Roadmap to Reconciliation, Brenda Salter McNeil. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Summary: This veteran of racial reconciliation work shows us not only that reconciliation is necessary but the path individuals and groups must take to pursue that reconciliation.
One cannot embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ without embracing the idea of reconciliation. Central to the gospel is the truth of God reconciling an estranged humanity to himself through Christ, and in the process reconciling people to one another across their deepest divisions. Sometimes in the depths of our woundedness, we struggle to believe this is even possible. Even when we do, living into the reconciliation Christ has accomplished is much harder than holding hands and singing “Kumbayah” around a campfire.
I’ve had the privilege to watch, if from a distance, the author of this book live into that calling of reconciliation. She is an African-American preacher, former staff with the ministry I work with, and professor. In this book, she brings together the gospel vision, experiences, and research of several decades to not only cast a reconciliation vision, but to give us a “roadmap” for pursuing that vision. It’s not an easy road, and she helps us count the cost, shows us how it is possible, and the transformation we can hope for as we follow that roadmap.
After an introduction that shares something of her own journey, Salter McNeil makes a theological case for reconciliation as a way of life, giving this definition:
“Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.” (Italics in original)
She then proposes that the idea of a journey with landmarks and phases may be the best way to think about a transformative reconciliation process. She offers a roadmap rooted in Contact Theory involving these specific steps:
- Catalytic events, which break us out of our efforts to preserve the status quo. They seem chaotic and threatening, but when they force one to empty out one’s preconceptions, ask new questions, and recognize the new thing God wants to do, they can put people on the road to reconciliation.
- Realization involves understanding a new reality, reorienting our perspective, requiring a readiness to change followed by taking the first steps to restoration.
- Identification is when “your people become my people” which comes through empathic listening and deeply entering into the story of the other to the point where we are willing to share in that story, with all its pain.
- Preparation is doing the hard work to get ready for lasting change. It is often here that reconciliation efforts falter, as groups lose a sense of urgency. Preparation involves the hard work of structural, systemic change, that is often costly in terms of power and privilege, but moves from transactional changes to transformational ones.
- Activation or actively working for reconciliation involves CARE: Communication, Advocacy, Relating and Educating.
Salter McNeil concludes the book with some coaching about how one stays the course, and paints a vision of hope for experiencing at least a foretaste of the heavenly vision of peoples from every race, tribe, people, and nation before the throne.
Each chapter is designed with practical material to help groups move forward with each phase of the reconciliation journey (which is why reading this summary is no shortcut for reading the book!). The author lays biblical foundations, gives specific steps, illustrates with stories to enhance understanding, and invites individuals and groups into the next stage of the journey.
I would observe that the book seems to presume that the readers have experienced a catalytic event or will. I suspect these things can’t be planned but will happen to any who go very far in pursuing reconciliation efforts. Things blow up, chaos occurs, and what happens next seems key in determining whether we will return to preserving our world, or enter a new journey. What Brenda Salter McNeil does here, and at each stage, is help us understand what is happening, the dynamics of the phase we are in, the posture that will help us move forward, and how God can meet us as we summon the courage to take the next step. The rest is up to us.