The background to the book
As he explains in his introduction to his new book The Power of Reconciliation,  the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been ‘a practitioner in the area of reconciliation for many years.’ (p.12) He was involved in the work for reconciliation undertaken by Coventry Cathedral and its International Centre for Reconciliation from 2002-2007, and he has kept up his interest and involvement in this area in the years since.
As he also explains in his introduction, the starting point for his work in the field of reconciliation is the belief that:
‘….it would be a better world in which diversity is a treasure, not a threat, and radically different views could be freely expressed without destructive behaviours. Competition among human beings is good, a gift to drive us onwards and give the desire to excel. Yet to seek not only to do better than a rival but to destroy them is foolishness, for in such a world all lose.’ (p.12)
In his view, the practice of reconciliation can help to achieve this better world. This is because:
‘Reconciliation enables harmonious difference in a way that enables all parties to flourish: reconciliation is the activity that leads towards peace, concord, the common good and well-being.’ (p.11)
The purpose of his new book is to explain in more detail what reconciliation involves and how it can be put into practice in ways that address the issues facing individuals, communities, institutions, countries and the world as a whole at the present time.
The contents of the book
The book consists of fourteen chapters which are grouped into three parts.
Part I (chapters 1-3) explores ‘what reconciliation is and why it is so rare ‘ (p.13).
Chapter 1, ‘What is reconciliation?’, begins by explaining that ‘peacebuilding and reconciliation’ (which Welby views as synonymous) involve:
‘…seeking relationships at all areas of human life that are resilient enough to have disagreement without destruction, victory without triumphalism, concessions without degradation. Reconciliation is the long drawn-out process, extending sometimes over generations, which seeks to achieve that end.
Peace is not found by avoiding conflict but by disagreeing well.’ (p.16)
Welby then notes that we live in a world in which reconciliation is:
‘…. treated as unattainable, not least because it is misunderstood. Like many virtues, reconciliation and peace are idealized in imagination, politically unexamined in applied theory and ignored in practice. Reconciliation is treated as a serious solution to destructive conflict when all else has failed and victory is impossible for all involved.’ (p.19)
However, he says:
‘It need not be so. There are remarkable examples at all levels of reconciliation from the geopolitical to the intimate within the household.’ (p.19)
Welby goes on to argue that the reason that people engage in destructive conflict is because their sense of personal identity, whether inherited, imposed, or chosen, combined with notions of honour and shame pit individuals and groups against each other. What is needed instead is a different sense of identity, what Welby calls a ‘relational identity.’ This is a form of identity which:
‘…is not found in a passive acceptance of how I am born, nor in a passionate rebellion against the fate I have been dealt, or in conformity to self-aggrandizing ideas of honour and shame, but in extreme and joyful acceptance of mutual responsibility with those unlike me, in need of me and whom I need even though I may not be aware of it. It is in such responsibility and joy that we find reconciliation.’ (p.31 italics in the original).
Welby next warns against the common idea that ‘reconciliation is an event that takes place quickly and then everyone moves on’ (p.31). This, he declares, is a ‘shallow approach’ to reconciliation that involves either ‘overreach’ (‘the setting of entirely unrealistic goals’) or ‘overspeed’ (the assumption that reconciliation is something that can be achieved in an unrealistically short period of time).
He also warns against the idea that reconciliation involves compromise ‘in which nobody is really happy, and we all pretend to agree’ (p.35) In reality:
‘Reconciliation demands truth and justice, recognition and expression of anger. Forgiveness is only real when freely offered without manipulation, and freely received without compulsion. Reconciliation accepts difference because in God we see difference in perfect unity. It is costly because God won it only through sacrificing Jesus -God – on the cross. It is liberation and joy as the resurrection liberated Christ from death. It will be completed, and all will be well, all will be in the light, and all indignity, injustice and oppression will be overcome in the end. In the meantime we travel determinedly and hopefully.’(p.35)
Chapter 2 goes on to consider ‘The hindrances to reconciliation.’ In this chapter Welby asks the question:
‘What makes people act against their own happiness, their own hopes, their own interests, so that rather than choose to search for ways to live in harmony, at least in some kind of working relationship across difference, they engage in mutual destruction?’ (p.42)
He suggests that there are four answers:
‘First, as we have seen, reconciliation always involves sacrifice and thus requires a willingness to give something up. Second, reconciliation challenges our explicit or implicit sense of honour and shame. Third, in reconciliation we often forget the impact of long-term trauma and conflict on the whole human being through changes in the neurochemistry, with impacts that are even transgenerational. Fourth, reconciliation is a long-term process and it is natural to look for short-term fixes to problems that will take years or even generations to resolve. ‘ (pp.42-43)
He also warns that as in medical treatment it is necessary to ‘always complete the course.’ (p.36) What he means by this is that because of the hindrances to reconciliation previously mentioned reconciliation is not a quick or simple fix:
‘Reconciliation takes a very long time and to some extent is treatment for the chronic disease of power seeking, of relationship breakdown and of the desire to dominate that so easily becomes part of the human condition.
Reconciliation is a combination of treatments. Mediation may enable a ceasefire or calm a community quarrel enough for longer-term work on meeting, rebuilding relationships and further mediation focused on the underlying issues.
The greatest danger is to think something is complete and to cease to pay attention to the issues that make differences so hard to handle.’ (p.56-57)
In chapter 3, ‘Changing the heart,’ Welby concludes Part I by exploring what resources are needed to enable a process of reconciliation to take place.
