This is the third of Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil’s books that I have read, including The Heart of Racial Justice and A Credible Witness. These works generally specialize in motivating followers of Jesus to pursue racial reconciliation, motivated by her beautiful retelling of familiar Gospel narratives (e.g. The Woman at the Well from John 4 in A Credible Witness) and clarion call to recognize the deeper spiritual realities at work in the social and racial inequities we see in our world (The Heart of Racial Justice). Her storytelling is excellent and often deeply personal, admitting her own failures along the way and making space for reconciliation novices and experts alike to engage fully in the text. My only critique of her writing is the one that apparently became the impetus for this new book. Namely, what is the actual process communities should undertake if they wish to become reconciled? I have found it hard to practically apply much of what I’ve read from her beyond my own individual life. Thankfully, this critique has been soundly answered with this book.
The Good & The Quotable:
The long and short of it is that this is the most accessible and practical book on reconciliation that I have ever read. Dr. Salter-McNeil’s roadmap (see image) is an indispensable resource for churches and other organizations who are wondering where to begin after the catalytic events (to borrow her language) we see happening on the news seemingly every week involving racial injustice in our country and abroad. One of my favorite elements of the book is that she takes great pains to give the reader access to brief bits of the academic research that went into her model, summarizing complex sociological theories and seamlessly weaving them into the popular level insight she means to impart. You can certainly check the endnotes for further personal research and this section of the book alone is worth the price of admission.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a taste of her insight:
“Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance, and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish” (22)
“Transformation requires disruption and a degree of chaos to increase the sense of urgency that change must happen. However there must also be enough psychological safety that the chaos does not completely overwhelm our ability to reflect and reorganize ourselves.” (52)
“If an organization wants to shift its cultural identity, it is crucial that it have an internal team of diverse leaders who model the diversity change initiative.” (69)
On a practical level, this book is written to be immediately applied in a leadership team or small group setting; almost everything can be transferred. In my own life and ministry, I found the rules she gives for facilitating dialogue between different groups (racial groups, congregations, political sides, etc.) to be incredibly practical and I will almost certainly use them at the next opportunity. Near the end of the book, she also passes along “Eight Habits of Interculturally Competent Leaders, providing a quick self-assessment that I can also imagine using in a staff meeting quite easily.
Who Should Read This:
I think every Christian leader responsible for interpreting Scripture alongside the events happening in our world should own and reference this book. I think it would be an incredible resource to go through with a leadership or staff team that is serious about making serious and significant organizational change to pursue reconciliation and justice together. If you’re looking for a book with more personal application, I would try one of her other books listed above.