such as the homogeneous nature of many congregations, will come under scrutiny as well, says Rice. Churches whose members are generally the same in race, political belief or ethnicity are not as likely as more diverse churches to work toward tearing down walls that keep groups apart.
“Scripture calls on us to form churches with a stranger,” Rice explains. “We must build communities that work beyond boundaries.”
Lobbying those in positions to effect change and making the case for peace are among the group’s strategies: “We must speak prophetically to powerful people and governing authorities about injustice,” Rice says.
Lessons learned from conflicts and divisions around the world can apply anywhere, he adds. Churches in the United States, many of which have congregations that are nearly all white or all black, could learn about racial outreach and harmony.
“Christians live into these historic divisions and separations,” says Rice. “It’s not that we’re hypocrites—it’s more that we don’t see it. Our division has become normal.
“The story of the New Testament is a story of the Holy Spirit seeking to build a community of Jew and gentile, privileged and poor, male and female under the lordship of Christ. This is our story as Christians. We’re supposed to be different.”
Despite the horrors that his group has studied, Rice, author of the book Grace Matters: A True Story of Race, Friendship, and Faith in the Heart of the South, is optimistic.
“Even in the worst conflicts, signs of the quest for reconciliation can be detected in the church,” he says. “This offers hope of our transformation, over time, in the mind and ways of Christ.”
Visit Chris Rice’s Website with stories, photos and other information about war in Rwanda and other issues.
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