By Rev. Brian A. Tillman
As a kid, I loved riddles. One of my favorites was this one: “Pete and Re-Pete went to the store. Pete came back. Who was left?” The person to whom I would recite the riddle would most likely give the correct answer, “Re-Pete.” Then I would “repeat” the riddle all over again or as many times as needed for the person to understand what was going on. (I am well aware that the original riddle had Pete and Re-Pete in a boat, but I grew up in the city and many of my friends had never been in a boat, but there was a convenience store a block away. It made more sense for Pete and Re-Pete to go to the store.) The point is that reconciliation is just like a repeat riddle in that it never finishes. It’s like the song that never ends.
This is the final installment of a series on racial reconciliation. In the previous articles, I clearly defined reconciliation and offered the first five phases of reconciliation: Resist, recognize, repent, repair, and reconstruct. The sixth phase is restoring relationship or “repeat.” In this phase relationships are restored and nurtured in a way that (a) shows a commitment to never allowing the injustice to return and (b) allows the relationship to be evaluated continuously by revisiting the reconciliation process. This is how every good relationship is maintained.
I am a happily married man and my wife is a wonderful woman, but neither of us is perfect. Our relationship has had challenges and issues. The only way we stay married and in-love with one another is by continuously working the steps of reconciliation. Usually, it is I who have done something stupid causing my wife to “resist.” Normally, it’s a change in her speaking tone or that sassy eyeroll (which I love). Once I see her resistance, I must work to “recognize” what it is that I have done. I ask questions, listen to her grievance and work to make sure I fully understand the damage I’ve caused. My next task is to “repent” for what I’ve done and do so in a way that includes a commitment to follow through on reconciliation by committing to “repair” the damage, replace the loss, or repay the debt. My repentance and repair mean nothing if I do not work with her to put things in place to make sure that I do not commit the same error again. If I do, her trust in my sincerity will wane. Therefore, we must “reconstruct” things in a way that gives her confidence that my efforts are genuine. When I have done this work, then our strong relationship is restored. But, the work is never complete. We are always reconciling. We continue to adjust. We “repeat” this process over and over again. Is there any other way to be in a healthy relationship?
The New Testament scripture found in Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” When it comes to racism in America, a great sin has been committed and true reconciliation has never been pursued. There have been documents written, but the sentences of those documents have never been acted upon. There have been great speeches, but no deeds were set to those words. The only thing that has ever been consistently done in the United States to push us towards reconciliation is that the oppressed have always resisted injustice. We resisted slavery. We resisted the hostile takeover of native lands. We resisted Jim Crow. We resisted lynching’s. We resisted the lack of basic human rights. We resisted the billions spent on war, but nothing for the poor. We resisted the continuous bigotry that spews from the place that presents itself to the world as the land of the free and home of the brave. If you ask people of color, this land has not been the home of the brave unless you are talking about us. Otherwise, it has been the home of the cowards, the liars, the haters, and the manipulators who have perverted justice and abused reconciliation. The only thing that has been repeated in America is injustice after injustice.
I appeal to my brothers and sisters racialized as white to spend a little time in prayer and work to understand not only what racism and white supremacy have done to people of color, but what it has done to white people. It has turned them into a people who must not be trusted and who have attacked the image of God in themselves. White people and people of color are in dire need of reconciliation; with God and with one another. Resist to reconcile. #ResisttoReconcile.
The Rev. Brian A. Tillman serves as the chair of the Commission on Religion and Race in the North Georgia Conference of the UMC and also serves as an associate pastor at Ben Hill UMC in Atlanta. He often hashtags to: #ResistToReconcile
[Posted January 25, 2018]