A Message on our study of reparations
June 22, 2019
Dear People of the Diocese of Maryland,
As you all know, I testified in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing on bill H.R. 40 on reparations Wednesday. That evening I was asked to be a guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight. I have received many, many messages of appreciation from the faith community and across the nation for what I said and how I responded. I’ve also received many hate-filled messages that have questioned my integrity, my ability to think, and the depth of my Christian faith.
Sadly, this is to be expected. Talking about race issues in our nation has always been fraught with emotion, touching some of the deep recesses in our personal and collective psyche that many of us prefer to remain hidden.
But they cannot be hidden. Deep-seated shame and guilt rise up on these occasions, expressing themselves in denial, fear and anger. Those who speak openly about the lasting damage of our country’s “original sin” of slavery and the devastating effects of its lingering racism open themselves to being attacked - always verbally, and sometimes physically. It has always been the case, and we see it in our society everyday.
And yet, people of faith are called to a new way of being. We are to “be not afraid, the Lord is with you always.” And we are called to “speak the truth in love," as that is the only way toward true reconciliation - the hallmark of the community of love that God intends for us.
We will not always agree on the prescription for healing the racial mess that we have all inherited. But the way of love demands that we come together as a faith community - and hopefully, as a nation - and in so doing we will find a way forward out of this mess. That is why, on Wednesday, I joined with other leaders in support of a congressional bill to establish a bipartisan, blue ribbon commission to explore the issue of reparations and suggest models for how that can be fairly implemented to “repair the breach” in our nation that’s resulted in millions of black persons trapped in a dispiriting cycle of racism, poverty and violence.
The national dialogue on race and reparations that we are calling for cannot be achieved by name-calling, belittling and making false personal accusations that pose as “facts”. We witnessed all of these negative tactics in some of Wednesday’s television interviews.
I will not be silent on fulfilling my responsibility as a faith leader to shine a light on this national stain. It makes some uncomfortable, but as followers of the Way of Jesus we are called to be faithful, not comfortable.
Faithful people of all races have chosen this way throughout our nation’s history. They speak the truth, but they refuse to sling mud, refuse the way of anger and violence, and refuse to back down. With Jesus as their guide, they are always quick to forgive, slow to anger, and steadfast in their commitment to love and to seek justice.
Last month, at our annual convention, the Diocese of Maryland did a brave and courageous thing, and in so doing I believe we can be a model for our nation. After years of struggling with what to do about our church’s complicity in relationship to slavery and racism, our delegates voted to affirm my pastoral letter which called for educating ourselves on the need to make reparations for how the diocese has benefitted materially and continually from the uncompensated labor of generations of enslaved persons of African descent.
And by vote of our elected delegates, the convention voiced no opposition. Unanimously, as a diocese that is more than 90% white in membership - conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican, rural and urban/suburban - we came to the decision to affirm the principle of moving forward with some form of accounting for how we gained materially and financially from an evil institution, and how we might use some of our resources to repair inequities in African American communities that resulted from centuries of inequitable treatment of black and brown people and help those entrapped in poverty and neglect. This is what reparations means. We don’t pretend that everyone in our diocese is on board with this - we remain very diverse in our opinions on how to address racial problems - and we do not know yet what form our reparative actions should take, but we are steadfast in our commitment to collectively do something to repair the damage that our diocesan and state racial history has caused.
If our diverse diocese can come together on this issue in such a respectful way, then let’s not give up on the notion that our nation can do the same. We have a story to tell, so by God, let’s do it!
What are we required to do now? The prophet Micah gave us a blueprint in Holy Scripture:
“[The LORD] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
With the prophet as our guide, we will love kindness in both our speech and our behaviors.
We will seek justice, which requires that we look at big problems from a systemic point of view, and keeps us from always blaming individuals for their present condition.
And we will walk humbly, not believing that our political party, our personal ideology, or our particular racial/ethnic group will have all the answers. If we follow these Biblical principles, then by the grace of God we can come together, learn from each other, and walk this journey together to a true and lasting reconciliation.
If you have not already done so, please read through the materials and watch the videos we have gathered on our collective work. This fall, our Truth and Reconciliation Commission will offer workshops on race relations and we will continue to do the study and have the hard conversations on race within our congregations to determine a forward path together, united in Christ, celebrating our diversity, not divided over our differences.
Thank you, Diocese of Maryland, for being the faithful people that you are. I am grateful that we walk this journey together, in all our diversity.
Blessings and peace,