Reconciliation Vs. Justice - Can you have one without the other?
A question that I often return to in my own thoughts about reconciliation and justice is whether or not you can have one without the other. (Let me emphasize that this is a question that I’m asking. I have thoughts on it, but it’s an uncertainty that I am navigating all of the time.) I define reconciliation as a process through which two parties that have been at odds come to stand in solidarity with one another through truth-telling and repentance. I define justice as the redistribution of power in ways that allow for the ultimate flourishing of all parties involved. As such, it is possible to begin the reconciliation process, especially on the individual or small community scale, but to still make decisions that do not contribute to justice and equity for all.
This happens when a pastor, who is a man, comes to the conclusion that women are actually fully equipped and called by God to lead, preach and teach in the church context (reconciliation) BUT they still only have a woman preach at their church two or three times a year (injustice.)
This happens when a faith community decides that LGBT Christians are created in the image of God and that they are fully accepted members of the family of God (reconciliation) BUT that they can’t get married, can’t receive communion, or can’t lead in the church (injustice.)
This happens when church leaders go on a journey of growing in relationship with people of races and ethnicities that are not the majority culture in their congregation (reconciliation) BUT these relationships don’t lead to the hiring of multiethnic staff, changes in corporate worship styles, or greater diversity on elder boards (injustice.)
All of this leads me to wonder at least two more things:
Firstly, if power isn’t redistributed, if women can’t become teaching pastors and if LGBT Christians can’t get married and if people of color aren’t given decision-making authority in white churches, then has reconciliation really happened?
And secondly, am I defining justice incorrectly? I think of Psalm 89:14 where the psalmist says to God, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” And I can’t help but wonder, what does that mean? I think of Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” and I ask again, what does this mean?
After the killing of an unarmed Black teenager in Chicago last year, I read a post on my friend’s Facebook page where she said, “I’m over racial reconciliation and racial justice. I want racial righteousness!”
Words get used so much that their meanings get diluted over time.
I think that I can look to scripture to find a strong case for justice and the biblical call for a redistribution of power. But I also know that scripture is just as much a story of humanity’s fallen proclivities towards injustice and empire-building as it is about God’s constant invitation for his people to live in a more equitable way.
I wish I had more answers. But I am starting to make peace with the fact that the church is a work in progress. It’s not the place we go to find certainty. The church is the place we go to make peace with life’s uncertainties. I’m growing to appreciate that, especially as I navigate my own intersectionality. I recently attended a panel of local pastors on LGBT inclusion in the church and the mediator was a biracial, Christian, gay woman. She shared a little bit about what it’s like to live at the intersection of those various marginalized identities and as she spoke about not fully fitting into the LGBT Rights movement because she’s not a white male but also not fully fitting into Christian circles because she’s gay, I heard a bit of my own story there. As she shared, I realized that I’m not alone in my fragmented sense of belonging. I realized that while I long for reconciliation and justice in my community of faith, it’s going to be okay because I’m not alone in my desire for these changes.
I have more that I could say, but I’ll stop here. I have to get to work, but let’s keep the conversation going. Do you think that we can have reconciliation without justice? What is justice? Who decides? And have you ever had to navigate multiple marginalized identities? If so, what has that been like for you? Comment below.
Much love, friends.