In 1985, Andean Indians wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II, signed by leaders of several Indian organizations.

In 1985, Andean Indians wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II, signed by leaders of several Indian organizations.

It read in part: “We, the Indians of the Andes and America have decided to give you back your Bible, since for the past five hundred centuries it has brought us neither love, peace or justice. We beg you take your Bible and give it back to our oppressors, whose hearts and minds are in greater need of its moral teachings. As part of the colonial exchange we received the Bible, which is an ideological weapon of attack. The Spanish sword used in the daytime to attack and kill the Indians, turned at night into a cross which attacked the Indian soul.”

Unless those who benefit from the present power structures acknowledge their wrongdoings and make a commitment to replace privilege with love, peace and justice, the hope for reconciliation will never be realized. In fact, forgiveness may have to be withheld, and the sand shaken off one’s sandals, in the interest of moving the oppressor to repentance.

The psalmist sings, “Mercy and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed” (Ps. 85:10).”

Reconciliation is the intersection of mercy toward wrongdoers when truth of the wrongdoing is acknowledged. Reconciliation is the presence of both justice and peace. Or as Pope Paul VI reminded us: “Justice will bring about peace…. If you want peace, work for justice.”

Peace as shalom means more then simply harmony. The Hebrew concept of shalom connotes solidarity, well-being and wholeness–in short a glimpse of what heaven is supposed to be like.

But for shalom to have significance it must kiss, or become one, with justice. If there is no justice, terms like forgiveness, love, and reconciliation are meaningless. The transformative thread running throughout Scripture is humanity’s hope of reconciling with God and with each other–hence the greatest commandment of loving God and our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 22:34-40). Shalom brings about justice which in turn secures shalom.

We can never return to some pristine past before the genocide of Native populations or enslavement of Africans. Centuries of violence have irrevocably changed the marginalized, making the retrieval of a former identity inconceivable.

Reconciliation cannot be a return to the past through the elimination of the oppressed’s disenfranchisement and the oppressor’s conversion to the God of life. Reconciliation is the birthing of a new creation.

“If anyone is in Christ,’ Paul writes, “they are a new creation, the old has passed away. Behold, all things have become new” (2 Co. 5:17).

But this new creation is not effortless. All of creation groans in the birthing of a new social order bathed in justice (Ro. 8:22-23).

With the birth of any new creation, there is the pain of “groaning in labor.” If pain and suffering are  to be productive (rather than redemptive), their ultimate purpose must be wholeness and liberation.

We rely on God’s Spirit to help us in our weakness during this protracted birthing process. Some, however, choose to rely upon their own forms of justification to avoid the pain that usually accomplishes the birthing of a new social order–specifically by replacing the painful actions required to dismantle power and privilege with feelings of guilt and shame.

But guilt by the dominant culture over the plight of the disenfranchised is meaningless if it is not linked to praxis that can bring about a new creation.

Because God is a God of new creations, goodness and new life can come forth from centuries of racism and ethnic discrimination. Justice and peace can be brought to a point where they kiss.

This is not to dismiss that wounds may persist, but it is to prevent these wounds from festering, becoming gangrene, and bringing premature death to the marginalized. Just as Christ still carries the scars of the crucifixion upon his flesh, so too are today’s crucified people, those whose lives are offered up for the sins of racism and ethnic discrimination, still carry their wounds upon their bodies.

To establish justice, to foster reconciliation, is to dismantle the segregationist walls historically created by the dominant culture responsible for these wounds. “God’s reconciliation,” according to theologian James Cone, “means destroying all forms of slavery and oppression in white America so that the people of color can affirm the authenticity of their political freedom.”

Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

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