The first thing that is needed, he suggests, is ‘a leap of moral imagination towards a possibility previously unimaginable, a structure for peaceful and reconciled disagreement that is radically different from the experience of destructive conflict.’ (p.60)
Secondly there needs to be a holistic approach which includes everyone involved in a situation of conflict and not just leaders or activists and which addresses all the issues involved. In Welby’s words ‘Peacebuilding in every situation must be top down, middle out and bottom up, all at once, all linked and all inclusive.’ (p.64)
Thirdly, working effectively for reconciliation involves ‘assembling a team and having the humility or ethos among its members to be willing to share the way forward.’ (p.65)
Fourthly, there needs to be a commitment to ‘truth and transparency’ about the nature and causes of a situation of conflict which involves:
‘….the seeking of a joint understanding at best, or at least an understanding of the position of the other. To be able to tell the other’s story and to give an account of their view, even when disagreement is profound, is a major step on the journey of reconciliation.’ (p71)
Fifthly and finally, a process of reconciliation involves a proper recognition of the complexity of the reasons why a conflict exists: ‘For someone facilitating the process or for the parties there are no excuses: complexity has to be faced. You cannot heal what you have not identified.’ (p.75)
Part II, consisting of chapters 4-9, outlines ‘a pattern of working at any level of dispute’ based on the model developed by those engaged in the reconciliation work of Coventry cathedral. This approach:
‘…is based around six words beginning with R. They are not sequential, you don’t do one and then the other, but like a juggler you start with one and end with all going at once. That is essential to any peace-building. Each R deals with an aspect of being human and struggling with conflict. To drop or forget one is to become mechanistic, which always leads to failure.’ (p.76)
Peacemakers involved following this approach also need to follow the example of Jesus by being ‘knowable and transparent in who they are’ (p.78). This means they have to be open and honest with regards to their own history, their funding and their motivation.’ (p.78) In addition, they must: ‘work in the background.’ Like Jesus ‘They come to serve; glory is for others.’ (p.78)
Chapter 4 is concerned with ‘Researching or how to become consciously ignorant.’ According to Welby, this first R needs to involve preliminary desk-based study, interviews ((preferably undertaken in pairs) and beginning ‘to populate a map of the conflict’ (p.83). This third element will involve asking:
‘Who are the key parties? Since when have they been involved? Who are and have been the leaders? What is the timeline? What are the key environmental, cultural and other contextual factors? Who are the shadow players with influence but less obvious presence? Who are the spoilers who have a vested interest in the conflict continuing or even getting worse? (p.82)
The key sign that research has borne fruit and that the peacemakers can move to the second R is that: ‘they can tell the story of the conflict from the from the different perspectives of those involved in the process, in a way that each of them can recognise.’ (p.96)
Chapter 5 looks at ‘Relating – the power of love.’ In this chapter Welby argues that just as God acts in love to break down the barriers between himself and his human creatures so also peacemakers must act in love:
‘The role of the people and groups that facilitate reconciliation is not a functional and mechanical one characterized by technique, but a relational one characterised by love. Of course, love is not all we need (sorry, the Beatles), but any action not based in love and driven by love is, to quote St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, nothing but a sounding gong or a clanging symbol. It is noise without substance.’ (p.102)
Such relational love requires patience, it is ‘represented by long term commitment’ (p.107) and that commitment ‘must be organizational, not just individual.’ (p.108) This last point is because:
‘Relationships need nurturing. No individual can manage the commitment and be sure to be available as much as is required. However, it is possible to create institutional links where trust is created over time by a consistent and patient commitment through a group.’ (p.108)
Finally, acting in love will means recognising that:
‘There are some people who, in police terms, need to be removed from a conflict if there is to be hope of reconciliation. That removal is a demonstration of a love for the majority whom they may influence by fear or favour. To bring them into reconciliation the worst of the spoilers have to be faced and not included in the process.’ (p.111)
At the end of this chapter there is an exercise which asks the reader to think about how to undertake research and who to build relationships within a situation where there is tension between the churches in an Anglican group ministry caused by the influx of asylum seekers into a town and a proposal to build new housing.
Chapter 6, ‘Relieving need – love made visible,’ notes that acting to relieve need is ‘what makes relationships solid’ (p.118). Acting in this way fulfils God’s purpose of sending Jesus into the world so that people might have ‘abundant life.’ In Welby’s words:
‘Abundant life is declared in John 10.10 by Jesus as the reason for his coming into the world. The finding of abundance is at the heart of God’s purpose in reconciling humans to God and, by extension, to one another. It is not enough merely to stop fighting and quarrelling. Abundant life is seen as a vast diversity of character, and custom, a diversity that is negotiated in our world through the expression of love and a constant sense of curiosity about others, compassion for them in need, and attention to every need they have.’ (p.120)
In addition, writes Welby:
‘Part of the third R of relieving is that it calls us to reconciliation in the form of partnership with others who are seeking to relieve need, and in humility in seeking for each partner to do what they do best.’ (p.122 italics in the original)
At the end of the chapter readers are invited to consider the needs that need to be met in the situation described in the exercise at the end of chapter 5 and who needs to be involved in doing this.
Chapter 7, is about ‘Risk.’ In it, Welby explores the fact that peacebuilding and reconciliation involve ‘judgements and choices’ (p.131) and the risks that these bring with them.
The first risk is the risk to those seeking to facilitate reconciliation:
‘Any kind of reconciliation, especially mediation, brings the risk of much psychological and emotional pain and occasionally the risk of physical harm.’ (p.134)
The second is:
‘…the risk of the consequences of decisions. Actions and omissions have consequences, and once past the events of the action or omission, the consequences will come in one way or another. They may be mitigated or changed, but other things will have to happen as a result of what we do and don’t do.’ (p.139)
Welby gives as an example of this second risk, the risk of deciding whether or not to hold a meeting in the course of a reconciliation process (for instance whether to hold a conference on climate change) since both meeting and not meeting will carry its own risks.
To address this second risk Welby suggests the use of a ‘Risk Allocation Matrix’ to try to work out what the risks are and how they might be mitigated. He also notes that mitigating risk ‘involves developing resilience among those involved in the dispute so that the process is not toppled over by a setback’ (p.145)
In Chapter 8, ‘Reconciling – the long journey,’ Welby begins by explaining again that reconciliation:
‘….is not series of compromises to reach a weak middle ground on which all stand, equally unhappily and with no basis for action together. That is kicking the can down the road, or into the long grass or wherever. Fuzziness of that sort is the evasion of the challenge of difference. What should be sought as a transparent and clear eyed blessing and welcome of diversity so that all, without exception, may have an equal opportunity to flourish as individuals and groups. Reconciliation is also, especially, not the signing of a peace agreement or some other kind of accord, and assuming ‘that is that, deal done, problem solved’’ (p.149)
What reconciliation is (and why it is difficult and takes so long):
‘… is the transformation of every part of a person and group.
