Climb Toward Reconciliation Often Slow, Painful


Climb Toward Reconciliation Often Slow, Painful | Colin Harris, Discrimination, Reconciliation, Racism

When laws are passed that envision reconciliation and negate those that support alienation, footholds are established that enable the human family to embrace each other on a new level of community, Harris writes.
In the late 1960s, the Committee of Southern Churchmen, under the leadership of Will Campbell and James Holloway, conceived and produced a journal with the title Katallegete – Be Reconciled – taken from the Greek imperative in 2 Corinthians 6:20.

The committee was a group who had labored in the fields of the desegregation struggle in the South, and the journal addressed the ongoing task of forging a new level of community among once (and still) estranged people.

The civil rights movement had won some significant victories: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act a year later had affirmed the long struggle to overcome the most obvious expressions of racial discrimination, and by this time the early steps toward equal opportunities in education were gaining momentum.

Still, the editors and writers of Katallegete knew there was a long way to go before genuine reconciliation would become a reality.

Liberation and equality can be declared by an edict, but reconciliation requires both parties to value community more than they value the rightness of their reasons for being estranged, and that is a bigger challenge.

Even now, with all the progress made on so many fronts, the smoldering embers of generations of racism, with its residue of fear and prejudice, are easily fanned into flame by public voices who know just where and how to blow on those coals with dog-whistle appeals to the fear and resentment of those who are different.

While we can certainly celebrate the removal of many forms of injustice by changes of thinking in society and legislation that punctuate that change, it is hard not to notice the long and labored process that leads to the change, and the long process that follows as the legal directives gradually lead us toward reconciliation.

Historical parallels offer some helpful reflections that are good reminders of the partnership of patient work and reconciliation.

We remember that it took 30 years of abolitionist voices and a bloody civil war before the Emancipation Proclamation brought an official end to slavery in the United States.

The century and a half since then has seen the slow fading of attitudes that were part of that alienation. Reconciliation has been a long time coming.

We remember the efforts that led to the passage in 1920 of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with its guarantee of the right of women to vote.

We notice also the resistance and defeat of an Equal Rights Amendment, originally proposed in 1923, passed by Congress in 1972, and failed necessary ratification by states in 1982.

Need we mention current objections to causes that support the health, financial and professional concerns of women? Rights established by legislation can continue to be resisted quite effectively. Reconciliation does not come easily.

On several issues now, where there are conflicting perspectives, we are in the throes of pressing for justice while there is resistance from various sources that are committed to the conditions that others believe need changing.

If history and its courageous pioneers are our guide, legislation will someday become official landmarks in the journey to liberation and then toward reconciliation.

But we also know from history that the process toward reconciliation is a slow, often painful, and usually unfinished one.

Perhaps we can find hope in remembering that efforts on behalf of justice eventually prevail over the forces of injustice and lead to collective action to support a community that will transcend the prior estrangement.

When laws are passed that envision reconciliation and negate those that support alienation, footholds are established that enable the human family to embrace each other on a new level of community, and the features of today's controversial issues become tomorrow's embarrassing memories.

In the throes of controversies over immigration, the nature of marriage or economic justice, it is sometimes difficult to see a way out of the crippling effects of the conflict.

But there is encouragement from those who have gone before that, while it most likely will take a long time, a community of reconciliation is possible.

Katallegete – be reconciled. Is there really any other faithful option?

Colin Harris is professor of religious studies at Mercer University and a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.

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