Some of the best advice I was ever given when confronting a difficult conversation, especially one that involved conflict, was to always be reconciling. The advice was given through the lens of Paul’s encouragement in 2 Corinthians that we, as Christians, have a ministry of reconciliation. The Father reconciled the world to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. We are compelled, one to help others be reconciled to God, and two, to seek always to be about the task of reconciling relationships between individuals. Not all relationships can be reconciled, but that should be our goal since we have this ministry from God.
Which leads to the advice from a friend; when approaching a conversation that is going to be confrontational, the end goal is reconciliation. The conversation will still be tense, and difficult truths still need to be shared, but the goal is to leave the conversation still in relationship, not as enemies. One party may need to repent. Actions may need to change. The confrontation may not end quickly. For a time, the various parties may need to stay apart. But the goal is reconciliation.
The advice to always be reconciling is one of the foundations that Martin Luther King Jr. held to in the Civil Rights Movement. Change needed to happen, and it was only going to happen through confrontation. King promoted non-violent protest, but it was still very much a confrontation. Walking to work instead of riding the bus was a confrontation. Marching from Selma to Montgomery to demand voting rights was a confrontation. Sitting down at lunch counters was a confrontation. Civil rights for those with black and brown skin was never going to come without a confrontation. However, there were many ways for that confrontation to unfold. King advocated to approach the confrontation in a way that would restore relationship, not tear it further apart. In essence, to always be reconciling.
In an article entitled The Current Crisis In Race Relations (available in A Testament Of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr edited by James M. Washington) King, speaking of non-violent protest, says this, “it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often voice his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that noncooperation and boycotts are not ends within themselves; they are means to awaken a sense of moral shame within the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community.”
King’s goal was not just to achieve equal rights (although that was a driving motivation, and the cause to which he died), but to restore or create a beloved community in which all people live together in harmony as God designed. This truth is evident in many of King’s speeches and writing; including his most famous I Have A Dream speech. King’s dream of little black boys and girls playing with little white boys and girls is a vision of the beloved community. It’s only possible through reconciliation that restores the relationship. If those with black and brown skin gain their rights, but there is still bitterness and anger between the races, then the goal has not been fully realized. We, all of us alive today, still need to keep working toward reconciliation and the beloved community.
Still, King and the Civil Rights Movement are a great example of the encouragement to be reconciling. Our goal should always be reconciliation.
When approaching a confrontation at work, at church, or in a school or family situation, perhaps we should ask ourselves a very important question before we begin, how can I be reconciling in this situation? I may still need to confront poor behavior or failed expectations. Wrongs may still need to be corrected. Mistakes can not just be ignored, they must be addressed and corrected. Still, if our goal is reconciliation then it will affect our attitude and approach. We will find ways to state our case without attacking the other individual. We will flavor our response with grace and understanding. We will use the disagreement as an opportunity to make our relationship stronger, not tear it apart. We may not be successful. Relationships may still end. Even when achieving reconciliation, individuals may need to stay apart from each other. But, the goal is reconciliation. It’s a ministry we’ve been given by God.
Always be reconciling.