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Breaking Down Walls: A Model of Reconciliation in an Age of Racial Strife


Washington, Raleigh and Glen Kehrein. (1993)  Breaking Down Walls: A Model of Reconciliation in an Age of Racial Strife. Moody Publishers, 240pp.



The authors share their personal stories and follow with their model for reconciliation. The last section of the book contains two chapters: one chapter provides "straight talk" to blacks and the other offers the same to whites.

Raleigh Washington's life began in the ghetto project of the Jim Crow South. A competitor at heart, Raleigh excelled in education and sports. Until he joined the army, he lived his first twenty years almost totally segregated from whites. His competitive spirit enabled him to excel in the military; as a black man he knew that he had "to know the regulations [of the army] inside and out and comply to the letter-this was my best chance of beating discrimination…and I knew I'd succeed only if I played according to the white man's rules."

Unfortunately, Washington's drive for excellence brought him enemies. These enemies charged Lieutenant Colonel Washington with false improprieties, and an investigation ensued. Although the charges did not hold up, he was drummed out of the army just weeks before retirement. The most positive event that occurred through the army's injustice was that Raleigh became a Christian. After leaving the army, he enrolled at Trinity Evangelical Seminary. Upon graduation he felt a call to stay in Chicago to help a professor with a new church vision in the inner city. This is when Raleigh met Glen Kehrein at the Circle Community Center.

Glen Kehrein, a white, small town farmboy from Wisconsin, grew up in a strong Christian family. He lived in a community of few blacks and shades of "acceptable racism." Growing up in the 1960s, Glen was unaware of what was going on in the rest of the country; after all, the civil rights movement didn't make any difference to him.

Before Glen went to Moody Bible Institute, he had never spoken to a black man or thought about racism. So, in the middle of Chicago, he was shocked by the reality of the inner city. Some of Glen's black began to open him up to the world of racism. After a racist incident at school, Glen began to understand what African Americans experienced daily. "So when the other side of the story-the poverty and injustice and black rage-confronted me, I began to see a lot of truth that until then had been covered by ignorance and apathy."

As Kehrein's relationships with his black friends grew, so did his awareness of racism, even at a Christian school. Eventually, he came to a crisis:

"Either my faith made sense and would help me live out a faith-driven ethic that dealt with things like injustice and poverty and racism, or it was…just a joke. I cried out, 'O God, what do I do?' "

Glen resolved to be a part of the solution; he did not return to Wisconsin upon graduation, but he stayed in Chicago to work as an "urban pioneer." He joined a progressive church that led an evangelical congregation committed to race reconciliation. Circle Church was doing great work in the city, but below the surface it had some issues to address. In Glen's eyes, the relationships between members and even between staff were, "bound to a vision but not deeply committed to each other. Without solid, committed relationships, building the vision was more like building on sand."

When a disagreement erupted between the white and black pastor, it divided the congregation down racial lines. The blacks backed "their" pastor; the whites supported "theirs." The argument grew to such a crisis that the whole church began to dissolve. In retrospect, Glen points out that "If relational depth is not there, a crisis will only expose it and cause everyone to retrench to their most defendable positions: blacks mistrusting whites and whites mistrusting blacks." Most people left the church, and Glen (though in deep pain) stayed on as Director of the Circle Community Center.

In 1983, Washington and Kehrein met. One, emotionally beaten from broken cross-cultural relationships, had just seen shattered his dream of true church-based reconciliation. The other man had recently been "unjustly stripped of his career by jealous whites." Now, they meet at the Circle Community Center.

Both men and their families were living with the pain of racism in different ways. They were cautious at first, but they soon began to see God work. Glen himself had a great ministry, but Raleigh returned the Center to an energized focus on evangelism. Raleigh was starting a new church and Glen helped him. Both the Rock Church and the Circle Community Center grew; soon they ran out of space.