There will be a need to see some opponents differently, at least the ones who are themselves willing to be involved in the process. Seeing people and groups differently is not necessarily seeing them as good but, at the least, as people with whom to engage if possible.
There will be need to forgo some aspects of the conflict, especially violence or its threat and other forms of deeply destructive behaviour. The process will have to lead to a change of heart as well as commitment to the journey. Changing hearts takes a very long time even in the simplest of cases. It is difficult and demanding for all involved.’ (pp.149-150)
As Welby sees it, reconciliation thus understood will need to involve:
‘…. a fresh approach to justice, and a realistic search for truth. Myths will be exposed. Long-held assumptions will be progressively changed by continued contact and relationship building. A dispute that has naturally focused on what was objectionable about the other may well begin to change into a more or less friendly partnership looking outwards to the world around and seeking to bless it.’ (p.150)
Welby goes on to suggest that the story of the post-resurrection encounter between Peter and Jesus by the Sea of Galilee recorded in John 21 provides a helpful perspective on the issue of how to address issues of truth and justice in the context of a process of reconciliation. He notes that in this encounter:
‘Justice is done, truth is revealed. Peter does not have failure swept under the carpet but rather it is clearly exposed, truthfully addressed and justly dealt with, by the perfectly just God who has shown Peter what it is to fail and be restored. Truth and justice are met in love, and the result is healing and a future.’ (p.161)
The lesson Welby takes from this story is that:
‘Truth and justice are central to the character of God in what we see by God being revealed through Jesus. Wisdom in timing, in place and in manner of dealing with sin and failure puts them in a context of safety and security, not a context of uncertainty and revenge. That has to be true of any process of reconciliation, even more so once we take account of the fragility of human nature, of our proclivity to confuse justice with what we want to come and truth with what we perceive.
The facilitator – however large and complicated or small and simple the dispute – whether it has the violence of guns or the savagery of words and hatreds has to take as a central aim the establishment of a ‘Galilee beach:’ a place of peace and security where truth and justice are seen and recognised.’ (pp.161-162)
Welby also suggests those facilitating reconciliation should consider exercises in which people are invited to consider a ‘dark age’ that they would like to see and a ‘golden age’ that they would and do ‘history backwards’ by imagining how each might have come to pass (pp.163-164). As Welby sees it:
‘The underlying purpose of the exercises is to make space for the moral imagination. The question for each side is: ‘What would a truly good society look like?’ at the beginning the answer from every side is very likely to be: ‘One in which we are in total control.’ The introduction of further questions, the mixing in of direct talks and time spent in imagining the future and the ways forward will remind participants of what they are seeking, enable unrealistic goals (e.g. complete victory) to be challenged, and open the way to non-binding discussions of what is good, preparing the way for the decisions emerging from negotiations.’ (p.165)
Welby completes the chapter by suggesting that a reconciliation process will need to have numerous tracks in order to ensure all parties are properly included in the process and by noting the questions that need to be asked before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is established.
Chapter 9 is called ‘Supplies for the journey – Resourcing.’ In this chapter Welby explains that for reconciliation to take root, rather than becoming unhealthily dependent on the continuing presence and work of outside facilitators:
‘Those in the conflict need to develop new ways of working, the capacity for moral imagination, the instincts that create possibilities of disagreeing well. They need changed hearts.’ (p.172)
The result of this change of heart needs to be ‘human beings who grow in diversity and bring all their rich differences together for the common good.’ (p.172-173). For Welby the model for this is the vision for the Church revealed by Jesus in word and action in John 17:1-26 and 20:19-23.
This vision is of a ‘new humanity abounding in diversity in a world conformed to the love of God and seeking and desiring God with every part of human existence and every last ounce of strength’ (p.174) and of the Church being equipped by the Spirit ‘to carry on the work of testifying to Jesus, of transforming the world, of cooperating with God in the reconciliation of all things’ (p.174) Furthermore:
‘The vision is collective not individualistic. The prayer and the gift of the Spirit is for all who believe in Jesus, not for all those who believe AND qualify in some other way.’ (p.174 capitals in the original)
Welby goes on say that the aim of resourcing as the sixth R is to ‘begin a culture of reconciliation and leave it with the potential to become the natural way of handling things (p.177)
He puts forward as an example of what such a culture would like the ‘Coventry Way’ developed by Coventry Cathedral. This involves ‘a spirituality of reconciliation based on three concentric circles of relationship, widening out like the ripples of a pond’ (p.177). The first circle is about the development of a personal spiritual life based on the recognition that ‘in Christ we are forgiven, born again and able to begin his resurrection life’ (p.177). The second circle is concerned with ‘the way in which a local worshipping community builds up and encourages habits of reconciliation within itself and its life in the world.’ (p.179). The third circle is ‘about engagement with the world around’ and is about how ‘a community of reconciled reconcilers, who deal with issues inside their own institution, equip each other to be active in reconciliation wherever their daily lives take them.’ (p.180)
As examples of the sort of engagement just mentioned Welby cites the involvement of the Church in the ending of apartheid, the support of churches for homeless shelters, food banks and street Pastors, activity to combat the influence of gangs, and involvement in issues such as nuclear disarmament, economic and racial injustice and climate change. He also notes the Church of England’s involvement in ‘a project called /together, which seeks, in many different ways, to challenge the deep differences that have grown up in society over the last decade or so.’ (p.181)
Welby also notes that in relation to the need for reconciliation ‘of human beings with the natural environment’ (p.183) the requirement to achieve a ‘decisive fall to near net-zero carbon emissions’ (p.183) by 2050 can only be achieved internationally by a ‘general political agreement on principles and commitment of political capital now for the generations yet unborn.’ (p.183)
At the end of the chapter Welby encourages the reader to consider again the case study set out in previous chapters. He suggests that progress towards reconciliation has been made but is still fragile and suggests the reader thinks about ‘What resources does it need in all the different areas to keep going? How can it celebrate progress and journey still to be completed?’
