The Cost of Racial Reconciliation

Overwhelmed by the sting of unforgiveness and the tension of separation, many White and African American Christians are calling for reconciliation.

It is no surprise these contemporary followers of Christ desire restoration between the two groups; their difference in skin color does not sever their genetic bond within the human family.

Believing that all people were created in the image of God and are descendants of Adam and Eve, contemporary Christianity is invested in restoring the relationship that sin has broken. Lisa Sharon Harper in her recent book The Very Good Gospel argues that in the beginning when God declared that all He created was “very good” He made that declaration because all He created was in right relationship[1]: God was in right relationship with all things created, humanity was in right relationship with God and the Earth, and Man and Woman were in right relationship with each other. When Adam and Eve chose to trust in their own knowledge and wisdom over the precept of God their disobedience separated all of creation from their Creator and from one another. In addition, it altered how these entities would forever interact. Adam and Eve could no longer commune with God face to face. The Earth no longer cooperated with Man, but became resistant to his dominion. Distrust was birthed between Man and Woman, and ultimately all things came to distrust and naturally separate from one another. This community that operated in togetherness, on one accord, was broken on several levels because of sin. Anything that works to maintain humanity’s separation from God, self, others and the Earth is sinful.

Race as the socially constructed vernacular that categorizes people based on skin color, nationality, and place of origin is evidence of humanity’s attempt to continue to name creation but do so with the infection of sin. Racism as systems and ideologies that suggest one person is superior to another because of skin color, nationality or place of origin is sin at work. Racism is sin. It is sin because it actively works to maintain separation between differing members of the human family.

As evidenced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the work of the Gospel is to restore humanity’s relationship with God, self, one another, and the Earth. While the death and resurrection of Jesus restore humanity’s relationship with God and self, only humanity’s patterning of their lives after the life of Jesus will restore their relationship with one another and the Earth. The price for reconciling humanity back to God was expensive. It cost God Himself, the shedding of divine blood. If the cost of reconciliation between God and Man was so expensive why are our pursuits to reconcile with one another so cheap? If the cost of reconciliation between God and Man was the sacrifice of self why do we believe that we can hold fast to our preferences, our ideas, our privileges, just everything that is self-centered and still be able to truly reconcile with our fellow man?

When Race still colors our language and Racism magnetizes us to opposite poles causing us to remain separated from one another, what does reconciliation look like? In this sinful world can racism truly be overcome? As I reflect on how the theft and deception of Whites caused the separation between the races I wonder what is the cost of racial reconciliation?

Pressure from centuries of racial separation is weighing down on contemporary Christians and causing them to give in to what I believe is cheap reconciliation. Cheap reconciliation is when the victim is expected to come back into relationship with the offender purely because an acknowledgment and apology for the offense were made. Such reconciliation is birthed out of the guilt and discomfort of separation. Contemporary Christians of both the Black and White race know that it does not look good, nor is in accordance with the Word of God to remain separate so White Christians encourage their leaders to acknowledge and apologize for the sin of Racism and its manifestations like slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, and other acts of physical, psychological, and social violence. In compliance, African American Christians encourage their leaders to accept such acknowledgment and apology so that the races may join hand-in-hand and walk together in unity. This is cheap reconciliation because while it admits to the wrong, and probably promises never to do it again, the void of the injustice has not been righted. While there have been apologies for racism there has been no change in the behavior, structure, or systems that continue to deplete Black lives and privilege White lives. While there have been apologies for racism over 150 blacks have been killed by police in 2016 alone.[2] While there have been apologies for racism five-term Rep. Yvette Clarke is constantly asked to show ID when entering the U.S. Capitol.[3] While there have been apologies for racism black non-violent drug offenders are still sitting in prison with irrationally long sentences.[4] While there have been apologies for racism public schools in lower-income cities like Baltimore still lack the basic resources necessary to excel academically.[5] While there have been apologies for racism black girls make up more than one-third of all female school-based arrests while making up 16 percent of the female student population.[6] When black people continue to experience the vacuuming void of racism your payment of acknowledgment and apology as an initiation for reconciliation is cheap.

After Jacob deceived Esau and Isaac stealing Esau’s birthright and blessing, Esau became so enraged that he said in his heart “I will kill my brother Jacob.” When Rebekah, their mother and Jacob’s co-conspirator, heard this she advised Jacob to leave their family’s camp until Esau’s anger cooled down. Jacob fled the wrath of Esau and was separated from his brother for at least twenty years.[7] Having experienced the blessings and privileges of the birthright and blessing his father Isaac prayed over him Jacob initiated reconciliation with his brother Esau by sending him of the fruit of the blessing.[8] Jacob recognized that his deception and manipulation were the cause for their separation and so he sent Esau “two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys, and ten foals.”[9] And Jacob commanded that they be sent in successive droves. He also sent these gifts to quell Esau’s anger. He believed that after receiving his correspondence Esau was coming with four hundred men to destroy him. Jacob sent these gifts as an attempt to find favor and receive mercy from his brother. To Jacob’s shock, “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept…Then Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company which I met?’ And [Jacob] said, ‘These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’ And Jacob said, ‘No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. Please take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.’ So he urged, and he took it. Then Esau said, ‘let us take our journey; let us go.’”[10]

This is the cost of reconciliation: to refuse to allow any relationship to remain in a state of separation through forgiveness on the part of the victim and reparations on the part of the offender. It is the responsibility of the offender to take initiative and tangibly fill the void their deception and manipulation caused. They must not only participate in the emotional healing of their brother or sister, but they must also participate in their financial, social, psychological, physical, and spiritual healing.

