Field guide to racial justice

Reconciliation – a high goal, an elusive ideal that many in western society deeply yearn for. Can there possibly be a formula we can use, a roadmap we can follow to move our churches, schools, colleges and communities to achieve real reconciliation?  Isn’t reconciliation more of a spiritual gift, and less of a targeted process to be worked toward step-by step as if by YouTube video?

I have seldom approached a book with greater scepticism than I brought to this recent work by Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil. Two complete reads through, regularly interspaced with plenty of contemplative pauses, have persuaded this reader that Dr. McNeil knows whereof she speaks. She offers excellent guidance for reconciliation – the real biblical unity envisioned in scripture passages such as Ephesians 2.

One can hardly imagine a career in the work of racial reconciliation – yet Dr. McNeil’s biography shows that this has been her path. She offers examples of communities she has worked with from her days as a staff member for IVCF, to her current position as associate professor of reconciliation studies at Seattle Pacific University’s School of Theology. Her book offers both “trial and error” expertise gained from leading communities and people to reconciliation over time, as well as solid biblical foundations for the vision and work of reconciliation. She emphasises the importance of “good theology” in developing our understanding of God and normal human relations. She explains how apartheid ideology in South Africa was based in large part on theological doctrines formed at Stellenbosch University in the 1930s. She also quotes a sizeable excerpt from the Belhar Confession – well known in Reformed Christian circles – and asks the pointed question, “How might you bring this confession into the life of your church or group?”

More than awareness
Dr. McNeil demonstrates that “valuing reconciliation is not the same as actively engaging in a process that requires commitment and sacrifice.” The process she urges on the reader has five stages, beginning with a catalytic event followed by realization, identification, preparation and finally activation. There are no shortcuts, and each landmark is vital to the reconciliation. She insists that the catalytic event is essential to begin the work of reconciliation, suggesting that Saul (Paul)’s experience on the Damascus road is an example of such an event. “When the catalyst is sufficiently unnerving, it can force us to re-work old ideas and former frameworks in order to manage the new stimuli.”

The great sweep of scripture – from Babel in Genesis 11, where God confuses human language and thereby increases diversity – to the great multitude in white robes from every nation, tribe, people, and language standing together before the Lamb in Revelations 7 – shows how the God who created us in amazing diversity calls us to unity! In a world that so often gets this terribly wrong, Dr. McNeil offers a Roadmap to Reconciliation – a call and an opportunity to work with God. 

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God’s agents of reconciliation (in training): Called to pursue unity


  • Ron Rupke

    Ron Rupke retired from paid employment in late 2016 after more than 4 decades working in journalism. Christian labour relations, commercial landscaping and crop farming. With Margaret the wife of his youth, he now lives in Presqu'Ile Provincial Park on the shore of Lake Ontario where he serves as a neighbourhood handyman and volunteer, reads the great books, enjoys the great outdoors, and catches glimpses of the new heaven and the new earth.

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