By Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson


According to Billy Graham: “Racial and ethnic hostility is the foremost social problem facing our world today.” This excellent book on racial justice gives a practical, spiritual model of racial reconciliation to address this problem.  McNeil and Richardson first present two popular models that they find to be inadequate before presenting a five-fold spiritual model of racial justice and reconciliation.


1.      The relational or interpersonal model, which consists of making a friend with someone from another race or ethnicity in the hope that this will bring about social change through friendship, one life at a time.  This has the advantage of being feasible, and it fits well the individualistic worldview of many evangelicals, but it is not adequate, because it says nothing about the historical impact of sin and the structural injustice that results from that sin.


2.      The institutional change model seeks to create justice and equality by redistributing power among groups.  It has the disadvantage of reducing all relationships to relations of power.  The kingdom of God is about more than that.


In contrast with these two models, the authors have adapted and applied biblical, pastoral, spiritual and psychological insights from the ministry of healing to problems of racial and ethnic division and hurt.  They list five principles for this model, each principle leading directly to a corresponding action step in a five-fold strategy of racial reconciliation.  The five principles for a new paradigm are:


1.      Reconciliation is above all the work of God and happens best in the presence and power of God.

2.      Reconciliation with others is based on having a healthy sense of one’s own identity.

3.      Reconciliation is above all rooted in the work of Christ on the cross.

4.      As we experience forgiveness and the possibility of a new future together, we will realize that there have been larger destructive forces at work in our common life.

5.      Individually and corporately embrace being a new creation


McNeil and Richardson believe firmly that reconciliation is ultimately a spiritual process and that we need a spirituality of racial and ethnic reconciliation that will take us beyond our limitations.  Their spiritual transformation model of ethnic healing and racial justice includes five components:


  1. Worship that leads us to focus on the things we have in common and not on controversial doctrinal issues.  McNeil and Richardson believe that “Racial and ethnic problems are too immense to be addressed with spiritual anemia and cynicism…When we focus our attention and affection on the God of all creation – the One who made all ethnic groups, tribes and nations and who pours out His presence wherever people are gathered together in His name – all the boundaries and distinctions that keep us separated from each other are worn down, and authentic community and reconciliation result.”  They cite C.S. Lewis: “What is concrete and immaterial can be kept in view only by painful effort.”   They conclude: “The ‘wild animals’ of racial superiority, judgment, woundedness, hatred and rage would all be accessible to the melting, piercing presence of God if we practiced the presence of God.”


  1. Embracing our true selves:  Again, they cite C.S. Lewis: “False identities are just as ultimately unreal and insubstantial as true identities are eternal and substantial….The new self is the true self, the real identity of a Christian….When we bend toward other people or things to get our identity, we make those people or things our idols.  They replace God at the center of our attention.”


This is perhaps the most significant chapter of the book, because it deals with several false identities that hinder racial justice and reconciliation, including:


a)      The self-hatred identity: commonly experiencing a wish to belong to some other ethnicity or race.  This is especially a temptation for people of color.

b)      The rage-filled identity is the flip side of the self-hatred identity.  It seeks revenge against those from whom they have experienced oppression or injustice.

c)      The victim identity is a subtle form of idolatry toward people who have misused and abused their power.  It often feels sad or depressed when it is alone or bored.

d)      The model minority identity is tempting to successful minority people: 

“This shame-based behavior must be faced and your background must be embraced if you are to make peace with yourself as a bicultural person.”

e)      The hip white person identity usually arises out of shame or guilt about one’s own culture.

f)        The white superiority identity can be very subtle.

g)      The color-blind identity assumes that race and ethnicity are unimportant.  McNeil and Richardson write: “In order to be free of their false identity, whites must choose to identify with both the good and the bad and take responsibility for their cooperation in corporate and historical expressions of evil and sin.”


  1. Receiving and Extending Forgiveness, including not only personal sin, but corporate sin as well.  They quote Martin Luther King, Jr: “The doctrine of an eye for an eye can only end in a world gone blind.”  They continue: “Unresolved pain and bitterness that result from unconfessed pride and dominance will unravel friendships and undermine lasting change….This process of extending forgiveness also allows us to bring our hurt, rage and hopelessness into the presence of God and lay it at the foot of the cross.”


