“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
When Bishop Breidenthal shared his letter about the new Reparations Task Force, feedback ranged from “It’s about time” to “We don’t talk about that here.” Bishop Curry invites us to Become the Beloved Community, which involves all of us as siblings and God’s loved children.
As a member of the Reparations Task Force and the Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team, I spend a considerable amount of time dismantling racism in this diocese. What I have learned is that this work is relational. If you know someone and have a relationship with that person, it’s hard to want harm to come to that person. When we love someone, we want them to have access to every good thing the world has to offer. Think about how you feel about your friends and family, coworkers, congregants, and acquaintances. Even if you don’t always agree, you likely wish them well.
Reconciliation is the spiritual practice of seeking loving, liberating, and life-giving relationships with God and one another and striving to heal and transform injustice and brokenness in ourselves, our communities, institutions, and society. In the language of Becoming Beloved Community, it’s called repairing the breach. In this quadrant of the fourfold path, we ask How will we participate in the repair, restoration, and healing of people, institutions, and systems? You might not feel that your church is broken. Upon exploring your congregation’s history, no matter where you are, you will find the place in history where your community decided where it stands on issues of race and ethnicity.
Members of the Reparations Task Force share their thoughts on what reparations mean to them in the words that follow. We pray that you read our statements with an open heart and mind. We know you might disagree with our perspectives. As siblings in Christ, we pray that you respect us and our viewpoints.
We hope you will look for opportunities to share your stories and learn together about ways to repair the breach in our communities. The Reparations Task Force will be offering resources to congregations to join us in this work.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:12 NRSV
Reparations mean looking at our history and realizing we must do differently now. Reparations mean putting our money into things that lift up those that have been pushed down in the past. We must use our resources to repair the breach created by racism. Reparations mean acknowledging what we have done incorrectly in the past and making concrete moves to now behave differently.
The Rev. Deacon Stacey Sands
I think we all have some sense of what reparations meant to newly freed slaves. More than acres and a mule, it meant the nation’s attempt to give emancipated slaves a leg up in the race to achieve equal footing vis-à-vis their former white masters. But it was a daunting challenge then, and it is a nearly impossible goal today if envisioned in such a one-dimensional way. It is more than just the gift of property, and a means to work it. Reparations grant equal access to educational, economic, employment, social, and other resources that make it possible to thrive and not just survive in this nation.
It is not a one-time shot in the arm of assets to make things right. It is a perpetual assurance that the earning of assets to live and make a living is fair, equitable, and reasonable for a group of people who have historically been held back and discouraged in doing that. And that assurance can only be created by a comprehensive assessment and adjustment of national, state, and local laws, statutes, rules, regulations, and our private sector’s policies, processes, and procedures, all of which govern and support our ability to live and make a living.
If we are ever going to make meaningful progress in repairing the breach between those who have and those who have not, based almost entirely on the color of their skin, we will need to commit to long-term systemic and structural reform. That means ground-breaking changes and constant monitoring and adjustment to maintain changes for the good of all American citizens. It also means placing an even higher priority on creating and maintaining a level playing field for the next generation of our historically oppressed citizenry. We must do all that we can to assure equitable health, education, and general welfare for all children to set the stage for their prosperity.
Finally, we must encourage a change of heart among the historically privileged among us, acknowledge that privilege, and commit to eliminating the conditions that place the underprivileged among us at severe risk. This acknowledgment is the first and most vital commitment we must make as a nation, not just because it is essential to our success with all the above challenges but because it will require the most time for us to achieve. The challenge for The Episcopal Church, each province, diocese, and congregation, is to discern exactly where they can make the most positive impact on the underserved of us and then act on those things with the highest sense of urgency.
To me, reparations are about co-creating the kingdom of God. Jesus said that he came so that we might have life and life to the full. For this to be true for all humanity, we are called to engage in the work of healing and repair so that all people can be whole, dignified, and free. Our work is to recognize that “none of us can be whole, dignified and free until the world itself is free of contempt and misuse (Wendell Berry).” As followers of Jesus, we must seek the well-being of all of God’s creation. Reparations are the path to building God’s reign in our time.
For me, in the simplest of terms, the word “reparations” allows members of this diocese to bear witness to the ways that men and women of faith have broken their covenant to God and to suggest a means for us to repair or redeem ourselves. Throughout the ages, we have broken the Great Commandment by treating people as less than, turning a blind eye toward the suffering of others, and failing to follow the courage of Jesus when we see injustice.
These hurts, both great and small, have added mortar to the bricks supplied by Satan and used to create walls that separate us from the love of God. The purpose of the Reparations Task Force is to help us shine a light upon the traumas that isolate us and prevent us from being in communion with each other.
As a white man, I have been given many things in my life that I didn’t earn or even ask for. For me, reparations are about rejoicing as other people receive similar blessings in their own lives. Joyful reparation comes out of a theology of abundance and an acknowledgment that I have more than enough, which means that there is no reason to object if I’m asked to surrender some of these unearned blessings.
There will always be other blessings, and as Mary sings in the Magnificat, the mighty must be cast down from their thrones, and the rich sent away empty. To paraphrase Barbara Brown Taylor, such casting down and sending away may be a blessing in itself for people whose sense of safety and satisfaction is keeping them from a deep relationship with God. Our culture has made me mighty and rich. I would rather celebrate the lowly being lifted up and the hungry be filled with good things than insist on clinging to my wealth and privilege.
So for me, the idea of reparation is a spiritual one. I shouldn’t try to control the practicalities of such reparation or insist that I have some inner understanding of the best way to enact reparation. It is enough for me to simply rejoice and be glad and lend my voice to the call for justice to roll down like mighty waters.
The Rev. Karl Stevens
This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places— firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.
Isaiah 58:6-12 The Message