The Journey of Reconciliation: Book Review

Pamela Couture from the University of Toronto recently reviewed The Journey of Reconciliation for the American Academy of Religion.

Here is the Review:
In The Journey of Reconciliation, Emmanuel Katongole invites the reader not only to understand with their mind but to open wide their soul—to bare that place of heartfelt vulnerability where the deepest wounds of violence fester—and to receive the gift of reconciliation that heals and bears “the new creation.” For Katongole, a native of Uganda and Associate Professor of World Religions and World Church at Notre Dame University, only this invitation and gift, not the secular skills and programs of transitional justice, can heal the deepest wounds of Africa and replace its culture of violence with a culture of peace.

Katongole elaborates this thesis in three parts. In “Reconciling All Things,” reconciliation is not an event but a journey that recognizes African trauma, violence, disease, war, poverty, and greed in memory and lament. But, where much of the world completes its image of Africa at this point, Katongole continues the journey of God and God’s people toward reconciliation through hope, advocacy, and intimacy. Some wounds, such as those in Rwanda after 1994, provoke a widespread silence: God remains present to this sacred memory until wounds begin to heal and silence can be broken. God’s presence as communicated through sacraments of baptism, eucharist, and penance makes deep and throughgoing reconciliation possible.

In “For the Life of the World: The Church as Sacrament of God’s Reconciliation in the World,” Katongole explores the eccesial ramifications of this theology of reconcilation. Christian identity dissolves ethnicity, tribe, and culture. People whose ecclesial identity overtakes these so-called “natural” contingencies are willing to lay down their lives for their friends—in martyrdom. As an example, Katongole cites Rwandans who refused to cooperate with soldiers’ who separated Tutsi and Hutu. They stood as one, claimed their Christian identity, and were murdered. By their deaths, they testify to the principle that political and military powers cannot define the enemy for the Christian.

In “Improvising New Creation: On Being Ambassadors of New Creation in a Divided World,” Katongole describes two Roman Catholic bishops and one Baptist medical couple who provided theological witness to the power of religious faith to motivate leadership for peace in the Great Lakes region of Africa. In this section, he describes the African “tribe” as a political, rather than linguistic, ethnic or cultural unit. He profoundly writes that “modern political space (the nation-state) in Africa is ‘imagined’ and thus configured as a space, within which African individuals can be recognized and thus access political rights and privileges only as a member of a tribe or ethnic group, which group is set up in an imaginary competition with other tribes, whose members must be excluded from accessing what seem to be limited political rights and privileges. Thus, rather than being the savior from tribal chaos, the modern nation-state in Africa imagines and thus reproduces tribalism as an enduring feature of modern politics in Africa” (161).

This political reality thrives in the newest manifestation of violent colonial realities, such as those inherited in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from King Leopold, Belgium, and Mobutu. The theology of reconciliation, in word and deed, must confront this reality.

As an American scholar who teaches African students in Canada and who has written on religious peacebuilding in partnership with a Methodist Congolese community, I, and I believe my African colleagues and students, would concur with Katongole’s fundamental premises. Those who wish to contribute to a culture of peace in Africa must connect with the depth of African spirituality, which Africans inhale and exhale with every breath. African culture is one of invitation and gift, qualities that Katongole defines as love of God and love of neighbor. In the DRC, the most successful peacebuilders are motivated by their theological concern for reconciliation and peace in their country and have risked their lives. I would diverge from Katongole by noting that those Africans who are not Christians still recognize the authority of spiritual leaders, a fact that many secular nongovernmental organizations miss. Many Africans I know assume that many faiths can live together by recognizing spiritual leadership. As a theologian, and since Katongole includes a Baptist case study, I would ask whether he can explicitly reconceive the categories of catholicity and eccesiology to include those Christians who are Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or of African indigenous Christian traditions. Furthermore, he includes an interfaith example, so could he reimagine the theological basis of reconcilation to explicitly include Islam?

We would all appreciate hearing additional stories of Africans who have embodied a culture of peace. Such examples counter the image that no such Africans exist—that only the international community can save Africa. Indeed, the redemption of the people and nations of Africa is first and foremost in the hands of such villagers and leaders, through whom, my African colleagues and I would say, God is working.

Katongole makes the case that Christian identity, at least in theory, supercedes political identity and that the theology of reconciliation must confront the reality that “tribe” demands loyalty because it forms political identity. I would ask Katongole to consider whether in some regions, ecclesial leaders generally align with tribal leaders, even though many Christian groups may be represented among the people. What penance must the churches in Africa perform so that the church catholic can herald the new creation?

Deeply theological and yet aimed toward practice, this profound book will be well received by scholars and teachers of religious peacebuilding or theologies of reconciliation or ecclesiology.

This review was originally posted on the American Academy of Religion website: http://readingreligion.org/books/journey-reconciliation
http://http://readingreligion.org/books/journey-reconciliation