One of the harder things for white people to understand is the systemic and corporate nature of racism.  Many “white folks” feel no need to ask forgiveness because they feel they have done nothing wrong, personally.  That may be true, but we still benefit from a system based on unjust choices of our ancestors.  Conversely, people of color suffer from those same unjust choices.  In the words of McNeil and Richardson: “In addition, many of us suffer (or enjoy) long term consequences of unjust choices that our forbearers made.”


  1. Denouncing Powers and Principalities


This is the supernatural dimension of racial justice and reconciliation.  The authors make an excellent case that the pervasive nature of racism can only be explained by supernatural forces of evil.  This is a tough sell in the modern scientific and technological era, however.  They write:


“Our rational Western worldview makes it difficult for us to believe in the supernatural; therefore we tend to demythologize and limit spiritual forces to the realm of material phenomena that can be explained, understood and controlled.”


On the other hand, they point out that an unhealthy focus on the demonic dimension does more harm than good.  Nevertheless, we need to name the demonic powers behind racism, the greatest of which is pride and empire.  “There is possibly no pride greater than the belief that God is just like us!”  There are three dimensions of idolatry: ideologies, instructions and images.  Genuine forgiveness and authentic reconciliation break the power of principalities and powers.  They conclude:


“It is our conviction that the gospel message in the New Testament is always proclaimed in light of the principalities and powers that enslave and divide people.”


  1. Ongoing Partnerships


We all start out ignorant, isolated and alienated from people that aren’t like us and “we are socialized to label these differences as inferior or superior, right or wrong, normal or abnormal, safe or dangerous, good or bad.”  We need to partner with others in the battle for racial justice, because we cannot overcome our innate and our learned racist tendencies on our own.  We need the help of like-minded




people to persevere in the struggle for racial justice.  The authors candidly recount some of their own experiences in this area.  They write:


“When Rick almost crashed and burned in the quest for racial and ethnic reconciliation, he discovered that white people have a certain scripted role in that struggle.  It seems that they are expected to (1) repent of their racism and (2) work behind the scenes to raise money and open organizational doors so people of color can lead.”


But people of color also have a script.  They are expected to represent their whole race, speak out for justice and focus their life on justice for their community and their people.  We need to toss out the scripts and go beyond them with authentic relationship and genuine partnership.  There is unfortunately a lack of serious thinking in this area, which is a major obstacle for evangelical Christians in racial reconciliation.  They quote N.K. Clifford:


“The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity.  Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an oversimplification of the issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection.” 


In addition, “Effective intercultural communication skills are needed.  An ability to communicate with clarity is essential for developing mutual understanding, greater cross-cultural awareness and deeper appreciation for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.”


The authors underline the fact that we do not have control over the results: “If our identity and our worth are wrapped up in our work and our success, we will rise and fall emotionally and spiritually and be ineffective in the battle for racial justice and ethnic reconciliation.”


They conclude with a call for a ministry of reconciliation that flows out of a spirituality of reconciliation.  They challenge us to:


“Go beyond the safety and familiarity of your ethnic group in order to reach your full potential as agents of reconciliation and transformation in this needy, broken and hate-ridden world.”


McNeil and Richardson believe that that moment has come for this generation.  They believe that God will use the emerging generation “to bring about spiritual healing and racial reconciliation” and that “the emerging generation has a particularly strategic part to play at this kairos moment in history.”  They cite Winston Churchill: 


“There comes a unique time in every person’s life when they are given the unique opportunity to discover the purpose for which they were born.”

This is a practical and thought-provoking book.  McNeil and Richardson offer not only a thoughtful critique of the situation but also a spiritual and practical strategy for working on it.  It is a valuable resource for anyone working in a cross-cultural ministry in this country.  Although they may need to be adapted somewhat, the principles in this book would also be very helpful for anyone working in a foreign culture.  I can recommend it highly.


                                                                                    John Ed Robertson

                                                                                    October 11, 2005


McNeil, Brenda Salter and Richardson, Rick; The Heart of Racial Justice; Inter-Varsity Press; Downers Grove, IL; 2004; ISBN 08308-3269-6