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Better Together provides a space to share experiences with – and strategies for engaging – three critical global issues that PC(USA) global partners are challenging us to address together as the body of Christ.  These three issues are 1) addressing root causes of poverty, especially as it impacts women and children; 2) sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ; and 3) working for reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own.  The purpose of Better Together is to feed a conversation to shape concrete action strategies at the October 2012 “Dallas II: Better Together” consultation and beyond. 

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September 14, 2012

Working toward Reconciliation

Doug Baker is the PCUSA Regional Liaison for Ireland and the United Kingdom, and has supervised countless Young Adult Volunteers as they work for Catholic/Protestant Reconciliation in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He poses the following question and response...

The original question can also be engaged in the Facebook group.

Hunter Farrell recently posted a question in advance of the Dallas II Consultation about the root causes of poverty in different parts of the world which need to be addressed by Presbyterians. Another of the critical global issues identified by PCUSA World Mission which we will be considering in Dallas is “engaging in reconciliation amidst cultures of violence, including our own.” Peace-building naturally requires that we identify and address root causes of violence, but RECONCILIATION specifically has to do with fostering positive relationships where there has been enmity. What opportunities, tools, methods and approaches have been found in your setting to build healthy relationships across ethnic, religious, political, and economic divides and what lessons there are from those about addressing the culture of violence too often manifested in the US and in our relationships with other parts of the world?

One response to this from myself:

In 1994 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland adopted the following Peace Vocation Statement:
“We, members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, called by God, in the grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in faith, hope and love, as children of our heavenly Father, publicly acknowledge our vocation to peace, which is both the gift and mission placed on us by God.
"We believe that the same evangelical faith in Jesus Christ, which emboldens us to pray to God as our heavenly Father, challenges us to develop radically new attitudes and relationships with our neighbours in Ireland.
"We affirm that to be Christian peacemakers in our own situation: We must grasp more clearly the distinctive teaching of our Lord: which challenges the general practice of our world, and breaks the vicious cycle of matching injury with injury, hate with hate, ignorance with ignorance. We must therefore be prepared to meet and talk together with those in our own church with whom we have disagreements, with those from churches whose practices and beliefs differ from our own, and with those from whom we are politically divided.
"We affirm that to be Christian peacemakers in our situation: we must recognise the responsibility given by God to government, and to those who serve the cause of law and order, so as to encourage well-doing, correct evil-doers, and protect the innocent. We must therefore reject violence; seek ways to advance justice, and promote the welfare of the needy, affirm that in democratic societies all citizens are called to share in these responsibilities, and encourage all efforts to establish new structures of consent and participation.
"We affirm that to be Christian peacemakers in our situation: We must be initiators of programmes of action which will contribute to peace in our community. We must therefore provide resources and encouragement to enable congregations to move forward at the local level in the field of inter-community relations.
"We understand peacemaking to be an affirmation and accommodation of diversity and that our particular history in this land of divided communities and recurring violence, of mutual suspicion, fear and injury, makes it imperative that we reassert the Church’s own proper calling to seek peace, and the things that make for peace in our day.”

While it has to be acknowledged that this statement is not well-known to let alone followed by all congregations or members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, it has been a spur to action and does contain some critical understandings:

  1. Our vocation to peace is both a gift and mission placed upon us by God. Ephesians 2:14 declares “Christ is our peace, who has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” In cultures plagued by violence – and the hostility, enmity, division which comes out in violence – the ‘good news’ of the gospel is in part that there is a way out of conflict; that Jesus’ own way of being and his distinctive teaching point us to this. That is a gift from God. Jesus was a great crosser of barriers in his day, reaching out to those others consider unacceptable, interacting with women, extending his healing ministry beyond the household of Israel, telling stories which forced his hearers to reconsider their view of Samaritans, tax collectors or sinners. Discipleship implies walking in the dust of his feet – going where he goes and doing what he does. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 calls us to make disciples, “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replied – love God with all your being and your neighbour as yourself. We can neither engage in God’s mission ourselves nor teach others to obey his commandments without including seeking reconciliation between neighbors as integral to that.

  2. Reconciliation has to do with finding ways to live with ‘the other.’ Increasingly many societies, countries and regions of the world are characterized by being more and more diverse in terms of ethnic background, language, religion, culture and political aspirations. There are few homogeneous populations. ‘The other,’ whatever grouping that may be, is both close by and not likely to go away. Therefore, like never before, this reality requires that we encounter and build positive relationships of understanding with our neighbors. Reconciliation does not imply that we will all become the same or reach agreement but that we find ways to accommodate diversity.

  3. Reconciliation requires encounter. We must be prepared to meet and talk with ‘the other.’ We must model this ourselves and provide spaces and opportunities which make it possible for others to do the same. When we think of engaging in ministries of reconciliation in various cultures there are limits on what we as Mission Co-Workers or ‘communities of mission practice’ can do. For example:

In summary – we cannot reconcile others to each other, they must do that. However, we can assist and encourage that process.


Tags: belfast, cgi, dallas ii, mission, northern ireland, pcusa, peacemaking, pma, reconciliation, resources