Part III, chapters 10-14, looks at the Difference Course which was developed by the reconciliation team at Lambeth Palace as a resource to enable ‘people to think for themselves about their attitude to those who are considered by the individual or society at large to be other’ (p. 189)
In chapter 10, ‘Difference should make us curious’ Welby argues that the right starting point for overcoming the ‘distance’ that separates people from the ‘the other’ is curiosity. This is because ‘Being curious brings people nearer as we begin to engage with them in order to understand their concerns and their priorities. Far more than that, it puts them in the category of those whose good we seek’ (p.194). He then explains that the Difference cause has five sessions on the topic of being curious.
Session 1 considers whether our sources of information as those called to be peace builders and reconcilers includes ‘those with who we disagree’ (p.196)
Session 2 considers the need to cross divides ‘because you cannot build bridges without being on both sides of a divide’ (p.197)
Session 3 considers the need to disagree well in the sense of ‘being curious about the real thinking of the person with who you disagree.’ (p.198)
Session 4 is about practising forgiveness. This relates to the need to be curious because:
‘To be curious opens the way to practise forgiveness. It is to enquire into the state of mind of a perpetrator, to seek to understand their thinking, to sense their guilt and desire for change. It is also to understand one’s own feelings’ (p.199)
Only when we have done these things can the practice of forgiveness being to take place.
Session 5 is about hope. This relates to the need to be curious because:
‘To be curious is to ask yourself about your own hopes and to ask your community about theirs. The curiosity will be fed by the act of crossing boundaries of practising forgiveness, of disagreeing well.’ (p.201)
Chapter 11, ‘Being Present,’ considers the next principle of the Difference course, the need to be present. ‘We should be present to others as a commitment of love because God was, is and always will be present as a commitment of love to us.’ (p.203). In this chapter Welby looks at what it means to be present in terms of developing a habit of being present, being willing to cross divides, disagreeing well in terms of being ‘truly present when we listen and reflect on what is being said, when we enquire (being curious) to understand better’ (p.209), practising forgiveness rather than severing relationships, and being present because we risk the hope ‘that progress can be made amid difficulty in relationships or in conflict’ (p.211)
Chapter 12, ‘Reimagining,’ considers the third principle of the Difference course, the need to ‘reimagine a future that is different and to develop the tools for bringing it into reality.’ In this chapter Welby explores reimagining in relation to God’s call to Christian to be peacemakers, a call that involves ‘finding out what is right’ by living in ‘a reconciled disagreement that enables us to search for the will of God’ (p.219) and being willing to cross divides by trying to imagine ‘what everything would look like if that boundary were not there’ (p.221) and the steps involved in bringing this situation about, disagreeing well (shown by ‘disagreeing over something very important, and doing so with passion, and yet maintaining a relationship’ (p.223) as in the case of Anglicans with different views on human sexuality continuing to meet together), practising forgiveness, and risking hope that things could be different in the face of the temptation to despair.
In chapter 13 ‘Three examples for reflection,’ Welby looks at how to apply some of the points previously made in his book in the case of three contemporary issues, climate change, racism and ethnicity and political populism in Western democracies (by which he means politicians ‘manipulating genuine fears and grievances for the end of political power, not in order to find their solution’ (p.228)). In all three cases he stresses the importance both of building relationships and of taking action to relieve need in order to create the possibility of a better future.
Finally in chapter 14 Welby sets out his overall conclusions.
First, there are: ‘some situations where reconciliation is not possible. Either one person is too proud, or too evil, or both.’ (p.248) The example he gives are genocide where ‘the perpetrators must be stopped by any means necessary’ (p.248) and the need to remove a parent ‘where there is good reason to believe abuse is occurring in the home.’ (pp. 248-249)
Secondly, however, ‘in most cases reconciliation is possible.’ (p.248) Reconciliation, reiterates Welby, ‘is the transformation of destructive conflict into disagreeing well.’ (p.249) and when it happens it brings hope because it opens the possibility of mitigating harm or bringing genuine healing, of forgiveness, of turning enemies into friends, of removing fear and anxiety ‘from the places we live and the relationships we have’ (p249) and of the presence of justice and truth. As Welby sees it:
‘When truth is told justice and mercy can meet and be seen to be real. Justice before there is the beginning of reconciliation is always suspect, either becauae it is justice imposed by the strong or because thr truth is not clear.’ (p.249
Welby finishes by declaring:
‘This book has tried to look at the reasons for reconciliation, to describe one – among many – patterns for it to happen and to encourage the habits that make it possible. My prayer is that many will seek their own route to share in reconciliation, to start groups that will advocate and train others, and that it will seek to make disagreeing well part of how we live at every level from household to global.’ (p.252)
What is helpful in the book
There is much in The Power of Reconciliation that will be found very helpful by those who are called to engage in efforts to being about reconciliation in situations of conflict.
In specific terms, the book is helpful when it says:
- That reconciliation is something in which Christians are called to be engaged and that has its basis in the work of God in Christ.
- That experience shows that reconciliation in situations of conflict is something that is possible, but that is not something that is possible in every situation.
- That a process of reconciliation involves a leap of imagination that sees that constructive change is possible and that the exercise of thinking about how one could avoid a ‘dark age’ and move to a ‘golden age’ can be a helpful way to encourage people to make such a leap of imagination
- That reconciliation needs to be viewed as a long-term process and is something that is best facilitated by a team or an organisation rather than by one individual acting alone.
