The Cost of Reconciliation: Adding Insult to Injury

A few days ago, I posted a blog post asking for some feedback about some thoughts I had on reconciliation. Christena Cleveland, a fellow blogger and Twin Citan (go Twin Cities!) tweeted this:

I agree with Christena in that reconciliation does involve a great amount of risk and vulnerability on the part of those who have been victimized and oppressed. But how do you ask that of someone who has already given so much? Isn’t that just adding insult to injury?

Several years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to present on the subject of reconciliation at a leadership and governance conference in Rwanda. Quite naively, I must admit, I presented a perfectly wonderful message on love, reconciliation, and forgiveness before a crowd of people who had in one way or another been impacted by the genocide that claimed over 800,000 including many of their loved ones. At the end of my message, the question that came back to me was how? How can reconciliation take place among a people so deeply wounded – How can the victim humble themselves so much as to extend forgiveness to those who have perpetrated when (a) the perpetrators don’t want to receive it and (b) there is a risk of being oppressed again?

I believe the answer lies in what Brenda Salter McNeil describes as renouncing the victim identity. In her book co-authored with Rick Richardson, the Heart of Racial Justice, she writes:

“We start (renouncing the victim identity) by confessing that we have seen ourselves as victims without any power to change our situation. We continue by agreeing that we have embraced the lie of the enemy of our soul – the lie that other groups have dominance or superiority over our racial or ethnic group. It is not true that a person or group cannot get ahead or succeed because a certain group of people tends to see them as inferior. We do not have to live into that reality and thus produce a self-fulling prophecy. Instead, our ethnic identity can be healed and restored through Jesus Christ, and we can be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to choose the good and not be trapped in addictive, self-destructive behaviors. So the healing process begins with awareness, confession and renouncing the lie of our powerlessness” (McNeil and Richardson, 82).

In order for reconciliation to be realized between two groups at war, whether they be two nations or two members of the same household, this renunciation that McNeil describes must take place. When victims and those who are already immensely vulnerable renounce this mentality, they forfeit the right to be angry and also forfeit the right to sit back and do nothing to change the situation. And the cost of reconciliation is that in truth, they do risk being hurt all over again especially when the perpetrator has done nothing to change their ways, and have in fact denied that they have done anything wrong. Am I suggesting this is easy, absolutely not. But it is necessary and made possible through the cross of Christ. Ephesians 2.14-16 says this:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (NIV)

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