Reconciliation Assumes Repentance Is Done First

Today I write to you very personally and vulnerably. I write to you as a student of theology, who thinks about the church more often than not. For those of you that know me well you may be aware that one of the main reasons I came to Duke Divinity School is because I long for reconciliation within God’s church. As a confessing Christian, I believe there is no greater vision of the Kingdom of God than a church that includes many ages, faces, races, ethnicities, genders, orientations, abilities, etc. I believe that the church is a radical institution that calls for us to care for those that don’t look like us. For over a year now I have been reading on practices and modes for a reconciled, united church. A hopeful dreamer I am, I thought this research into reconciliation would provide me easy solutions on how to lead and minister to people that differ in all aspects- including politically. However, the more I read, the more I realized that reconciliation in practice within churches often fails. Pastors around the nation experiment in many ways to create churches look like the church God so desires. But too often they fail. One of the main reasons that these congregations (mostly white, upper middle class) fail to unify with other congregations (mostly of other races) is that too often we as the church misunderstand what reconciliation actually entails. We want reconciliation that looks like a great group hug: a free space where differences are transcended. So why does reconciliation more often than not fail?

It is this: too often, a vision of reconciliation, or unity, is wished for on the terms of churches that hold the most power. But here is the difficult news Jesus preached when he taught the world about following him: Reconciliation assumes repentance is done first.

Friends and family, I want nothing more than a unified church and country. I want nothing more than a group hug across the nation. But if you’re like me, and benefit from many aspects of privilege (including race, economic status, ability, sexual orientation, etc.), then you differ from those that are suffering under oppression. For folks that find themselves under oppressive forces (that I myself often benefit from since they don’t negatively affect me), there is a longing for repentance from us in power.

We all want unity. We all want love. But there are steps to take first to get there. These steps include recognizing our own demons within us that directly hurt others. And these privileges we have, they aren’t something we choose. But It’s the way the world is. But we need to work together to recognize the ways that we contribute and benefit from the oppression that hurts our neighbors deeply.

Lord, give us reconciliation. Give us the Kingdom we desire. But first give us the courage to repent to our brothers and sisters that are in pain first.

In your mercy we pray. Amen.