Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Call to Repair

In Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair (2021), Duke L. Kwon and Gregory Thompson present the biblical witness to fully and finally to own, renounce, and repair from the evils of White supremacy.  White supremacy is identified as multi-generational theft: theft of Black identity, history, physical, social, and moral agency through the abduction, chaining, transportation, commodification, forced labor, deprivation, whipping, and hunting of Black bodies. After Reconstruction, the theft included lynchings, shootings, and burnings and the "photographing of these mutilated bodies surrounded by smiling White faces." p. 83. Finally, White supremacy continues to steal from African Americans through extraction of and obstruction to truth, wealth, and power.  

White supremacy was never a "weed in the garden of American democracy," it was a "native species that grew into and flowered out of every institution that the American founders created, in every region of the nation." p. 63  

The American church's culpability in the thefts of  White supremacy is a large part of the story. There was the creation of a slave catechesis, and the practice of buying and renting the enslaved by churches, sometimes to pay for clergy salaries. p.118-119.

Meaningful repentance begins and continues with the ethic of restitution, argue Kwon and Thompson. We discover this ethic in Zacchaeus' story in Luke 19 and move to the key passages in the Law, such as Exodus 21:33-22:15, Leviticus 6:1-7, Numbers 5:5-8. There is a surprising lack of references to the Prophets. The authors unearth the forgotten wisdom found in Christian church tradition. 

There are three recipients of restitution: original owners, their heirs, and, in the absence of the first two, the poor. In light of the ravages of White supremacy, "[ ] reparations is not less than the logic of restitution, but it is undoubtedly more. We believe that the Bible commands us to return our neighbors' stolen things when we are guilty of their theft, and we believe that the Bible also commands us to restore their stolen things even when we are not." p.161 

The Christian call to restorative, neighbor love is an essential response to the multigenerational, cultural theft of White supremacy. Love is restorative, as in Luke 10:25-37 Church communities are given a possible framework for reflection: churches have "the responsibility to bring our various forms of vocational, relational, and financial power to our Black deliberate and equitable collaboration so that our power is both under the direction of others and used for their good" pp. 201-202. 

There's an impressive breadth of cited sources. We meet a plethora of witnesses, past and present, White and Black, who dedicated themselves to the Christian work of reparations. These include the Quaker teacher John Hepburn, who, in 1715, wrote The American Defense of the Christian Golden Rule; Levi Coffman who housed over 3,000 fugitive slaves as a part of the Underground Railroad. We are introduced to Memphis community organizer Anasa Troutman, Clayborn Temple, and the Center of Transforming Communities, a multiethnic, multi neighborhood coalition.

This volume provides a fertile ground for reflection, study, and action. There is a noticeable and refreshing absence of partisan political categories. Reparation is presented as a Christian call to repair Christian theft. Could it be that reparations could be the reason the White Christian church still exists?

Oldies but Goodies