3 January 2021

Peeling Back the Layers of Reconciliation

Speaker: Mark Mullins

Don mentioned that January’s theme would be Reconciliation when he asked me if I would preach for these two Sundays—back in November. At the time I said “Sure, I’ll lead worship,” and didn’t think much about the theme. It sounded fairly boilerplate as a Christian concept. I figured I could whip something out.

But as I thought about reconciliation since then, I realized it was a more complicated topic than I had originally imagined. As members of an extremely individualistic society, our first inclination is to think of individual reconciliation:

  • The reconciliation of individual people with God or the divine: just put your hand on the TV and accept Jesus into your heart, right?
  • The reconciliation of individual humans with each other. We’ll get into this one a bit more in next week’s service.
  • And the reconciliation of people with themselves—their authentic selves. You find this theme in a lot of movies and self-help literature

These are legitimate layers of reconciliation. But sometimes I think we overlook the corporate dimensions of the need for reconciliation. So let me add these layers of reconciliation that can apply to any group of humans—up to and including all of humankind: reconciliation with oppressed people and groups, reconciliation among different groups, reconciliation within a group. And at a spiritual level, reconciliation of a group with the divine.

The Law of Moses as we know it today talks about these corporate layers of reconciliation pretty frequently. Two of the four sources that scholars have identified for the content in the first five books of the Bible were especially interested in social justice—the Priestly source, and the Deuteronomist, who wrote most of Deuteronomy. In our readings today, these sources talk about God’s interest in:

  • Executing justice for the orphan and the widow—who I think are stand-ins for a variety of oppressed and excluded groups
  • Loving strangers—that is, people who are different from those in the dominant culture
  • Treating aliens as citizens—eliminating the concept of the “other”

These concepts may seem downright progressive to our contemporary ears—especially given the elections that we recently had. But there is a specific rationale behind them: the people of Israel were once strangers in the land of Egypt, and no one else should have the experience that they had.

In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about the “ministry of reconciliation,” and the language is very corporate. He says that Jesus enables the world to be reconciled with God and for Christians corporately to be ambassadors for Christ. While this passage doesn’t address specifics, it is pretty universal in its emphasis.

The Selma Swamp song did a deep dive into some of the corporate reconciliation work that needs to happen in the United States, but sometimes it’s instructive to look elsewhere, to a place where one is less involved in the dynamics.

While I was doing Google searches about reconciliation, I ran across something very interesting that has been going on for a few years in Australia—National Reconciliation Week. It’s a deliberate and nationwide effort at reconciliation between the Commonwealth of Australia and the people who inhabited the land before the British arrived—the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In America, we could substitute those groups with Native Americans, Alaska natives, and Native Hawaiians, Black people, LatinX, and so forth.

The first day of Reconciliation Week is a public holiday across the country, and the full week falls on the same dates every year—May 27 through June 3. This is because those two dates are the anniversaries of two significant past steps in the reconciliation process.

May 27 was the date of the 1967 referendum, before which native people were not even counted in the census—let alone being able to vote. On that date, 90% of Australians—mostly white people—voted to give them a seat at the table

June 3 was the date of the Mabo Decision in the supreme court in 1992. When the British arrived in Australia, they legally declared the whole country terra nullius—empty land, land without an owner—and claimed the whole territory for Great Britain. This automatically annulled any rights that native people might have to land in the future. The 1992 decision annulled terra nullius and started the process of granting property rights to native people.

National Reconciliation Week hosts activities that promote cross-cultural understanding. The organization that puts it on has developed reconciliation curriculum for every public school in Australia—and for other organizations that want to promote reconciliation, like corporations and churches.\

All of their educational materials are based on the five dimensions of reconciliation:

  • Race relations, with the goal that everyone understands and values indigenous and non-indigenous cultures, rights, and experiences.
  • Equality and equity,  with a goal of enabling indigenous people to participate equally in a range of life opportunities and for unique rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are recognized and upheld.
  • Institutional integrity, with a goal of active support of reconciliation by the nations political, business, and community structures.
  • Unity, with a goal of creating a society that values and recognizes indigenous culture and heritage as a part of a shared national identity.
  • Historical acceptance, with a goal of understanding and acknowledging the wrongs of the past, making amends for them, and ensuring that they never be repeated.

As I read through the National Reconciliation Week website, I thought, “Wow.” It seems like this movement transcends politics and other standard ways of dividing people. I’m sure it is not as universally accepted and practiced as the website implies. I’m sure there are still plenty of instances of racism and white nationalism. But my thought was, “What if we had an effort of this scale in the United States? What if there were a global effort like this? What if all the Christian churches got together and did something like this? It’s definitely idealistic, but what if the world peeled back—and truly practiced—all the layers of reconciliation. Amen.