Jacob participated in the emotional healing of Esau by initiating contact. As the offending party, he recognized that it was his place to reach out to Esau and seek his forgiveness and grace. Jacob realized that because the separation was his fault the initiation of reconciliation was his responsibility.

Jacob moved into costly reconciliation when he tangibly sought to fill the financial, social, physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of Esau. He mended the financial and social injustice of taking Esau’s birthright and blessing by sending him ample livestock and cattle. He participated in Esau’s psychological healing by reassuring him that he was regretful of his behavior and that he wanted, and needed, to find favor in his brother’s sight through such gifts. He participated in Esau’s physical healing by receiving Esau’s hugs and kisses. And Jacob participated in Esau’s spiritual healing by recognizing that God answered his father Isaac’s prayer and blessed him, but also “dealt graciously” with him in spite of his wicked acquisition of God’s blessings.

On the other hand, as the victim, Esau’s heart desired nothing more than restoration of the relationship. All he wanted was to be reunited with his brother. When he got word of where he was Esau immediately left to go and reconcile. He did not wait for the gifts that Jacob sent, nor did he demand them. All he longed for was an end to their separation. Esau received Jacob’s gifts because he recognized that it was necessary for Jacob’s healing.

I believe this story reveals the cost of racial reconciliation. As the party who deceived and manipulated to gain wealth and prestige, whites must desire relationships with blacks so much so that they are willing to initiate that reconciliation and do whatever it takes to find favor in the sight of their black brothers and sisters. They must accept that the anger of their black brothers is justified and that it is their responsibility to quell that anger by giving blacks the blessings they have received as a result of the deception and manipulation that is racism (and all its lasting effects – white privilege). Whites must understand that as the offender it is their responsibility to participate in the emotional, financial, social, psychological, physical, and spiritual healing of their black brothers and sisters. All of this should be birthed out of a deep conviction and desire to be reunited with their brothers and sisters.

On the other hand, Blacks must allow God to give them a truly forgiving heart that desires reconciliation with their White brother’s so much so that upon initial contact they embrace them. Esau did not condemn, berate, or chastise Jacob. He didn’t bring up the incident, nor did he demand Jacob give him what was due him. All Esau did when Jacob reached out to him was love him.

The story of Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation shows that the cost of racial reconciliation is two-fold. It requires that Whites initiate reconciliation with a contrite spirit, while actively working to right the injustices done to Blacks in very tangible ways that affect them socially, financially, psychologically, physically and spiritually. Secondly, it requires that Blacks possess and unexplainable spirit of forgiveness that does not even expect reparations, but instead seeks only to love and embrace their White brothers and sisters.
Just as Christ sacrificed himself in life and in death so that humanity could be reconciled with God, we too, as partakers in His death and practitioners of His life, must sacrifice ourselves – whether oppressor or oppressed – for the Gospel work that is costly reconciliation. A reconciliation that rights wrongs and loves the wrong-doer.


[1] Harper, Lisa Sharon. The Very Good Gospel. New York: WaterBrook, 2016. p. 31-32

[2] “The Counted: People killed by police in the U.S.” http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database.

[3] Viebeck, Elise. “Five-term Rep. Yvette Clarke still gets asked for her ID entering the U.S. Capitol.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/08/02/rep-yvette-clarke-wants-to-make-it-clear-why-shes-here/.

[4] “A Living Death: Life Without Parole For Nonviolent Offenses.” https://www.aclu.org/report/living-death-life-without-parole-nonviolent-offenses.

[5] Watkins, D. “The School of Failure.” The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2015. p.

[6] Morrison, Monique W. Pushout: The Criminalization of Girls in Schools. New York: The New York Press, 2016. p. 3

[7] Gen. 25-32 NKJV

[8] Gen. 32:3-5 NKJV

[9] Gen. 32:14-15 NKJV

[10] Gen. 33:4,8-12 NKJV


Claudia Allen is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, pursuing a PhD in English. Claudia specializes in 19th and 20th century African-American Literature. Interested in the intersectionality of Race, Literature and Theology, Claudia's research interests include the racialization of Christ in Harlem Renaissance literature, the nature of God as described in African-American women's literature and black preaching.

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