As the national staff of Christian Women Connection met in meetings and planning sessions, we realized that we can change a mission statement, but it is meaningless if we don’t live that mission. That desire for change and the challenge to do the work of reconciliation, led us to read Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil.
Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil is an expert in reconciliation, especially in faith communities. She holds degrees from North Park University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Palmer Theological Seminary and she is an associate professor of reconciliation studies at Seattle Pacific University where she directs the Reconciliation Studies program. An ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, she is a dynamic speaker and author who has led many churches, colleges, and communities through the process of reconciliation.
In the first chapter of the book, Salter McNeil defines reconciliation as “an ongoing process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intentional for all creation to flourish.” With this essential first step, she leads us to the path of reconciliation, where diversity is celebrated as a blessing from God. Salter McNeil rightly starts with scripture and theology because our understanding of God and God’s story informs our relationships with people and because “…the work of reconciliation does not begin with us; it begins with God.”
One of the great gifts of this book is the illustration of the Reconciliation Roadmap, developed by Salter McNeil through her experience teaching and leading reconciliatory initiatives. The roadmap diagrams the phases needed (realization, identification, preparation, activation) for individuals and groups to experience transformation and to become “communities of reconciled people.” Each phase is given a chapter where Salter McNeil’s wisdom is evident. She not only describes the processes, but details the pitfalls and challenges. She gives advice and shares her personal experiences, both positive and negative. Each chapter ends with practical exercises that promote conversation and understanding.
The beauty of Salter McNeil’s book is that it’s not just a treatise on the importance of reconciliation (although that’s definitely in the book), but it’s a useful guide that challenges readers to move beyond “feel-good” moments and engage in the messy, sometimes tense work of reconciliation. She cautions the reader to not expect reconciliation to be a linear journey, but instead to remember it’s a circular path where we must remain intentional and vigilant. Salter McNeil writes, “…you will know you are on a true reconciliation journey if it is messy and complicated and beautiful and transformational.”
This book not only initiated revealing conversations during our national staff meeting, but it made us take inventory of voices and stories that we need to hear, places we need to get involved, and how much we have yet to learn. Maybe most importantly, it reminded us that work of reconciliation is kingdom work. In the final chapter, Salter McNeil writes, “Every time we bridge racial, ethnic, gender and socioeconomic divides, we become prophetic witnesses to the reality of the kingdom of God.”
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Read it! Read it in your women’s group and talk about it. Don’t just read it, but commit to traveling the road to reconciliation. Be proclaimers of this reality in the kingdom of God: we are all created in the image of God and our differences are divine gifts. "After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" (Revelation 7:9).