The Rock of our Salvation Church and the Circle Community Center are dynamic and powerful ministries in the Austin community of inner city Chicago. Though Glen and Raleigh have faced major obstacles and hardships, God has blessed them with an authentic example of racial reconciliation and a ministry to the poor and oppressed of the city. From a biblical foundation and their personal experiences emerge eight principles for a Christ-centered model of racial reconciliation:

  • Commitment to relationship.
  • Intentionality.
  • Sincereity.
  • Sensitivity.
  • Interdependence.
  • Sacrifice.
  • Empowerment.
  • Call.

The first three steps are foundational and take time and effort. The lessons learned in the Circle Church proved to be an epitaph on what happens if a relationship is not deeply rooted. Trust results from commitment, intentionality, and sincerity. A relationship is the key to this model. The model also assumes that one has already confronted his or her own sin of prejudice at some level.

The commitment to a relationship means that one will not give up when things get tough. It implies conflict resolution and relational tenacity that mirror a marriage. Intentionality is the purposeful, positive, and planned activity that facilitates reconciliation. According to the book, "Racial reconciliation must begin on the personal level. It is out of that kind of relationship that ministry will grow." At the level of intentionality, a strong commitment to deal with conflict is key. On a personal level, each person must humbly and honestly seek to resolve issues instead of choosing to avoid conflict. On a churchwide level, the authors encourage quarterly events to address cross-cultural problems. This involves meeting with the black and white groups separately to discuss issues that need to be addressed with the other group. Then they unite in a two-hour meeting to discuss all of the issues that emerged in the earlier meetings. Note the authors: "The goal is to be preventative rather than prescriptive."

The third principle, sincerity, is the willingness to be vulnerable in communicating feelings, attitudes, differences, and perceptions. Through this, the goal is to achieve resolution and build trust.

Sensitivity is facilitates the desire to understand and empathize with a person of a different race and culture:

"In general, African-Americans understand the typical white person's attitudes and responses much better than white people understand the black's attitude…Blacks have had to understand and learn how to satisfy the expectations of the white teachers, white employers, white landlords, and white government officials-including the police-merely to survive. Most white people have never had to understand blacks to that same depth, so it is easy for them to make social blunders. And the blunders often come across as insensitivity."

Only when a person or group commits to the first three principles can interdependence, sacrifice, and empowerment evolve. Interdependence recognizes differences and realizes that each person offers something that the other needs; this brings equality to a relationship. Supporting this principle is 1 Cor. 12:12-13:8. This principle affirms the equal value of each individual in strengthening the whole community. It is not tokenism or paternalism. Resulting from the first five principles is the reality that reconciliation demands sacrifice. Sacrifice, the next principle, encourages a willingness to relinquish an established position and genuinely adopt a lesser position in order to advance a cross-cultural relationship.

The process leads to further awareness of one's own sin; this leads to repentance and forgiveness. These are the two empowering agents in reconciliation, both personally and corporately. It is this empowerment that is principle seven. This step is difficult and painful. It deals with pride and bitterness, blame and responsibility:

"An attitude of repentance empowers the other person-or group or race-to lay aside anger and blame, and it opens the path to forgiveness. Meanwhile the act of forgiveness empowers the other person to relate and minister freeely rather than under a load of defensiveness or guilt."

The final step is the call. We are all called to reconcile, but some are gifted with a special call to be racial reconcilers. To the authors, "Being a reconciler is part and parcel of who we are as a new creation, the fruit of our Christianity."



Time alone doesn't heal. It never has, and it never will. Racial alienation in this country goes back for centuries and affects everyone. Effort is needed to bridge the pain of past experiences. We who are Christians need a deep commitment to cross the chasm and build significant relationships across racial lines. (p. 113)

But alienation between blacks and white has been fomented by hundreds of years of racial agony in our society. If we expect it to break down by itself without our being doggedly intentional about it, we're naïve. Commitment by itself is not enough. We must be intentional, pursuing a relationship even when it is uncomfortable. (p. 134)

John Perkins, the founder of numerous ministries committed to racial reconciliation and justice, says, 'We are all damaged by the evil af racism which Satan uses to separate us.' The damage to blacks has resulted in feelings of inferiority; the damage to whites has promoted feelings of superiority. Intentionality says, 'I recognize this damage. I recognize the hurt you have received. I not only don't want to cause more hurt, but I want to make the extra effort to help heal the wounds' (p. 134).

