Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace
Is there any hope of embracing our enemies? Of opening the door to reconciliation? In EXCLUSION AND EMBRACE: A THEOLOGICAL EXPLORATION OF IDENTITY, OTHERNESS AND RECONCILIATION, award-winning author Miroslav Volf argues that "exclusion" of people who are alien or different is among the most intractable problems in the world today. He writes, "It may not be too much to claim that the future of our world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference. The issue is urgent. The ghettos and battlefields throughout the world, in the living rooms, in inner cities, or on the mountain ranges, testify indisputably to its importance." A Croatian by birth, Volf takes as a starting point for his analysis the recent civil war and "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia, but he readily finds other examples of cultural, ethnic, and racial conflict to illustrate his points. And, since September 11, one can scarcely help but plug the new world players into his incisive descriptions of the dynamics of interethnic and international strife.
Exclusion happens, Volf argues, wherever impenetrable barriers are set up that prevent a creative encounter with the other. It is easy to assume that "exclusion" is the problem or practice of "barbarians" who live "over there," but Volf persuades us that exclusion is all too often our practice "here" as well. Modern western societies, including American society, typically recite their histories as "narratives of inclusion," and Volf celebrates the truth in these narratives. But he points out that these narratives conveniently omit certain groups who "disturb the integrity of their 'happy ending' plots." Therefore such narratives of inclusion invite "long and gruesome" counter-narratives of exclusion, the brutal histories of slavery and of the decimation of Native American populations come readily to mind, but more current examples could also be found.
Most proposed solutions to the problem of exclusion have focused on social arrangements, what kind of society ought we to create in order to accommodate individual or communal difference? Volf focuses, rather, on "what kind of selves we need to be in order to live in harmony with others." In addressing the topic, Volf stresses the social implications of divine self-giving. The Christian scriptures attest that God does not abandon the godless to their evil, but gives of Godself to bring them into communion. We are called to do likewise: "whoever our enemies and whoever we may be." The divine mandate to embrace as God has embraced is summarized in Paul's injunction to the Romans: "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7).