- That attempts at reconciliation can be undermined by seeking to move the process on too quickly or by being too ambitious about what it can achieve.
- That a process of reconciliation needs to involve all the parties involved in a situation of conflict and needs to address all the causes of conflict.
- That there are people (‘spoilers’) who could potentially wreck a process of reconciliation and therefore need to be excluded from it,
- That those engaged in reconciliation need to be aware of the differing perspectives of those involved in a situation of conflict.
- That the goal of a process of reconciliation needs to be a situation where hearts are changed where as far as possible truth is known and where justice is done.
- That reconcilers need to be honest and transparent, willing to humbly serve others and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of reconciliation.
- That reconciliation will need to involve undertaking research, fostering loving relationships, relieving need, and taking risks, and will also involve the need for people to develop the habits of being curious, being present and practising forgiveness.
- That the practice of reconciliation needs to be based on hope for the future, which for Christians means hope for the coming of the new world that God has promised.
- That it is good for Christians to develop a culture of reconciliation that is founded on faith in Christ, that is fostered in the life of the Christian community and that results in constructive engagement with the wider world.
What is problematic in the book
Alongside these helpful elements in the book there are also, however, things which are deeply problematic. There are a number of specific points at which what the book says is unhelpful and also two overarching problems with the argument of the book as a whole.
The fourteen specific points that are problematic are as follows.
One, the claim that ‘Love…accepts otherness’ (p.20) requires careful qualification. Arguably, love should only accept otherness if that otherness should exist. For example, sin is something other than the good that God intends for his human creatures, but there is no call for either God or his human creatures to accept it. It would be better to say that love does not will that only itself exists, but wills the existence of other things to love.
Two, the book seems to suggest that it is people’s understanding of their identity and their sense of honour and shame that pit people against one another and result in conflict. The book needs to be clearer that what pits people against each other is not their sense of identity or their sense of honour and shame as such. This is because people can have a highly developed sense of personal identity and of honour and shame that does not result in conflict with others. What causes conflict is when in a fallen world people come to wrongly believe that their well being depends on asserting their own wills against the will of another, whether that other is God or other people.
Three, the book seems to suggest that the ‘abundant life’ promised by Jesus in John 10:10 is ‘seen as a vast diversity of character and nature and custom.’ However, in John’s Gospel ‘abundant life’ is a synonym for ‘eternal life’ the supernatural life given by the Father to all who believe in Jesus. This supernatural life may be manifested in ‘a vast diversity of character and nature and custom’ but that is not what this life actually is and the diversity involved is limited by the fact that those who believe in Jesus are called to live in obedience to the Father as Jesus did and this rules out forms of character, nature and custom that are contrary to such obedience.
Four, in chapter 8 the book gives as an example of the contested nature of truth in situations of conflict that way in which a conflict can be depicted as Christian against Muslim when its causes are in fact more complicated. The book suggests that the depiction of the conflict as being about the persecution of Christian by Muslims is rooted in the need to mobilise ‘internal support’ and to generate ‘external sponsorship from overseas observers.’ (p.154) This may be true in specific cases, but it would be unfortunate if the book gave rise to the impression that this these are the only reasons why people claim that Christians are being persecuted by Muslims. There is abundant evidence that persecution of Christians by Muslims for being Christians is a reality, and is a reality that is growing, and that claims of such persecution may therefore simply be true.
Five, as we have seen, in chapter 9 the book describes Jesus’ prayer for believers in John 17 and gift of the Spirit in John 20 as being ‘for all who believe in Jesus, not for all those who believe AND qualify in some other way.’ In the context of the chapter itself it is unclear why the word ‘and’ is emphasised through the use of capital letters, but when viewed in the context of Welby’s other writings this seems to be an implicit rebuttal of the claim that a particular approach to human sexuality should be seen as a necessary qualification for membership of the Anglican Communion. The problem lies in the fact that what ‘believe’ means is not clarified. It could mean believing in Jesus is some vague and unspecified sense. In that case what it says is contrary to the New Testament which sees belief in Jesus in terms of accepting the gospel message about Jesus, being baptised, and living in obedience to Jesus’ teaching as this is witnessed to by the apostles (see for example Matthew 28:18-20). If we accept this New Testament view then there are good grounds for saying that belief in Jesus (and hence membership of the Anglican Communion) does need to involve a particular view of sexual ethics.
Six, in the same chapter the description of the second circle of reconciliation says nothing about the basis on which a local worshipping community decides how to undertake its role in God’s world. Nothing is said about the need to receive guidance about this from the Bible and the orthodox Christian tradition and this is problematic because it is from these sources that Christians principally learn what it means to act rightly in the world ‘out of the overflow of the love of Christ’ (p.180). Without proper guidance from these sources about how to bring ‘the grace and truth of Christ to this generation’ (Canon C15) there is a great danger of Christian thinking and activity simply being shaped by contemporary secular thought or by the reflection of contemporary secular thought in contemporary theology. In the words of Paul in Romans 12:2 the danger is Christians being ‘conformed to this world’ rather than being ‘transformed by the renewal of your mind’ through the sources of right thinking that God in his goodness has provided.
Seven in this chapter, the description of the Church’s ‘engagement with the world around’ through the circles of reconcilation is also entirely silent about evangelism, even though reference has previously been made to the Chuch’s call to the ‘work of testifying to Jesus.’ Mention is made about the Church’s involvement in a whole range of social and political issues, but evangelism does not get mentioned at all. This is really problematic because according to the New Testament the basic form of reconciling activity which the Church is called to be involved in is evangelism. Thus in 2 Corinthians 5:18 Paul declares that through Christ ‘reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation’ and if we ask what form this ministry takes Paul goes on to explain that it means ‘we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). The primary need that human beings have is to be reconciled to God, and the evangelistic proclamation of the Christian message is the necessary pre-condition for this to happen because it is through evangelism that non- Christians learn about the reconciling action of God in Christ and their need to accept it through faith and baptism. It follows that any description of the Church’s engagement with the world not only needs to mention evangelism but to give it first place in the Church’s list of priorities (as is the case in Anglican ‘Five Marks of Mission’).