Unfortunately in most black/white relations, even well-intentioned ones, an important ingredient is missing: trust. There's only one way to build trust; we call it the principle of sincerity. Principle 3 declares that people must genuinely open the other person behind the 'front.' The principle of sincerity requires being honest and transparent about our thoughts, feelings, disagreements, disappointments, and negative perceptions. (p. 142)

We must recognize as white church members and leaders that if we are not part of the solution we are part of the problem. Denying responsibility means that we refuse to work toward a solution and refuse to admit our role in the conflict. The alienation and separation continue to broaden, moving us closer to an inevitable clash. (pp.238-239)


This book is biblical, offering references from which each principle is derived. The book is practical, providing a model for ministry. Following every principle is a section suggesting tips on how to apply the rule. This book is authentic. It describes the lives of real people whom God united to develop a reconciling relationship. This book is tested. Its principles are currently used between individuals, and whole congregations; it has been administered in other countries, including Japan and Mexico. This is not a "1-2-3" manual for quick and easy ministry. It demands great amounts of time, prayer, humility, and effort. But it is an essential tool. As Washington and Kehrein proclaim, "The silence of the American church on the issue of racial alienation and injustice is an incredible inconsistency with our faith."

  1. Is there a need for racial reconciliation among the youth with whom you interact?
  2. What happens if a person or group decides that this is too difficult and flees in the middle of the process?
  3. What happens if the conflict resolution doesn't work and it causes a split down racial lines (similar to what happened in the Circle Church)?
  4. How long is this process? Is it ever complete?
  5. How do you deal with those who assert that this is a waste of resources and time?
  6. How do you bring people to a point to even accept the first principle? Does this model assume people are already motivated to initiate a cross-cultural, corss-racial friendship?
  7. Is this model applicable to all races?
  8. Can this model be used for other types of reconciliation? In what arenas of reconciliation would it be appropriate?
  9. How can you utilize this model with young people? Would it be effective? Would it be effective with their parents?
  10. How can a black individual in an all-black area promote racial reconciliation? How can a white individual living in an all-white area promote racial reconciliation?
  11. What actions can all-white or all-black congregations take to promote racial reconciliation?
  12. An integrated church is not necessarily a reconciled church. What can churches do to help their congregations unite?
  13. How can this book help a youth worker in a secular organization?
  14. For blacks: How willing are you to open your heart to a white brother or sister who comes to you earnestly desiring reconciliation? For whites: how willing are you to openly seek reconciliation with a black brother or sister?


  1. This book brings hope for healing racial strife. In an interview with Billy Graham on the TV show, "Prime Time Live", Diane Sawyer asked Graham, "If you could wave your hand and make one problem in this world go away, what would it be?" His answer was "racial division and strife." Anyone in ministry, education, or government must first deal with the problem personally, then institutionally. Racial strife will not dissipate until churches, schools, and governments respond. This book offers a scriptural solution.
  2. The book offers excellent individual (Glen and Raleigh) and institutional (the Circle Church and the Rock Church) case studies.
  3. The model is practical, moving from guilt to action, from theory to practice, and from denial to solution. Its principles are biblical.
  4. Washington and Kehrein provide a long-term solution over a quick fix.
  5. This is an important book. Unless churches and individual Christians affect racial reconciliation, there is little hope for it to happen. Integration and affirmative action have not solved-and cannot solve-the problem of racial estrangement, because it is, at its root, a problem of the heart.
  6. It is imperative for congregations today to be involved in the reconciliation process. It is scandalous that churches have, to a large degree, allowed and even promoted racial estrangement.

Tommy Overton and Judith A. DeCampo cCYS