Skip to main content

Moving the Church Toward Reconciliation: From Sacred Texts to Secular Acts of Diversity and Inclusion

Publication ,  Thesis Dissertation
Augustine, J

Reconciliation is one of the few terms having widespread usage in the American lexicon, after originating in the biblical canon. Although popularly used to denote parties giving up their enmity and finding commonality, reconciliation’s meaning is much deeper. In the succeeding five chapters, I move from reconciliation’s theological use in sacred biblical texts, to its practical application, through diversity and inclusion principals, specifically exploring three usages of the term. I contextualize reconciliation as salvific, social, and civil. The first two usages, salvific and social, are Christocentric. The third, however, civil, is primarily secular. Salvific reconciliation is the most Christocentric of the three usages. It denotes humanity being reconciled in its relationship with God through Jesus. Stated otherwise, it means Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead so humanity could receive the unmerited gift of eternal life. Argument can indeed be made that the heart of Christian theology embraces salvific reconciliation as its most fundamental tenant. Social reconciliation, a close companion of civil reconciliation, is the focus of chapter 2. In addition to the fact that Jesus died, Jesus also lived. In relying on Peter’s leadership and Paul’s theology, I contextualize social reconciliation by exploring select portions Matthew, the Book of Acts, and the Pauline corpus to argue that regardless of race, ethnicity, social standing, class or gender, once one is baptized into the church, (s)he has equal social standing within the body of Christ. Stated otherwise, whereas salvific reconciliation denotes humanity being reconciled in its relationship with God, through Jesus, social reconciliation means humans are reconciled with one another because of Jesus. Inasmuch as salvific and social reconciliation are Christocentric, chapter 3 contextualizes civil reconciliation, an ethic that is primarily secular. As a direct derivative of social reconciliation, civil reconciliation embraces an egalitarian-like ethic that motivates both clergy and laity to act with prophetic resistance in challenging unjust governmental practices by seeking legal redress and equal standing. The best contextualization of civil reconciliation was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s prophetic leadership in bringing the black church into the secular politics of the Civil Rights Movement. I argue civil reconciliation was successful, especially from an empirical perspective, as measured by the gains of diversity and inclusion associated with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the institution of affirmative action. Insofar as the old cliché is true that “every action has a reaction,” chapter 4’s focus is the reaction to civil reconciliation’s success, a fusion of white evangelical Christians becoming openly aligned with conservative, Republican Party politics. That fusion, initiated by Richard Nixon’s southern strategy in the late 1960s and solidified under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, also eventually led to the political extremity of Donald Trump’s 2016 “Make America Great Again,” a narrative that is the anthesis of reconciliation. Trump’s well-documented extremity has publicly revealed factions within evangelicalism that present opportunities to align conservative and more progressive Christians on matters that will strengthen the church universal, through diversity and inclusion principals that are consistent with the inclusiveness God progressively established in scripture. Accordingly, as a conclusion, chapter 5 asks the proverbial question, “Where Do We Go From Here?” I suggest that if the church can successfully move toward reconciliation, through diversity and inclusion practices that are consistent with God’s intention, as evidenced through scripture, the church can also be an exemplar for society-at-large to move toward reconciliation, too.

Duke Scholars