Includes excerpts from “Reconciliation in Troubled Times”, the inaugural Dean Borgman Lectureship in Practical Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, March 20, 2017.
Megan Lietz is Director of Race & Christian Community at EGC. Her ministry focus is to help white evangelicals engage respectfully and responsibly in issues of race and racism.
Disclaimer from Megan Lietz: This post is based on a lecture from March, and not written in direct response to the Charlottesville violence. While not stated explicitly in this article, we condemn white supremacy in any form. Many congregations in Boston are working together to develop a unified response. I am in consultation with many Boston-area church and organizational leaders. I look forward to sharing the fruit of those collaborations for action planning.
Our society is deeply divided. These divisions can be found in our national, communal, and church life. From polarization between political parties to disagreements in our response to immigrants and refugees, these divisions are rooted in a fear and distrust of people different from ourselves.
These divisions are not recent phenomena. Rather, they are shaped by our history. How we see ourselves and others, and how we choose to interact with the world around us is colored by what has come before. Unfortunately, much of the division and inequality that has tainted our history was reinforced by faulty anthropologies, psychologies, and theologies that are still with us today in various forms.
We all have a part to play, and the Church should be responding.
Christians today, black or white, wealthy or poor, new or old to this country, must be concerned—be distressed—over our divisions and the inability of our system of economics and government to provide adequate remediation and relief to the suffering.
The God who freed the Hebrews and the American slaves, and who brought relief to the segregated and oppressed under Jim Crow—that God will hear the united cries of American Christians, should we humbly pray for justice.
Begin with Lament
Lament is a biblical practice, where we acknowledge that things are not right—in the world, nation, community or church—and where we embrace our role and responsibility in it. Lament comes not out of a spirit of complaint. Rather, it invites God into the situation so healing and justice can occur.
For example, laments and confessions came from Moses, Daniel, Nehemiah and other prophets, and Christ on the Cross—for sins they didn’t individually commit. They were earnest, prayers of systemic confession.
Furthermore, of the 150 Psalms, the majority are Psalms of Lament. They provide us examples and guides for the expression of our desire for social, political and church reconciliation.
Biblically, lament is often coupled with confession of how we have contributed to the problem at hand. When Nehemiah is lamenting over the broken walls and associated disgrace that had come upon Jerusalem, he first makes a confession:
LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments… I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you... (Nehemiah 1: 5-7a, NIV)
Nehemiah was not born in the land where such injustice was taking place. He had never participated in the sins he was confessing. But he still confessed the sins of his people and lamented over them, even though he wasn't personally responsible.
We must reflect, lament, and confess today, whether or not we feel personally responsible. We all have a part to play, and we can all go before God to change ourselves and affect healing in our land.
Choose to be Reconcilers
After we lament the division around us, churches must make a choice to engage the division in our midst. Such work is not something that people enter into casually. Rather, it requires intentionality and effort.
Any church or group must first decide that they are committed to biblical social reconciliation. They should be committed to giving this important challenge some time and thought.
Study the Realities and Positive Examples
It's important that we learn more about the division around us and how to be agents of reconciliation. We could begin with understanding the biblical notion of reconciliation, centered on God's reconciling work in Jesus Christ. But we must also gain understanding of sociological, psychological, historical, and theological realities.
Consider the examples of Black churches under slavery, during Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and continued discrimination. Their spirituals, their persistent prayers, and their courageous demonstrations invited collaboration, and slowly produced some measure of social justice. They provide countless examples of how to be agents of reconciliation in a broken and divided world.
We must also seek to understand the perspective of those today who are different from us—this is especially true for white evangelicals. It is very important that we invite the 'others' into conversation, and give them a chance to voice their own stories and hurts.
We can also learn from local organizations. Some of EGC's partners doing reconciliation work include:
Collaborate Across Lines
As we listen, we must also work together with people across dividing lines. We must reach across the chasm of differences and choose some shared Kingdom priorities in which we can invest. As we collaborate with "the other," healing takes place. As we engage with the other, we get glimpses of the coming Kingdom of God.
Imagine how you might be able to come together with others around shared kingdom values:
spending time with those outside our fortunate situations
hearing the stories of those who have been freed from oppression or rejuvenated, experiencing the hope of the seemingly hopeless
hearing the deep cries and music of the oppressed
seeing victims become survivors and then confident leaders
These are the “now-but-not-yet” experiences of God’s coming Kingdom. When we share mutual love, respect, and inspiration with those who because of our privilege have so much less, we experience something of God’s beloved community—a community of hope.
STOP. REFLECT. PRAY.
- What does our city need from its churches?
- How might churches collaborate in bringing peace and welfare to the city?
- How can seminary educators collaborate with other serving and training organizations working for shalom—the peace and welfare of our city?
JOIN With A REFLECTION/ACTION GROUP
Are you a white evangelical who wants to join with others in a journey of respectful and responsible conversation and engagement of race and racism issues?