Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice
Authors: Brenda Salter McNeil with contributions by J. Derek McNeil
Why I picked up this book:
I am on Intervarsity Press bloggers’ list so I occasionally receive books to review. I specifically requested an early release copy of this one, because I have been studying under Dr. McNeil (from a distance) for several years now. She is one of the top voices and influencers on the topic of reconciliation, and it is my privilege to learn from her teaching and ministry.
Who Should Read Roadmap to Reconciliation:
This book is an invaluable resource tool for churches, organizational leaders, seminaries, and community organizers who are seriously wrestling with taking the right actions to transform communities towards reconciliation and justice.
What’s in Store for You:
Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil has over twenty five years of experience in the ministry of racial, ethnic, and gender reconciliation. Every bit of her learning and experiences has been packaged into a systemic process to help the reader understand the reconciliation journey and how to move and grow from one phase reconciliation roadmap to the next.
I love that she provides a clear definition of reconciliation:
Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.
This layered definition addresses key components for reconciliation to occur: forgiveness, repentance, and the pursuit of justice. It also clearly identifies the desired results: the restoration of broken relationships and systems. Finally, it presents the why: because God’s original intent was for all creation to flourish. Anything less than this is not true reconciliation. Additionally, I love that she communicates the reconciliation itself is uniquely Christian. Reconciliation is work that can only occur through the will of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
With this understanding Dr. McNeil defines the primary landmarks—catalytic events (ex. Ferguson), realization, identification, preparation, and activation—which monitor process on the reconciliation journey. Throughout the book, she does a great job of defining and clarifying terms, in addition to providing real life examples of what those terms mean and how they play out in our culture and society. Building on this understanding, Dr. McNeil presents a map (no kidding) that outlines the various stages of progress. Progress on the Reconciliation Roadmap means advancing from: 1.) Realization: Understanding a New Reality, 2.) Identification: Your People Become My People, 3.) Preparation: Getting Ready for Lasting Change, and 4.) Actively Working for Reconciliation. These steps are displayed in a circle because the process of reconciliation is never truly over. We must explain, reshape, rename, and reimagine as we progress.
When presenting each of the stages, Dr. McNeil defines essential tasks, important questions, and temperament. In other words, each phase presents its own joys, realities, challenges, and assumptions. Being aware of these factors and ensuring common language and understanding can help move the conversation forward with less confusion, resistance, and distraction. For each phase, Dr. Neil also shares stories and examples of what she has seen work, and this serves as encouragement for readers as they consider ministry in their own context.
As reconcilers get to the activation phase, they must take what they have learned and make it practical. Each chapter closes with a “Getting Practical” section that includes scriptures to look up, discussion questions, and exercises to help us implement this learning in our daily lives. In this phase, Dr. McNeil uses an acrostic CARE: Communicate, Advocate for Change, Relate (by building partnerships with like-minded individuals and organizations), and Educate (by teaching others what we have learned so they too can take proper action). This acronym leads to our strategic planning.
In conclusion, the key practical skills for the path of reconciliation are: information gathering, reflective thinking, strategic storytelling, community building, intercultural communication, inductive learning skills, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
My personal take-aways:
Dr. McNeil writes, “If an organization wants to shift its cultural identity, it is crucial that it have an internal team of diverse leaders who model the diversity change initiative…A ‘guiding coalition’ must be empowered to strategically lead the process.” I am a part of such a team for my local congregation. We recently started meeting to work on a reconciliation paper for the church. I asked for such a task force because it was evident to me that many of our regular attendees did not understand the mission or purpose of our congregation, or how the mission played into the reality of their daily lives and existence (ex. dinner conversations, parentings, personal relationships, work interactions, socioeconomic distinctions and class divisions, views on poverty and racism, and even how they voted).
As someone who understands leadership and is committed to the mission of our church, I thought having a position paper on such a topic was necessary. The mission of our church is “to build the Kingdom of God by calling a diverse and unified community of believers to authentic love relationships with God and each other, and by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus and reflecting His character through relationships with the poor and the lost everywhere.” To put it simply, our focus is “to make disciples who live out the gospel crossing racial and economic lines.” Dr. McNeil writes, “We must focus first on a mission to which our group can be committed together.” The mission is the foundation on which everything else is built.
I understand that completing this task is only a piece of the reconciliation process. For this reason, I was particularly interested in the information shared concerning the “preparation phase.” In this phase, Dr. McNeil requires that reconcilers determine what capabilities, resources, strengths, and training is needed to help move the group and community forward. This intentional preparation is the beginning of “second-order change.” On some levels, my local congregation has already experienced the first-order change of having numerical diversity. Second-order change is structural change and it “requires leaders and groups to create learning environments that incorporate transformation and change into their operating systems.”
It is my hope that this paper is a resource that begins the preparation phase to grow in our unity, wholeness, and the pursuit of justice. This book has helped clarify my thoughts on what progressing through this phase can possibly look like for our local congregation. I am excited to share some strategic focus areas and opportunities with the team.
It is evident to me that one of the things that has hindered us from advancing in the pursuit of reconciliation is fear. I’m not quite clear on what lies at the heart of that issue, but believe that some truth can come to light by pondering: “What are the questions that are fueling [our] church…? What questions are [our] systems consciously or unconsciously asking?” I don’t currently have the answers to those questions but I do believe that we must increase our biblical knowledge about God’s heart for reconciliation and unity within diversity in the body of Christ. This is where we will start.
“Valuing reconciliation is not the same as actively engaging in a process that requires commitment and sacrifice.” @RevDocBrenda
“Reconciliation is not just for us. It is God’s movement to transform the world so that all people on the earth can flourish.” @RevDocBrenda
“I cannot say that I love people if I don’t care about the policies that negatively affect them.” @RevDocBrenda
Next Up on this Topic:
Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith by Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Try Jackson, and Soong-Chan Rah
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2016