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The Power of Reconciliation by Justin Welby

27 May 2022

Stephen Cherry reads the Archbishop’s new book on reconciliation

THIS book, though written when the Archbishop of Canterbury was on sabbatical at Trinity College, Cambridge, is far from being a cloistered or academic. The Power of Reconciliation is, rather a three-way hybrid of testimony, autobiography, and workbook. Its intended readership is Christian and global, but, since the good news of reconciliation is for all, so the book is for all.

The best way to read this book, I suggest, is not to see whether you think the Archbishop is right about reconciliation, but to get a deeper feel for what he means by it, why he cares so much about it as to risk his life for it, and to glean insights into what might actually work when it comes to reconciling people in your own situation.

By “reconciliation” Justin Welby means the transformation of damaging conflict into healthy disagreement. He sees it as peace-making and describes reconcilers as facilitators. Like many who have done the hard yards in this zone, he is not sentimental about outcomes. He doesn’t think that disagreements will cease; and it is for that very reason that we need to learn how to relate well to those with whom we disagree. But, equally, he isn’t one who thinks that grand statements agreed by a few, or fuzzy compromises forged out the mistaken efforts to blunt difference, are worth while either.

A long essay would need to be written to explain why Welby is so passionate about reconciliation, and this book certainly gives the theological rationale. He understands the Trinitarian God to be the ultimate reconciler, not in a disconnected sense, but in and through the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit — the Spirit that calls each and every person to the work of reconciliation.

Such work doesn’t involve standing back from conflict or failing to take positions or make statements that might be controversial or uncomfortable. Reconcilers, too, must enter conflict and experience the pain that it causes. But they must also, both by method, and also by prayer, seek to go through it to the point where people and relationships are given their proper priority and dignity. Conflicts may not be resolved — but people may be reconciled. And so it is that the Archbishop didn’t spend his sabbatical writing a book called The Power of Truth, or the The Power of Justice, or even the The Power of Mission. It is in reconciliation that Welby sees the core of the Christian calling.

The book is in three sections, and there are takeaway points throughout. In section one, the warnings against “overreach” and “overspeed” are salutary and addressed by the suggestion that any reconciler needs to have the virtues of patience and humility. Part two focuses on an approach to reconciliation pioneered in Coventry. This is based on six words, all of which begin with the letter “R”: “researching”, “relating”, “relieving”, “risking”, “reconciling”, and “resourcing”.

The third part promotes the “Difference” course that has been developed by the reconciliation team at Lambeth and is based on three habits: “Curiosity”, “Presence”, and “Reimagining”. While some books peter out before they finish, this one keeps going to the end, and the third section offers some of the more rewarding pages in the book, especially in the vital and topical “Presence” section.

Like most people, the Archbishop is better company when he is relating experiences than when he is informing and instructing, and there are times when the imperatives feel a little bit bossy and the analysis rather clipped — a bullet point standing in for a short paragraph. But the reader who steps back and feels the passion, absorbs the challenge, and accepts the articulation of a call to say “no” to hatred, to violence, and to a zero-sum approach to life will be much encouraged and better equipped to understand conflict, embrace difference, and facilitate reconciliation, whether in a small or a great way.

The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry is the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge.


The Power of Reconciliation
Justin Welby
Bloomsbury £17.99
Church Times Bookshop £14.99

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