Reconstruction and Reconciliation

In our blogs we have often talked about how the reason for poverty lies in the brokenness of relationships. As a human being we find ourselves in a multitude of relationships. We are deeply relational creatures. In the western world we have forgotten how important healthy relationships are to flourish as a person. We have mistaken individuality and independence as freedom. After all, we value personal success more than the flourishing of our community. Our standard of living and our longing for convenience is built on the expense of others around the world. The root to poverty and injustice lies in our brokenness, the brokenness of our humanity. But there is hope. God promises restoration of all things. Yes, He invites us into the journey of restoration and reconstruction. A key to making a difference in our lives, communities and our world is reconstructing those relationships.

Theology of Reconstruction

As much as we humans have already achieved with the help of humanism, we also need to remember the wrongs of it and that without God, there is nothing truly good in this world. In 2017 I was introduced to reconstruction as a theological concept during a two week class on African Theology in Nairobi. Theology of Reconstruction is concerned with social, economic and political structures.  Reconstruction is a struggle for “the ‘renewal’ of churches and religions and for the ‘transformation’ of societies. Considering the past, the present and the future of a society, reconstruction theology facilitates principles and actions that sustain and support life in this society in the most positive way.

At the core a theology of reconstruction helps us to reflect on the good and the bad within culture and society. We need to recognize where things have gone wrong in our culture. Then, we can take the good things and strengthen them, so we can build on them. Whereas the bad things in our lives need to be reconciled and turned into something good. Reconciliation is able to carry the burden of the delicate task of reconstruction. Yet, reconciliation itself is already an enormous task, as it is about healing, forgiving and transforming the structures of society. But, reconciliation is not possible without liberation. We need to name oppressive structures and take them down, just as God took our sins away and made reconciliation possible.

Reconciliation Leads to Reconstructing the Community

If you ever have renovated and reconstructed a house, you know that it is a messy process. It takes time. Just so, reconciliation is a tough and timely process. The Kenyan theologian Peter Mageto recalls that “in the mess of seeking peace and reconciliation, we are reminded … that to reconcile man with man and not with God is to reconcile no one at all.”[1] The same principle counts for reconstruction. We only mess ourselves up, when we try to reconstruct our worlds out of our own strength and leave no space to the works of God. We need to remind ourselves that ultimately we cannot give what we don’t have. If we are unreconciled with God and people around us, how can we be ambassadors of peace and reconciliation? In all the justice, reconstruction and reconciliation work we are deeply dependent on the Spirit of God working through us.

However, true reconciliation begins with the relationship between God and oneself. It begins with the forgiveness of the human sin and leads to a full restoration of the relationships we are in. Sin corrupts the human heart and therefore creates conflict within the society. Humans tend to either live well with the other or destroy the other because of our broken, corrupt heart. However, it is the same heart that, when transformed by God, can reconstruct and bring hope to the broken hearts around us. In the process of reconciliation God invites us humans into his community where we face our sin, yet become whole again, as God is not counting our sins against us. Rather, He makes us a new creation.

Longing for a new Creation

In this new creation and community with God all people are one. As Paul writes in Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Sadly, over the last centuries many Christians have failed living up to this unifying principle and continued nurturing ethnic and economic segregation. What Paul is saying is that the church is reconstructing a new reality. The church needs to represent the new heaven and earth which is inclusive, implements reconciliation and unity. Ultimately it is God who creates a new identity in us that longs for peace and reconciliation. This is the ground for reconstruction.

A new consciousness and identity for peacebuilding impacts the reconstruction of our communities. Only through the reconstruction of our communities can the world be reconstructed. In reflecting on the African philosophy of Ubuntu from a Christian perspective, we find a deep sense for community found in African tradition. Ubuntu values a person in the context of its community and relationships. The word “ubuntu” refers to the humanness of every person and the oneness we have in humanity. There is another Kenyan saying which builds on Ubunut: “mtu ni watu” which means “a person is persons.” Hence, the saying reminds us that humans are deeply relational beings who flourish when they belong to a community. Thus, restoration builds on reconciling the entire community with God and each other as God wants to create new people who live in harmony and work for God’s will among all people.

[1] Peter Mageto, “The Shalom Church in East Africa” In Peacebuilding in East Africa. Ed. Paddy Musana (Paulines, 2013), p. 95