The recent deaths of African-American persons during interactions with police officers has awakened the nation to the persistent racial imbalance in our country. The sheer disregard of life causes me deep anguish and, quite frankly, leaves me with mixed feelings about our country’s moral compass. Close to home, in Dallas, TX, retaliation and more violence was one man’s answer to his doubts. In the face of such horror and violence, to what are we called as Christian social workers and practitioners?
As an African-American woman and macro practitioner, I constantly wrestle with my response to these deadly encounters. Fear and anger rise up swiftly, leaving little room to process. I battle alongside community members to grasp what pervasive death to brown bodies means for us as a community and as individuals. I have come to the painful, yet joyous, conclusion that as Christians in social work, we must pick up the heavy mantle that the Apostle Paul describes as becoming “Ministers of Reconciliation.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, Paul outlines the call to the Ministry of Reconciliation:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
As Christians in social work, we are compelled to respond to injustice with the love of Christ. We can easily become calloused when we learn of new tragedies each day, but our hearts must remain soft. We can remain empathetic because we know that God weeps over the injustices in the world (e.g. Isaiah 61, Psalm 103:6).
Further, we no longer view people or events from a worldly perspective. Though the world tells us to point fingers and place blame, we now have the power to withhold judgement and trust God’s justice. Withholding judgment does not equate to silence, but it means allowing the Spirit of God to intervene on our behalf.
Finally, we are not alone in the work of reconciliation. God set the stage for reconciliation when he sent Christ to reconcile the world to the Divine. The blueprint is already drawn.
In this passage, we see both the pain and joy of reconciliation. We are now held to a higher standard of living. Reconciliation demands that we emulate Christ himself, even at the expense of our own feelings. This includes times when we aren’t personally affected by the situations we learn about. Reconciliation also demands that we remain committed to the message of grace and truth. The work of reconciliation is not a one-time, town-hall discussion; it is a slow, methodical process that calls us to commit to the on-going task of reconciliation and to each other.
Social work demands the same. The Code of Ethics requires that we respect the dignity and worth of all people, value the importance of human relationships, embody integrity, service, social justice, and competence — all of which are enhanced by the blood of Christ.
Racial justice will only happen when we believe that reconciliation is truly at the center of God’s heart. We must believe that learning to be a reconciler is a part of His divine plan for our redemption. With that in mind, we can step faithfully into the work of reconciliation with great hope for the future.
Alexis Christensen is a community organizer with Waco Community Development in Waco, TX. She received her Bachelor’s of Political Science and Masters of Social Work from Baylor University. She enjoys reading and traveling the world with her husband. Alexis has been a member of NACSW since 2012.