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Monday, June 20, 2011

Justice / Reconciliation

The miracle of the cross was Christ’s unique capacity to fulfill both God’s justice and His mercy, simultaneously. God’s justice required fulfillment of the law, yet by His grace, He yearned to be lovingly reconciled to us. Both were accomplished in full perfection through the sacrifice of Christ (see Resurrection and Reconciliation).

Racial healing must navigate a similar dichotomy: there must be rectification of injustices (both past and present), as well as reconciliation in love and unity. For true racial redemption we must have both. But it can be tricky to find the balance and to maintain equal weight for each aspect.

The marginalized cry out passionately for justice, but may be understandably hesitant to trust reconciliatory relationships for fear of adding to their injuries. Unfortunately, this tendency deprives the body of Christ of the unity to which we are called. Conversely, those in the position of privilege are often quick to reconcile, to put aside past differences and to 'all just get along,' yet tend to shy away from recognizing the continued injustices that exist. Both perspectives are understandable, but without each other, they are also incomplete.

All parties must discipline themselves to interact with each other in a Christ-like manner. For white folks, this means taking responsibility for our continuing role in racial injustice today. We must understand that every day we receive benefits because we are white (see post: Dr. Tatum: What Is Racism?). It means listening when people of color get angry, and not becoming indignant. It means hearing stories from their own experiences as truth--not as a power play, not made up, not exaggerated.

Reconciliation without justice is not possible (Christ still had to die for our sins, after all), and it is our responsibility to take deliberate steps towards reversing the centuries of imbalance that have accumulated. Don't be surprised that the wound is still fresh, especially when we continue to rub salt in it. Do we really expect a clean slate when we often refuse to acknowledge how dirty it is to begin with? 

For those on the receiving end of racial prejudice, healing in Christ means having grace and forgiveness even as white folk repeatedly disappoint you. It will happen time and again, but white folk are dependent on you to persevere. I understand the desire not to: pushing through the pain and exasperation can feel like it just isn't worth it. Your other choice is to pull away, to disengage, to give up, and to self-preserve. This reaction may be a legitimate option in the secular world, but not if we claim to be one body in Christ.

We are called to reconcile in unity, not to discard the hand for the sake of the eye. This means continuing to engage in the 'teachable moments,' answering calmly rather than with fury, seeing the good intentions rather than failed attempts. God is love, and He continues to love through all of our sinfulness. Therefore so too must we commit to walking with each other in reconciliation.

Offering patience and forgiveness does not mean that we deny or excuse the injustices that exist. But by being Christ to your white sisters and brothers, you act as a witness to the power of the Gospel. To do otherwise, to respond with the animosity that would be so understandable, is  counterproductive to His cause: both that of justice and reconciliation.

When we are able to strike the balance between justice and reconciliation, we present the image of a radically healed body of Christ to the world. We reflect how Jesus conducted himself with his disciples. He corrected and taught the tough lessons, but was patient and loving through it--all while ultimately going to the cross for the sake of justice.

Surly, He longed simply to forget the brokenness, to erase the great divide between we sinners and the Divine. Surly, He was tempted to lash out in anger when His disciples once again failed to understand His teachings. Yet Jesus does not flip out on the disciples in reaction to their ignorance. Nor does He condone their sin and ignorance. Jesus repeatedly chooses to instruct and reach out in love, while maintaining an unwavering commitment to justice. That He manages this balance with grace and power is evidence of His divinity. It is no small thing to emulate, yet it is our mandate as Christians to do so. 

Both sides of the equation will find the path difficult. It will seem unfair and humiliating. But this is the holy tension of God's paradox: perfect justice with perfect reconciliation. We need brave souls to stand in the divide, to reach out their arms to bridge the gap. 

White folk are dependent on the grace of people of color, and must be grateful when they choose to respond in love rather than in frustration. Likewise, POCs must remember to be thankful when white folks choose to listen, to realize their privilege, and to begin to relinquish it. Though it may feel like this is what the other group should be doing anyway, without any special thanks (and it is!), we must appreciate and reinforce when our sisters and brothers act in accordance with Christ's will.

To respond to each other with anger and pride shuts down a conversation that has yet to begin, perpetuates the divides in the body of Christ, and permanently mars our witness for Christ to the world. With the model of Jesus before us, let us offer ourselves that the world may see the Good News of what He has for us: that even in our sinfulness, Christ loved us, and through His own sacrifice brought about absolute justice for the sake of the ultimate reconciliation with the Father.

1 comment:

  1. "By offering patience and forgiveness, it does not mean that we deny the injustices that exists, nor do we excuse it." -- A great point to remember. Thanks for this. No one said it would be easy to be one of the brave souls standing in the divide.


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