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The Bible & Theology Toward Christian Maturity

A Reconciliation Movement

Conference invites church leaders to engage their congregations in a journey around racial reconciliation

By Tori Hoffman | Photos by Daniel Sheehan

Brenda Salter McNeilBrenda Salter McNeil, associate professor of reconciliation studies (above, center) and Soong-Chan Rah (below, left) were the keynote speakers for the Church Leaders Forum held this February on Racial Reconciliation and the Church.

Speaking to the Seattle Pacific University community and church leaders gathered at First Free Methodist Church, Soong-Chan Rah used a bowl of marbles as an analogy for a person’s surroundings. He asked how people who surround themselves only with similar people plan to engage a changing world.

“You become what you surround yourself with,” Rah said. “In this very diverse world that we live in, how are we going to listen to each other, learn from each other, and be in community together?”

As the keynote speakers for Seattle Pacific University’s two-part Church Leaders Forum in February, Rah, who is serving as an adjunct professor in Seattle Pacific Seminary’s Asian American Ministry Program, and Brenda Salter McNeil, associate professor of reconciliation studies, preached on texts from the Old Testament prophets. Out of those texts, they challenged Seattle church leaders to connect God’s concern for justice and reconciliation to the ministry of discipleship and worship in their churches.

Rah invited listeners to step out of their walls of familiarity, to surround themselves with people unlike themselves, and to confront hard topics.

Reading from the book of Lamentations, Rah urged Christians today to focus on problems of racial division rather than running away from them, just as Jeremiah was forced to lament and face his problems.

“How do you say we are not going to run away and hide?” Rah posed. “We change the narrative by engaging with the other in such a deep and profound way that our lives are completely changed.”

For her keynote address two weeks later on Feb. 23, Salter McNeil focused on the idea of deserved justice. Teaching from the story of Jonah, Salter McNeil urged the crowd to seriously question if they deserve to be blessed. While many would say, “Well yes we do,” Salter McNeil challenged audience members to reflect on their own lives and determine who their Ninevites are — the hated, oppressed, and marginalized people in their lives.

“God is testing our justice,” she said. “Who are our Ninevites? God says, ‘Just what I want for you, I want for them.’”

As an active author, speaker, and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the fields of racial, ethnic, and gender reconciliation, Salter McNeil teaches SPU undergraduate and seminary students to become more effective leaders in diverse, multiethnic churches, communities, and organizations.<<

Continuing this quarter’s focus on racial reconciliation in SPU's weekly chapel service, the Church Leaders Forum aimed to provide next steps for church leaders with a luncheon and follow-up forum with the speakers after each chapel service.

The Asian American Ministry Program hosted the forum in partnership with SPU’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development, and the Office of University Ministries.

According to Director of Asian American Ministry Program and Seattle Pacific Seminary Billy Vo, the forum was designed to help Seattle area church leaders, their staff, and congregations think about racial justice and reconciliation in practical terms.

“Too often, these conversations remain theoretical,” Vo says. “So we wanted to engage in conversation around the pastoral implications of racial reconciliation. This includes helping pastors to name where they are on the reconciliation journey, and to capture a vision for what it would mean for their congregation to mobilize for racial justice.”

Soong Chan Rah Soong-Chan Rah (left) spoke at the Church Leaders Forum on Racial Reconciliation and the Church.

Chapel serviceBrenda Salter McNeil at the Church Leaders Forum on Racial Reconciliation and the Church in February.