Christena Cleveland: A Reconciliation Litmus Test

Last year, ECM had the honor of hosting Christena Cleveland as our keynote speaker at ECM’s Annual Celebration. Here she writes about her ongoing reflections on the use and misuse of the term reconciliation. You can read Christena’s complete latest update here - be sure to sign up for her blog and follow her on Instagram.

A Reconciliation Litmus Test

I used to be known for my reconciliation work. But I quickly became disillusioned with the concept because it has been so often used as a tool of oppression. That's why I'm so grateful to for the resources we're sharing this month that help us to re-think reconciliation -- the concept, the practice, and the results -- and maybe even redeem reconciliation. Here's to brave examination!

My friend Curtiss DeYoung’s Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism (co-authored with South African theologian Allan Boesak) is one of the most thought-provoking books on reconciliation I’ve read. I just had to share the fruit of Boesak’s insightful analysis of Zacchaeus the tax collector’s reconciliatory interaction with Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 19).  Written from a Christian perspective, Boesak outlines 10 markers of true reconciliation (pg. 66-74) that I believe are applicable across many/all spiritualities.

 1. Reconciliation requires that we uncover the wrong.

“Reconciliation cannot be shallow: it is not the covering up of evil or simply papering over the cracks. Zacchaeus acknowledges that what he has done is wrong: I stole, I exploited, I cheated, I betrayed… he did not [blame] the system”

2. Reconciliation requires remorse.

“It is acknowledging my victim’s pain as a result of what I have done and making it right with acts of justice…Zacchaeus does not demand or expect [forgiveness]…he does justice in fragile hope and faith, not in certitude of power.”

3. Reconciliation is not cheap, in the spiritual or literal sense.

“Without restitution, reconciliation is not possible.  Zacchaeus does not just give away have of his possessions – he repays ‘four times as much’ (Luke 19:8).”

4. Reconciliation requires equality.

“Zacchaeus gives away his wealth. He is no longer a member of the exclusive club of the very rich, but he is now able to join Jesus’ inclusive community of equals.”

5. Reconciliation is about restoring our relationship with the Divine AND with the other.

Even though other followers of Jesus still distanced themselves from Zacchaeus, “the Gospel story reads that ‘Zacchaeus stood there’ and made his intentions clear: that he was not trying to get away with cheap grace (Luke 19:8).”

6. Reconciliation requires public recompense.

“A cozy chat with Jesus in the privacy of his home would not do… The rich rewards from his life of extortion…were public rewards…the suffering of his victims was a public suffering…his remorse had to be public as well.”

7. Reconciliation is transformational.

“We learn that reconciliation means uncovering the sin, showing remorse, making restitution, and restoring relationships with deeds of compassionate justice, then, and only then, is reconciliation complete, right, sustainable, and radical, because it becomes transformational.”

8. Reconciliation brings more than individual freedom.

Reconciliation “brings salvation for Zacchaeus and his whole house. Zacchaeus and his whole house had benefited from his life of exploitation…[through reconciliation] they are released from the generational curse of guilt and shame that comes with exploitative, systemic relationships.”

9. Reconciliation requires that we switch sides.

Zacchaeus’ conversion meant that he “could no longer work for the Romans: his political allegiances changed now that his spiritual allegiance has changed…instead of sharing the privileges of the wealthy, he would now share the pain of the oppressed…by choice.”

10. Reconciliation brings new identity.

“Jesus, in offering him salvation, also offered him a new identity, his true identity.  From now on, he would not be called Zacchaeus, ‘the tax collector.’ He would be called Zacchaeus, ‘the son of Abraham’ (Luke 19:9).

Are you doing real reconciliation?