Reconciliation: Something We Do or Something God Does?
In the first post on this topic I gave some context in which this conversation about reconciliation has been taking place. The second post explored ways in which we avoid dealing with reconciliation as a real practice within our community. In this post I want to explore some of the ways we might begin to take steps toward reconciliation and what might make that possible.
You may have noticed all of the qualifiers in that last sentence. That’s because the question I wrestle with is whether this is something we do or something God does?
As we discussed these issues, I continued to press for practical steps and things we could DO. Then my friend gently reminded me that needing something to “do” was a very Anglo response to the problem and also carries the baggage of paternalism. In other words, we feel guilty once we recognize our complicity in systems of oppression and therefore we must DO something in order to fix the problem. However, this once again can take away agency from those who are oppressed or marginalized. It’s another way of doing things for others rather than with them. So, while the intentions behind what George Yancey calls the “white responsibility” model for reconciliation, the results are not what anybody actually wants (unless you only want to feel better about yourself. Then the model works really well… for you).
As another friend points out, when we take the initiative to create a space for minority voices and then invite them to speak, we make it appear that they can only speak up when we give them permission or create a space for them. We can grow impatient waiting for minorities in our midst to rise up as leaders. So, we create a spot for them in leadership and get someone to sign up for the position. A friend pointed out that “minorities in leadership” is really something that belongs on the blog Stuff White People Like. It makes us feel warm and snugly to see people of color in leadership. It tells us that everything is all right, racism is mostly behind us and we don’t have to worry or feel so guilty. The actual work of reconciliation demands more than a figurehead or tokenism.
So what’s a gringo to do?
It can start to feel like we’re stuck in a system that paralyzes us in order to maintain the status quo, mostly because that is generally the way things actually do work. Obviously sitting around and waiting for reconciliation to just happen isn’t the answer either.
The first thing I think we should recognize as Christians is that the work of reconciliation ultimately does belong to God in Christ. We are called “ambassadors of reconciliation” by Paul, not “workers” or “builders” or “doers.” We are called to bear witness to something that we have experienced. The kin-dom of God in which these barriers and divisions we experience no longer exist has broken into this world through Jesus. Therefore we bear witness to that reality in our lives as we struggle to embody it in the brokenness of our world. This means reconciliation is less something to accomplish and more something to participate in.
Mutuality and Exchange
In his book Breaking Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility, George Yancey describes many of the ways we approach racial reconciliation and the problems inherent in them. As the title of his book suggests, he proposes a model of mutual responsibility in which everyone involved has responsibilities and roles to play in the process of reconciliation.
I’m not entirely sure what that looks like. However, our conversations have led me to the conclusion that the most important thing we can do is to foster an atmosphere and create a space in which these issues and relationships can be built on mutual confession, love and understanding.
I recently started a group in our community where people can come together to learn language together. Anglos can learn and practice Spanish, while Latino/as can learn and practice English. This kind of language exchange puts all of us on equal footing. Learning a new language is a humbling and difficult experience, but it quickly can help build relationships and bridge the cultural gaps between us.
Perhaps this kind of space will build the kind of relationships where we can talk about the more difficult issues involved in the work of reconciliation. It may not seem like much, but maybe, just maybe, it’s the beginning of something deep, meaningful and long lasting.