Eight, in chapter 12 the book describes the process that led to the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England in entirely positive terms as a good example of reimagining. What the book fails to acknowledge is that there is an alternative reading of what happened which is that under external political pressure the Church of England violated the established rules of General Synod by reintroducing in the same five year period a matter on which Synod had already made a decision and that the outcome was a settlement which failed to properly address the theological issues at stake and which has resulted subsequently in traditionalist Anglo Catholics and Evangelicals becoming marginalised in terms of appointments to senior roles within the Church of England.
Nine, in the same chapter the book claims that what is described in Acts 10 and 11 as a process of reimagining which marks the moment ‘at which Christianity turned from being a Jewish group to a potential worldwide religion’ (p.217). This is problematic because (a) Christianity was already a potential worldwide religion (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8) and (b) what is described in Acts 10 and 11 is not about human beings imagining a different future but about God giving Peter and others a different understanding of present reality.
Ten, also in the same chapter, the book regards very positively the way in which Anglicans who disagree about human sexuality are willing to meet together and the fact that it was recognised that those who took a different view on the matter remained ‘part of the family.’ (p.223). This is problematic because it suggests that matters to do with human sexuality are matters that are ‘adiaphora’ – things about which Christians can rightly agree to disagree, whereas in the New Testament right sexual behaviour is seen as a fundamental part of Christian discipleship concerning which no form of disagreement or compromise is ever envisaged. You either are obedient to God or you are not, and disobedience to God is completely unacceptable in the life of the Christian community just as it was in the life of the people of Israel (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13).
Eleven, in chapter 12, as elsewhere in the book, it is suggested that the best result when there is conflict in a marriage may be divorce (‘It may be that in a family dispute the end vision needs rethinking. Perhaps, rather than putting the marriage back together, it may be parting well and with care for all those affected’ (p.226)). This reflects the sadly now familiar Anglican line that ‘marriages may fail’ but what it fails to do is get to grips with the fact that in the New Testament there are only two circumstances in which divorce is permissible, one being adultery (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:1-9) and the other being the desire of a non-Christian spouse to end the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
Twelve, in chapter 13 there are a number of key points about the issues of climate change, racism and ethnicity and political populism that the book fails to note.
On climate change the book fails to note that the insistence of bodies like the BBC that there is scientific consensus about the reality, the causes and the likely results of climate change, ignores the fact that there are a very large number of qualified scientists who simply do not agree with the alleged consensus on these points. There may be a dominant view (which has political and media support) but it is not clear that the ‘vast majority’ of scientists accept it. It also fails to take proper note of the serious questions that have been raised about whether seeking to achieve net zero carbon emissions is necessary and the serious economic, social and ecological consequences of trying to achieve this goal by seeking to replace fossil fuels completely by renewable sources of energy such as wind, wave and solar power. It is also unfortunate that chapter 13 and the book as whole focusses almost entirely on climate change as the environmental challenge, without giving due attention to other equally pressing environmental issues such as the loss of habitats and bio diversity, soil degradation and various forms of pollution.
The book also fails to address the key question of whether there is a need to accept an overall limit to economic growth given the finite resources of this planet and what this means in terms of challenging the dominant consumerism of the contemporary Western world.
On racism and ethnicity, the book fails to note the danger that the growth of racial identity politics runs the danger of undermining the progress made in race relations in recent decades by dividing people into oppressors and victims solely on the basis of their race and of stirring up racial division and conflict by so doing. It also fails to note the way in which critical race theory runs the risk of seriously distorting the education system and academic study across the board through its insistence that all truth claims are simply attempts to exert power and control by the dominant ethnic group in any given society. Finally, it fails to explore in any detail the moral and practical questions raised by the idea of reparations such as, for instance, whether an Afghan immigrant to Britain should be asked to pay reparations to countries in West Africa inhabited by people whose ancestors were not just enslaved but also actively involved in the slave trade, and on what basis the amount they should contribute to such reparations should be calculated. Or, for another example, whether a church goer from a West Indian background whose ancestors were slaves should be asked to contribute through their parish share to the cost of reparations made by the Church of England in respect of its historic links to the slave trade.
On populism, the book sees the roots of populism in ‘disrupted economic and social conditions’ (p.244). This is part of the truth, but it is not the whole truth. What is equally important is the way in which populism has its roots in the belief held by many who are socially and religiously conservative that they are under unrelenting attack by liberal metropolitan national and international elites who regard them and their beliefs, values, and ways of life with contempt. The book refers to this perception of elite contempt for others, but it needs to develop the point further and to note that it means that in order to address the divisions caused by populism attention needs first to be given to addressing the conviction among many conservative groups around the world that they are engaged in an existential struggle against an ideological enemy who holds that they should have no place in the new world it is seeking to create.
Thirteen, the suggestion that the book makes in chapter 14 that reconciliation is not possible in the case of genocide and parental abuse seems to confuse the need to take immediate preventative action to prevent evil taking place with the wider claim that in these cases reconciliation can never take place. This latter claim is highly problematic because it rules out the possibility that Christians must hope for (and therefore work for) that even in such extreme cases there can eventually be reconciliation between the perpetrators of evil and both God and the human beings they have harmed. This side of the final judgement such reconciliation cannot be ruled out.
Finally, as we have seen, in the same chapter the book claims that ‘Justice before there is the beginning of reconciliation is always suspect, either because it is justice imposed by the strong or because the truth is not clear.’ This claim is problematic because one can easily imagine a scenario in which there can be justice before the beginning of reconciliation. Imagine a burglar who has been caught red handed and who is unrepentant about his crime. There would be no question that it would be just for him to be punished for his crime even if his lack of repentance prevented reconciliation taking place. Furthermore, in terms of divine-human relationships God is perfectly just in punishing the wicked even when they refuse to be reconciled to him. In both cases there can be justice based on truth without reconciliation.
