Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair by Gregory Thompson and Duke Kwon

Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair cover imageSummary: A biblical case for why reparations is a Christian concept using the example of Black Americans. 

This is a second reading (original post) of Reparations. This reading was with a book discussion group. I first read Reparations almost a year ago, and much of my thoughts are similar in this second reading.

I appreciate the careful definitions and the narrow focus on reparations for an evangelical Christian audience by looking at only the case for reparations for Black Americans. Kwon and Thompson are calling for reparations for “…the threefold theft wrought by White supremacy: not only the theft of wealth (as is generally understood) but the theft of truth and the theft of power as well.” (p18). However, while this generally argues the case for a large-scale reparations project, I think it is easier to make a case for reparations on an even narrower basis. For instance, reparations for the denial of Black soldiers and sailors’ access to the GI Bill after WWII. I believe in the case for a large conception of theft of White supremacy that is made in this book. But I also think that part of the resistance to reparations is the intangibility of that theft. It is easier to point to particular people and say, “you were denied the educational or housing support you were due.”

The lack of shared history is part of the greatest need. For example, many people falsely believe that affirmative action is a reparations program because they believe that Black students receive free education. As detailed by Angela Parker in her book If God Still Breathes, another professor accused her of taking his job at a professional conference. He thought that the job should have been his and that she only got the job because she was black and a woman. Her response, I think, details part of the disconnect between reality and perception.

When the gentleman told me I took his job, I replied, “Oh, really? Tell me what you teach.” My interlocutor began to regale me with courses that are strictly historical-critical or in the vein of “White male biblical scholar.” I proceeded to ask him if he taught Womanist or feminist interpretations of the Bible, to which he responded in the negative. I also asked if, perhaps, he integrated critical social theories into his biblical interpretations. Again, he answered negatively. At that juncture I responded that I teach and engage those modalities, and therefore I did not take his job, since my institution needed those classes, that training, for its students. (p68)

In case you think this is a unique case, it is not. Many Black or other racial minorities (or women) tell me how they have had similar cases of people (primarily white men) accusing them of stealing their job or academic position or internship, etc. These accusations of theft (often using that language) does not address the previous theft of benefits (GI Bill) or opportunity (redlining, school segregation), or labor (slavery and segregated job markets), not to mention the cultural reality of White Supremacy (in the senses of a cultural belief in the hierarchy of racial groups).

I think that many would benefit from reading Reparations in conversation with Dear White Christians because they are both trying to orient the conversation toward reparations, albeit with different audiences. Dear White Christians is trying to convince Mainline Protestants of the importance of reparations as an organizing principle for racial reconciliation, and Reparations is trying to ground a similar argument for Evangelicals. Unfortunately, both are working in an uphill battle because the reality of the problem is that many people they are trying to convince cannot see the problem because of the reality of white supremacy in the world we live in.

It is about an hour (including the Q&A), but I want to commend Greg Thompson’s talk at last year’s Center for Pastoral Theologians on the role of memorialization in addressing racial problems in the church. Memorialization is one of the areas that Kwon and Thompson believe is an integral part of reparations. But I think that the narrow topic of the talk and the Q&A after helps give context to this larger work.

My last reading of Reparations was not on my kindle, so I have a whole additional set of highlights. I also will include about 25 pages of handwritten notes that I took so that I could be prepared to discuss the book in the book group. Unfortunately, I had not found a good study guide for the book, so these were my notes as I led the group through the book’s discussion.

Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair by Gregory Thompson and Duke Kwon Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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