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The Table Video

Carolyn McKinstry

Reconciliation: Love and Humility in Politics

I believe that the axis of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the continuing theme of reconciliation. God seeks to reconcile us to Him, and has commanded that Christians be reconciled to each other. Our nation’s failure at biblical reconciliation is most visible and pronounced in our political system.


I believe in reconciliation. I believe in biblical reconciliation as given to us in Second Corinthians five, verses 20 and 21 and also in Matthew five, chapter five, verse 24. I believe that biblical reconciliation is a, an imperative, a biblical imperative and I believe that God has called me as an ambassador to the ministry of reconciliation. I am an itinerant messenger, a global citizen and God has called me throughout this country and outside of this country, internationally to speak about the residue of hatred and the things that hatred brings the results of that hatred.

I am an ambassador as well for the city of Birmingham and our sister cities, a role that entails visiting those cities or when they visit us, speaking to them, not only about the history of Birmingham and the call to reconciliation but also visiting them and looking at situations that require the prayers of reconciliation. I wanted to share with you this morning some of the things, some of the examples of the type of work that God has called me to do.

And I wanted to start with work that began actually in this state not in this state, in this country. The project, the initial project was called The Southern Rural Women’s Initiative. This was a project that covered Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Those three states were chosen by the Ford Foundation because they are the poorest states in the United States. And women, rural women, mostly black women, in those states were selected for this project because they were the poorest individuals in those states.

Not only did Ford call us to work with those women for he sent us to India to look at projects, other projects that they had done with women in an effort to lift women in particular but to lift our people. But the study that Ford had done suggested that when we lift women, we have a better chance of lifting our children out of poverty. I wanted better things for my own children. Having grown up in Birmingham myself I was happy to work in the ministry of reconciliation. I wanted a better tomorrow for them. I did not want them to experience the things that I experienced.

And I will say that I’m deeply grieved today, each time that I see media coverage of various things that are happening around our country. I had hoped and prayed most of my life after the bombing of the church that our country would reach a point, would reach a crossroad, where we would understand that there’s indeed had been a kairos moment that we’re still living in that moment and that we had an opportunity to do so many more things. The kairos moment, a moment of grace, a moment of opportunity, a moment of being very intentional about moving forward in the path that God has called you to.

I also work in Birmingham for the Alabama Humanities Foundation and occasionally for the National Humanities. One of the things that resulted from the writing of this book was schools calling me from around the country. Those schools reported that when their children read the book, that they had less problems with bullying, their children became kinder, all types of things that were puzzling to me because I didn’t mention bullying, not one time in the book. I didn’t mention the types of problems that young people have in secondary education, in early college years.

What I did mention was the tremendous pain that followed me for over 20 years after the bombing of the church. All of the girls that died were friends of mine. Cynthia Wesley’s father was my grade school principal. Grades one through eight, we visited back and forth at each other’s home. We were telephone soulmates. Carole Robertson was an avid Girl Scout, she had earned every badge that the Girl Scouts gear and was very focused and very dedicated and a good friend. Denise McNair’s father was my ninth grade English, not English, diversified education instructor. He was also the only black photographer in town when I was growing up so if we needed a school photo, if we needed any type of photo, we had to go to Denise’s dad.

I mentioned these things just to show that we were all relegated to legally segregated neighborhoods and so we knew everybody in those neighborhoods, whether they worked in the field or whether they were president of some organization, some organization of color, whatever their role in life, we were all working together for the betterment of the community. About seven months after the bombing of the church, there was a second bombing across the street from where I was growing up.

That bomb happened at three in the morning. We all awakened to glass crashing in about 3 a.m. and we were so frightened. We were just beginning to get past the death of the girls, a death that really wasn’t recognized by the city. There were no letters of regret to the parents, no letters of sympathy. There were, the city was silent. They watched but they were silent. And so after this second, this was my second bomb but at the time, bombing was a way of life. There were over 80 unsolved bombings and this was the only one that ever went to trial. My goal became, after living through many of these things and struggling with over 20 years of depression, something we call today depression, it didn’t have a name then, people just thought you were different. Not trauma, not PTSD, just thought you were different. But my goal became to do my part to do whatever God called me to do to make a better world, to leave a better world not only for my children but for children around the world.

