What Does Faithful Christian Witness Look Like in a World of Destructive Conflicts?By Chris Rice
From Nigeria and India to the Balkans and Iraq, from Sudan and Sri Lanka to Northern Ireland and the Middle East, the mission of the Church takes place on a landscape of conflict, and increasingly so. In today’s world, there cannot be faithful Christian witness without an intimate relationship between mission, reconciliation and peace.
A question posed by a church leader in Rwanda helps to focus the challenge. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, he commented, “Many of my parishioners participated in killing. How do we form Christians who say no to killing?”
Here we must say that our task to simply evangelism is not enough. Evangelism into what? Into what kind of Christianity? What are the implications for us when mission not only takes place on a landscape of destructive conflicts, but when the Christian community itself is often caught up in these conflicts?
A serious impediment to God’s mission is the Church being caught up in conflicts—places where the blood of ethnicity, tribe, racialism, sexual domination, caste, social class or nationalism flows stronger than the waters of baptism and Christian discipleship.
These were the challenges we wrestled with three years ago at the Lausanne 2004 Forum for World Evangelization in Thailand. There, forty-seven Christian leaders from twenty-one countries met for the Issue Group on Reconciliation. Over several days of hearing stories of pain and hope, worshiping together, eating together and a dramatic foot washing between representatives of divided groups, we shaped our Lausanne Occasional Paper, “Reconciliation as the Mission of God: Christian Witness in a World of Destructive Conflicts.”
The convictions articulated in the paper, highlighted below, point to a troubling situation and the need for a critical re-examination of mission and discipleship.
Reconciliation at the Core of God’s Mission
For Christians, reconciliation is not optional. The mission of God is reconciliation and is God’s initiative (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
Yet a serious impediment to God’s mission is the Church being caught up in conflicts—places where the blood of ethnicity, tribe, racialism, sexual domination, caste, social class or nationalism flows stronger than the waters of baptism and Christian discipleship. At the same time, even in the worst conflicts, signs of hope can be detected in the Church. Christians have shaped many of the world’s most hopeful breakthroughs for reconciliation. The Church must celebrate, study and follow their Christ-like witness.
The Church and Ideologies of Escape
It is crucial to understand that the transmission of the gospel and the ministry of the Church do not run in pure, separate historical streams, but are carried on inside of and tainted by the world’s poisoned, muddy histories.
Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, USA. He served as convener of the Lausanne 2004 Issue Group on Reconciliation. He is author of More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel and Grace Matters.