“I don’t agree with your belief that reconciliation is always possible.”

I was told this as I was saying goodbye. The words confirmed to me that saying goodbye was the right choice.

The statement has haunted me for nearly two years. I think the viewpoint is wrong and only leads to twisting what reconciliation really is about. At worst it leads to the hope of restoration becoming a weapon rather than an act of love.

I heard this statement in the context of a decision which upended the life of someone in the church. How could someone using the title pastor not believe that reconciliation is always on the table—unless they personally take it away?  

Here’s what happens. Someone supposedly breaks a rule. Discussions take place and ultimately forgiveness and reconciliation are offered—or withheld. Often, the offer comes with all manner of hoops to jump through or strings attached. Either way the person who is accused of breaking the rule leaves the situation feeling beat down and shamed. Welcome to today’s evangelicalism.

I’m sad to say I’ve seen this process from both sides—as a both a person in a leadership role and as a congregant. I’ve learned that when a church is unwilling to do the hard work of reconciliation they say “We forgive you. Now please leave.” Bit of a mixed message, isn’t it?

Reconciliation is likely uncharted waters. There’s no map and no time limit on how long it should take. I’m sorry if you’ve been working 14 months towards the goal. Perhaps there’s more for you to learn. It might take 14 days or 14 more months or even longer. Deal with it.

An ear ready to listen and actually hear the other party is most helpful. Perhaps it’s time to start fresh and pay attention. An apology will go a long way.

If Christians base their spiritual lives on reconciliation why do they give up on it so easily? I’ve seen people shunned for disagreeing with the most ridiculous rules. This evil practice sets the people who stay above those sent away. The psychological abuse is unbelievably cruel. And the in-church messaging—"don’t speak to them,” “don’t check on them,” “pray for them,” “they’re under church discipline,”—only prolongs the harsh treatment of the one cast aside.

So pastor, ministry leader, deacon, team member, lay pastor…stop playing the game of self-protection and beware of the group-think atmosphere you are fostering in your church. Please do not cut off communication with those you have a problem with. It’s your responsibility to bring reconciliation—especially to those who are seeking it. Let the process take as long as it does. Do not shut people out.

“But you don’t understand. You’re misinformed.” Save it. I don’t want to hear why I’m wrong and you’re actions are justified. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are called to make things right—no matter how toxic you may think things might be. How big is your God, really?

You can’t start to repair things if you don’t engage. Put away your anger and get to work. You represent Jesus and he doesn’t send people away.

Reconciliation is always possible. Now step up and make it happen.