When the shooting happened in Aurora, Colorado, I received a call to come in at the Natural History Museum of Colorado met with Vincent Harding, one of King’s speech writers and several of the local residents there. One who had been saved from the shooting in the theater by a student who jumped in front of the shooter and he joined us as well, wounded but joined us as well. More recently, I’ve taken so many trips I was telling a friend of mine yesterday that we get so many calls that I’ve sometimes forget where I was yesterday and sometimes when I wake up I have to think really hard to remember where I am.

But we travel, a group of clergy came together and we traveled to Israel because of the fighting that was going on there between the Palestinians and the Jews and we spent time talking with both sides, we prayed, we sang, we talked with the children because the children were deeply involved in this as well. Many of the children’s parents had been killed, arrested and so forth. When we returned from that journey, over two weeks, we were invited to the Carter Center to give our thoughts, our prayerful thoughts about peaceful resolution or to add to any thoughts that were already out there about how to bring peace to this country.

This is a little bit of the nature of what I do. But on a more common scale, just right around Birmingham right around Georgia and Mississippi, working with our own people, right in this country. I meet many people who are traveling overseas to help students, to help adults in impoverished countries. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to India but I know that we have the same poverty here. I know that we have the same needs right here in our country and so I remind them as they travel to all of these places that we have all of these same needs right here they must remember to look at the clock there.

But again, I believe this is what God has called me to do and the job that I right now favor the most is the one with the National Humanities Foundation, where we bring teachers then to Birmingham every summer and I prepare a syllabus for those teachers which includes our lesson outline for their students, books, a book list, selected book list to read, objectives, the history itself of Birmingham and they get a first person narrative, sometimes from me but sometimes from other residents who are still there. Our goal is just to teach about love to teach about reconciliation, understanding and recognizing that we all have a role to play in this country, that there is room for all of us.

I remind them that our US Census has predicted that by the year 2040, there will be no majority-minority in our country. And so the theme at the top of their syllabus says it asks a question, it says, what will it matter in 2040 if we have not taught our children to love, to forgive, to lament, to reconcile? What will anything matter? And so the syllabus is designed to, not only to give them pointers from the book but also just to address the matter of the things that we see in the country.

Near the end of the book there’s a statement that I make, I say, we’ve seen what the lack of love or hatred can do. We’ve all felt the pain of bear. Now it’s time for us to prove what love can do. Christians understand that love is a biblical imperative. The last speaker reminded us that our first greatest commandment is to love God as ourselves. To love God with our whole, I’m sorry to love God with all our heart, with all our mind, our soul, our spirit, with our whole being. And the second one on to that is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
That is the most challenging I think of all of the scriptures but I believe it’s possible. I believe that just because of the travels, because of the people that I’ve met. My world initially was centered around Birmingham but I’ve learned that there are a lot of wonderful people all over the world. I’ve met them, many of them have come to Birmingham in search of the hope that I brought with me to their countries. The final thing I would say to you one of my trips, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland and I had the privilege of living with Benedictine monks, for a brief period of time, place called Glenstal Abbey.

And the teaching that I remember most from those monks was this that they believe and we all believe as Christians that all men are created in the image of God. Malachi said by one God were we all created, all men are brothers. But because they believe this monks also believe that their life is one continuous test. They believe that the world is in such a state that they are called to pray 24/7 and they believe that every person they encounter is a test.

They don’t want to be guilty of failing any of their test. So the admonishment to us today is to treat every person we meet as a test. For in as much as you did not do it unto the least of these my brethren you did not do it unto me. Or if you did do it unto the least of these, you also did that unto me. I pray God’s continued blessings in your lives and all of my stationery and cards everything I have says, “Pray for a reconciled world” so that is my thought that I leave with you today that every person is a test and that we all pray for reconciled world. Thank you.