Reconciliation by Adjustment

By Nancy Thompson

As a bankruptcy attorney, I’m often struck by the similarities between concepts important to my faith and my legal work. How these concepts work in “real life” even helps explain their meaning to Christians.  For example, understanding exactly how Christ’s birth, life and death redeemed us can be hard to grasp until you see redemption being used in bankruptcy. Debtors can pay a price for property they value so it won’t be lost to them, just as Christ paid a price to keep us from being lost.

Likewise, God’s command to the Israelites that they observe a year of Jubilee so that debts could be forgiven and property rights restored brings to mind the “fresh start” concept that’s key to federal bankruptcy law. In fact, the purpose of bankruptcy — to allow for the forgiveness of debt– is a great illustration of grace.  I frequently tell clients that, as a big proponent of grace, being a bankruptcy lawyer is a great way for me to help debtors obtain the grace I think they should be given.     

Another one of those crossover concepts is reconciliation. In Christ, the world was reconciled to God but the importance of reconciliation for all of us was made clear when Christ taught in his Sermon on the Mount that “if you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person.” In other words, drop everything and go make peace if someone is angry.

Sadly, many people think reconciliation means little more than avoiding conflict and interaction with others so we can all just get along. It’s as though peace among different ethnicities and nationalities can be achieved by just staying away from each other or by building literal or figurative walls. If we don’t see the racial or social problems of others maybe they won’t exist. This helps explain why there are such stark differences among blacks and whites about the perception of race relations in America. All polling data indicates the percentage of black Americans who see racial conflict and strife in their communities is significantly higher than the percentage of whites. Those with first-hand experience are for more likely to recognize that a problem exists.

In the law (and in accounting), adjustment is almost always needed to achieve a reconciliation. We make adjustments to numbers or accounts or positions. Settlements almost never happen without compromise. Black’s Law Dictionary (the lawyer’s Webster’s) defines reconciliation as “an adjustment of accounts so that they agree.” Within Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) we have a history of asking people to make adjustments for the sake of reconciliation. Following racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, CBF Heartland facilitated discussion about changes needed to promote social and criminal justice for everyone. Shortly before Thanksgiving, CBF released a list of resources churches could use to explore their response to the Syrian refugee crisis. By promoting love over fear CBF offered churches support in identifying the adjustments needed to reach reconciliation on the topic of immigration. The resources could also be used by churches seeking a proactive response to the refugee crisis by offering shelter and aid. CBF Heartland and the national CBF staff are involved in advocacy work intended to stem payday lending abuses that contribute to economic injustice in poor communities.  Each of these CBF initiatives heeds Christ’s call to help people be reconciled to each other.

Last June I, along with others from CBF Heartland, traveled to Slovakia to spend a week with CBF field personnel ministering to the Roma, Europe’s largest ethnic minority group. Numbering almost twelve million people, the Roma face discrimination and injustice I was stunned to see still existed in the 21st century. I felt as if I’d traveled back in time to a day when segregation and intentional discrimination was not only commonplace but sanctioned by authorities. But when I returned home and heard talk of walls being built and laws being enacted to keep people away from us, I realized some adjustment isn’t just needed halfway around the world. I also realized I need to constantly ask myself what I should be doing to work for reconciliation.