Miroslav Volf's subtitle to his book Exclusion and Embrace is 'A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation'. As a Croatian, Volf has experienced firsthand the horrible atrocities that have taken place in the Balkans. Volf, who was giving a lecture on embrace, was asked by his mentor and fellow theologian Jurgen Moltmann this burning question: "But can you embrace a cetnik?" (Cetnik is a term for a Serbian fighter, and when Volf was asked this the cetniks had been putting people into concentration camps and raping women, destroying churches and cities alike). Volf replied, "No, I cannot- But as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to." This is the context for how Volf begins his argument. But under what justification does one embrace the other, especially when this "other" has committed horrific crimes and has displayed hatred to you, your family, or your people? In what ways can you embrace the other and how does this happen?
Volf begins by correctly pointing to the cross. In his introductory chapter, Volf uses John Howard Yoder and Moltmann's views of the cross to give an outline for how we must understand not only how the atonement works but how it is a model for the Christian who seeks to live like Jesus. Yoder claimed that for any understanding of social ethics we must point out the most seminal example, Christ and his cross. Moltmann provides the understanding of the cross by arguing that by the crucifixion, Jesus identifies with or has "solidarity" with the oppressed but is also supplemented with the theme of atonement for the perpetrators. Victims are liberated from their oppression and those who oppress are liberated from their injustice. For Volf, the cross is ultimately a "self-donating" act and should be imitated by the church. But as we understand Christ's self giving love, we must also see the self giving love of the truine God. "This self giving love is scandalous because of the all too frequent failure of self donation to bear fruit…Though self donation often issues in the joy of reciprocity, it must reckon with the pain of failure and violence" (pg. 26). And yet this is what Christ is calling us to. Our identity must become that of Christ, one of self donation, solidarity, and forgiveness. Volf further explains what this self donation that leads to embrace means: "The will to give ourselves to others and "welcome" them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about other , except that of identifying them in their humanity" (pg. 29). And even though we must seek grace prior to anything else, Volf recognizes that "The will to embrace is indiscriminate, the embrace itself is conditional", thus articulating that those who refuse to be redeemed of their wounds must face judgment and that we must demand justice (pg.30).
This theme of identity leads to Volf's next point that he explores in his first chapter. The shifting of identity, which is most emphatically stated in the call of Abraham, is the call of the Christian community. This will be part two in my series on exclusion and embrace. But first I have a couple of questions to ask of you:
Does the church promote this kind of "embrace" or reconciliation? I believe we offer a simple view of atonement most of the time but not a full view of God's reconciling work.
And:At what point do we know that we have begun to take up the reconciling work of Christ?
What does it mean to take on this work practically in our individual and communal lives? What does it mean for us to give ourselves to others, victims and perpetrators alike?