The two overarching problems with the book are as follows.
First, the book puts forward a very problematic definition of reconciliation. This definition is laid out very clearly in the last chapter:
‘First, a reminder of the definition: reconciliation is the transformation of destructive conflict into disagreeing well. The impact of disagreeing well may continue to be disagreement. It may be a state of well-contained hostility. It may mean the end of a marriage. But it will always open new possibilities of mitigating the harm, at the least, and of bringing genuine healing, at most.’ (p.249)
The problem with this definition is (a) that it is unwarranted because there is nothing in the nature of reconciliation that says it has to involve continuing disagreement and (b) it hopes for too little. The possibility of people actually agreeing about what to think or how to act is taken off the table. The best that can be hoped for is that people will find ways of relating better to each other while continuing to disagree.
To understand why this is not a satisfactory end point for the process of reconciliation we need to understand that disagreement is a result of our fallen condition.
God knows the truth about all things. This is what is meant when Job 28:24 tells us that God ‘looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under heaven’ and Hebrews 4:13 declares ‘before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.’ As creatures made in God’s image human beings are also created to know the truth. We can see this in the account of creation in Genesis in which we are told that ‘the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name’ (Genesis 2:19). What is described here is an act of truthful discernment. Adam is not just arbitrarily assigning names to the birds and the animals, he is discerning truthfully what they are. Like God he knows the true nature, ‘the name,’ of things.
If all human beings engaged in this kind of truthful discernment all of the time, then there would never be any disagreement between them. We would all know the truth and we would all agree about the truth, including the truth about how we should act. Tragically, however, the result of the big lie told by the devil and accepted by the first human beings (Genesis 3) is that we have lost the ability to always see things as they really are and to always be honest about what we do see. It is for that reason that human beings disagree.
Thankfully, God has provided a remedy for this situation. Jesus Christ is truth incarnate (John 14:6 ‘I am the truth’) and at the centre of his reconciling work is the fact he has come to restore our ability to know the truth. In John 8:31-32 Jesus declares ‘if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ This comes about through the work of the Holy Spirit who is sent by Jesus to ‘guide you into all the truth’ (John 16:13). Like the whole of our re-creation through Jesus, our ability to discern the truth is a work in progress. At the moment ‘our knowledge is imperfect’ (1 Corinthians 13:9) but in heaven we shall understand fully in the same way that we ourselves are fully understood by God (1 Corinthians 13:12). As C S Lewis puts it in his book The Great Divorce, human beings are created with an innate desire for truth and this desire will one day be satisfied. God will bring us to a place where we can taste truth ‘like honey and be embraced by it like a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched’ 
What all this means is that disagreement can never in itself be good. We disagree because in our fallen condition we either don’t know the truth or are unwilling to accept it when it is presented to us. The vocation of the Church as the instrument of the reconciling activity of God in Christ is therefore not simply to practice and promote disagreeing well. The vocation of the Church is to be a community where as far as possible disagreement does not exist because to an ever-increasing extent the process of sanctification in which our minds are renewed (Romans 12:2) means that truth is known, accepted, celebrated, and acted upon, and to be a community that acts as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) by spreading the knowledge and acceptance of truth into the outside world.
It is certainly true that disagreeing well is better than engaging in destructive conflict. However, for the reasons we have just seen even disagreeing well cannot be rightly viewed as the proper end of the story. The goal of reconciliation must be instead converting destructive conflict into agreement in truth. Disagreeing well is at best a preliminary stage in the achievement of this goal.
The second overarching problem is that The Power of Reconciliation lacks any clear and coherent theological anthropology. To understand how human beings should act it is first of all necessary to understand the overall picture of how God as their all good and all wise creator wants his human creatures to act. Only then can we begin to discern what it means for human beings to act rightly in particular situations such as the various situations of conflict described in The Power of Reconciliation.
What would have been helpful would have been if The Power of Reconciliation had begun with a chapter, or chapters, laying out what it means for human beings to live rightly before God before then going on to explain why this means being involved in reconciliation and what the practice of reconciliation involves.
If we ask what should be said in this chapter or chapters, the right place to start is with creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.
These accounts tell us that human beings have been created by God to be his ‘image and likeness’ in the world (Genesis 1:26-27), that is to say, to be those beings who make known most fully what God is like. In the ancient world rulers would set up images of themselves in distant cities to show their people who their king was and what he was like. In a similar way, says Genesis, God has created human beings to be his image so that the world can see and experience what its ruler is like. Living rightly as a human being means living out this basic human vocation.
They also tell us that living out our vocation to show what God is like involves expressing our love for him by taking responsibility for the world that he has created. The created order as a whole, and not just the human part of it, has value in God’s sight and human beings are called to share in God’s care for it.
In Genesis 1:28 God tells the first human beings: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
This command gives human beings authority over rest of the created order and it also involves the right to use the resources provided by the natural world. As God goes on to say in the next verse ‘I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’
In our day many people have come to see this command in Genesis as lying at the root of the environmental problems that we face. This is because it can be (and has been) viewed as giving human beings the right to treat the rest of creation in any way they see fit. However, to view this God-given calling to exercise ‘dominion’ over creation as giving us a right to engage in unlimited exploitation of it for our own benefit is fundamentally to misrepresent what Genesis is saying. God’s rule over creation is for the benefit of creation as a whole. ‘The Lord is good to all and his compassion is over all that he has made’ (Psalm 145:9). The same is meant to be true of the human vice-regency over creation exercised on his behalf.
As the second creation account in Genesis 2:15 tells us, human beings have the vocation to ‘till and keep’, that is to say to serve and preserve, the created order in the same way that someone might be given the task of taking care of a garden or a park and the animals living in it in order to enable them to flourish. This in turn means that while human beings have the right to make use of the rest of the created order in order to live, this should be done with appropriate restraint, in a way that recognises that the non-human creation has its own intrinsic value in the sight of God. That is why, for example, the Old Testament law sets limits to the way in which the people of Israel can use the natural order (see Exodus 20:10, Leviticus 25:7, Deuteronomy 25:4).
