Dean Sam Lloyd:
practice reconciliation

By Deryl Davis

Can human beings live with a healing spirit that makes room for the “outsider” in our midst? That was the central question posed by Washington National Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III in his plenary address on reconciliation at this week’s Church for the 21st Century conference. Citing examples of division in American society and within Christian traditions, including the Episcopal Church, Lloyd pointed to Jesus’ acts of inclusion and ministry of reconciliation as models for a world “crying out for the spirit of healing, where there is room for the stranger, and plenty of room at the banquet table.”

Lloyd asserted that it was important to recognize that forgiveness and reconciliation have not been part of every religious tradition, and he recalled philosopher Hannah Arendt’s contention that it was Jesus who introduced forgiveness and reconciliation into world affairs. Lloyd told conference participants that the clearest call to such reconciliation is found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:17-18, New Revised Standard Version). Lloyd asserted that Paul was teaching two specific things: first, that reconciliation is an act of God working through us, that we cannot begin it ourselves; and second, that God has given us reconciliation as a specific Christian ministry within and beyond the church.

Lloyd told participants that reconciliation is not “a strategy or problem-solving approach, but a spirituality of how God has accepted us back again and again.” He cited theologian Gregory Jones, who has written that reconciliation is something we discover, a set of practices that arise out of our relationship with God.

Recent history offers remarkable stories of reconciliation, Lloyd noted, in which people of faith were able to love the “other” even when the other had badly wounded them. The Amish community’s ability to love and show concern for the wife of the man who killed five Amish girls in the town of Paradise, Pennsylvania last year was one example; another was the remarkable work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which offered amnesty for crimes committed under apartheid if the offender confessed and asked for forgiveness. Lloyd noted that the model was specifically scriptural.

Importantly, reconciliation does not mean agreement, Lloyd said. “It means struggling to honor and make space for the other in our world and hearts, sometimes to have to walk apart,” but hopefully to find a way to walk together again in the future.

In conclusion, Lloyd asserted that the work of the 21st century church, whatever form it takes, is reconciliation, “honoring the ‘other’ in our churches, our communities, and across the world.” Lloyd said that Christians should be about “building communities where people can be in touch with themselves, even their own sin,” while reaching across boundaries of race, gender, and social and ideological distinctions. “We have an urgent call,” Lloyd said, “in this work which has a truly global dimension.”

Deryl Davis is covering The Church for the 21st Century Conference at Washington National Cathedral for Episcopal Cafe. He will have additional reports next week.


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