This is made clear by the way in which God creates human beings as male and female to be his image bearers (Genesis 1:27), by his command to them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and by the story of the creation of Eve to be the marital companion for Adam (Genesis 2:18-25).
The human vocation to care for creation was not intended by God to be fulfilled by a single individual, but by a community of people. Just as God himself exists in an eternal communion of love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so also, he has created his human image bearers to exist in relationships of mutual love for which the relationship between men and women is the basis and the paradigm. As a result, we are called to express the reality of our love for God not simply by caring for the non-human creation but also by showing love to other people (see 1 John 4:20-21).
This is where the command to love our neighbour comes into the picture. God gives himself to be loved by us in the shape of other people and, as Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) explains, our neighbour is that individual (regardless of race or sex) in whom God gives himself to be loved by us at any given moment. Furthermore, true love for our neighbour will be shaped by our awareness that our neighbour’s highest good will be served by helping them to live in a way that is in accordance with God’s will for them.
This means that there can be no conflict between the two commandments. We express love for God as we show love to our neighbour and we show love for our neighbour as we act towards them in a way that enables them to fulfil God’s good purposes for them. Loving someone means wanting what is best for them and what is best for all human beings is that they should flourish in the manner for which God created them.
This in turn means that just as love of God and love of neighbour necessarily belong together, so also do love of God, love of neighbour and care for the rest of creation. This is for two reasons.
First, as we are coming increasingly to realise, human beings are dependent on the natural world for their existence and so when the creation is not cared for human beings are unable to flourish in the way that God intends.
Then, as has already been noted, love for neighbour means acting in a way that enables them to fulfil God’s good purposes for them. Therefore, our dealings with them will need to reflect the fact that, like us, they too are people who are called by God to exercise responsible care for the whole of the world that God has created.
The remainder of the biblical story goes on to tell us that, even though all of us have turned away from God and continually do those things which harm other people and the rest of the world that God has made, God has not rejected us in return. Instead, he keeps us in being and, in accordance with his promises of universal blessing made to Abraham. he has become one of us in Jesus Christ and taken upon himself the consequences of our rebellion by dying in our place on the Cross. By dying in this way and then rising again he has provided us with ‘redemption’, that is to say, he has rescued us and the rest of the world from our rejection of him and the death that flows from it, just as he once rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
He has also provided ‘the means of grace,’ Scripture, prayer and the sacraments, as the means by which, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to share in, and respond to, what he has done for us in Jesus, and he has also given us the ‘hope of glory.’ This hope assures that death is not the end, but can instead be the prelude to ‘the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.’ It tells us that we can enjoy a new life of complete happiness and fulfilment in which we can fulfil the purpose for which were made by sharing the life of God, reigning with him over a renewed creation and joining with that creation in praising him for all that he has done.
In response to what God has done for us in the face of our rebellion we are called, as noted earlier in this review, to act as the ambassadors of God who declare the ‘message of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:19), the good news of what God has done, to those who do not yet know or accept it so that they too can begin to live as the people God created them to be.
In addition, we are also called to help ensure what the Roman Catholic tradition has called the ‘common good,’ the social conditions needed to help people to live out the new life given to them by God to the fullest extent possible. This common good can be seen to have a number of different aspects:
To live rightly before God people need the ability to exist (‘the right to life’) and therefore they need food and drink, clothing, shelter and medical care.
To develop emotionally and to learn to exercise their God given abilities people need a loving and supportive family and they require education so as to be able to understand and appreciate the world in which they live and to cultivate their intellectual and physical skills. They also require access to religious education and freedom of worship in order to understand and respond to who God is and what he has done for them
To act as responsible stewards of God’s creation, using their God given abilities to provide for their own well-being and those of their families and neighbours, people need the opportunity to undertake fulfilling work.
To exercise their responsibility for the welfare of their neighbours and of God’s creation, people need the ability to participate in decisions which affect the way in which their society operates and how it relates to the natural world. This in turn means that they need to be able to participate in the political system at all levels and that they also need freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
For all the above to happen and for people to be able to relate to each other over distances a framework of transport and communication is also required.
For people to live rightly together there needs to be a framework of law and order in which those things that are contrary to the common good are prevented or discouraged and those things which are conducive to the common good are supported and affirmed. This is where the God-given role of government comes into the picture.
Finally, for all the above to take place there needs to be economic activity. In order for the common good to flourish material resources need to be provided in the shape of goods, services and the finances to pay for them. In addition, in order to make proper provision for the future and give proper respect to the created order these material resources have to be provided in a way that is environmentally sustainable.
For Christians to set free the ‘power of reconciliation’ they therefore need to be willing to act as God’s instruments of reconciliation both by engaging in evangelism and by promoting the common good in the ways just described. As they do this they will engage with people with a whole range of different opinions and to do this successfully it will be helpful for them to make use of the range of approaches to navigating differences and resolving conflicts which The Power of Reconciliation describes.
However, in the face of differences of opinion, however strongly held, encouraging people to disagree well is not sufficient. What is needed, and what Christians therefore have to work and pray for, is not persistence in disagreement, but growth in agreement in accordance with the will of God: ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:13)
 Justin Welby, The Power of Reconciliation (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2022). The page reference in this review refer to the Kindle edition.
 C S Lewis, The Great Divorce (Glasgow: Fontana, 1972) p. 41.
 In the paragraphs that follow I draw on material I wrote for the 2010 House of Bishops’ paper Living thankfully before God: Living fairly before each other (London: The Archbishops’ Council 2010).
 C S Lewis , The Last Battle (Harmondsworth: Puffin, 1968), p.165.
 See The Catechism of the Catholic Church (London: Geoffrey Chapman
 As Oliver O’Donovan has argued a just war is the extraordinary exercise of this normal governmental role, see
Oliver O’Donovan, The Just War Revisited (Cambridge: CUP, 2003).