Reparations | Reflections & Notes

Duke L. Kwon and Gregory Thompson. Reparations: A Christian Call For Repentance and Repair. Brazos Press, 2021 (255 pages)



It is incredibly frustrating how a simple virtue like reparations can be so easily spoiled, disparaged, and weaponized by sensationalized punditry.

As someone who grew up culturally white, I understood that the very mention of reparations was a non-starter in the conversation around race. It was an unfair “punishment” against today’s people for yesterday’s crimes. It was politically irresponsible and would yield resentment for the “misuse” or “redistribution” of wealth that was “rightfully earned.” Reparations was also seen as an open door to all sorts of demands and entitlements from a variety of supposedly disenfranchised peoples, and the end would never stop. What if the money is misused, or abused? And perhaps most fearfully, reparations would be economically disastrous, causing significant harm to the entire national community.

These, and other arguments, can no longer be held for anyone who cares about morality in our justice, opportunity in our prosperity, and love in our humanity. Not only do those arguments lack any moral imagination, those rebuttals to reparations are exposed as unthoughtful rationalizations that support what has already been deemed to be a fait acompli, the devastating and unfortunate reality of Black people’s demise in American history.

The sentiment c’est la vie must now be replaced by tikkun olam.

Reparations, as Kwon and Thompson articulate, is really quite simple, both in concept and in practice, and it is a habit of virtually everybody everywhere in almost every sphere of human relations. From a Christian perspective, reparations is profoundly biblical. From an economic perspective, reparations is logically wise. From a government’s perspective, reparations are ethical and just. From a human perspective, reparations is what love is fundamentally all about.

So why does a book like this need to be written and promulgated? The existence of that question alone is sufficient to indict the very fact of white supremacy’s hold on our culture. That is not an exaggeration. That is to accurately evaluate our history.

Kwon and Thompson have provided for the world, and specifically for The Church, a clear, articulate, resourced, and robust explanation and exhortation of and for reparations, and I highly commend this to you for your understanding, your advocacy, and your soul.


Introduction: Generations without Recompense

An Overdue Response

On August 7, 1865, former slave Jourdon Anderson sat at a table in his Dayton, Ohio, home and dictated a letter to his former owner, Colonel Patrick Anderson. Jourdon was purchased as a boy by the colonel’s father, General Paulding Anderson, to be a personal slave and playmate for the general’s young son Patrick. It was a good investment: Years later, as the Civil War approached, Patrick owned not only Jourdon but also his wife Amanda and their children. But like many slaves, Jourdon Anderson saw himself and his family not as resources to be exploited but as human beings to be honored. And so, in 1864, with the help of Union soldiers, and after some thirty years of bondage, Jourdon Anderson and his family escaped to freedom. (11)

| One year later, shortly after the end of the Civil War, learning of his former slave’s whereabouts, Colonel Anderson wrote to Jourdon and requested his return. Lamenting that his thousand-acre estate was faltering and confessing his desperate need for Jourdon’s help with the coming harvest, Colonel Anderson promised that if Jourdon returned, he would treat him kindly. The request of the former master was audacious. The reply by the former slave was masterful. (11)

Dayton, Ohio
August 7, 1865
To My Old Master, Colonel P. H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,
Jourdon Anderson



Our conviction is that racism is best understood culturally, as a force that shapes the entire ecosystem of meanings, values, ideas, institutions, and practices of American culture. (15)

We believe White supremacy to be a multigenerational campaign of cultural theft, in which the identities, agency, and prosperity of African Americans are systematically stolen and given to others. As we will s how, we believe that while this theft took many forms, its most significant and enduring forms are the theft of truth, the theft of power, and the theft of wealth. (16)

As we will show, there is a long scriptural and deep theological tradition in the Christian church that teaches, very simply, that when you take something that does not belong to you, love requires you to return it. …the Christian tradition also teaches another response to theft: restoration. (17)

[via: They cite both the Zacchaeus and Good Samaritan stories here.]

reparations is best understood as the deliberate repair of White supremacy’s cultural theft through restitution (returning what one wrongfully took) and restoration( restoring the wronged to wholeness). (17)


…our book is Christian. (18)

Our book is also focused. …this book explores reparations in the fairly specific context of anti-Black racism in the United States. (18) … Our hope is that others will take what we have done here and, insofar as it is useful, apply it to reparations in those contexts as well. (19)

…we intend for this book to be introductory. (19)

…our approach to this work is synthetic. …it is an attempt to synthesize some important insights from each of these into a coherent whole. (19)


In our view, this broadened perspective opens up new horizons for reparations by reminding us that the true imperative of reparations is not simply for a debt to be repaid but for an entire world to be repaired. (21)

We, too, believe that the United States government is morally responsible for the work of reparations—both for the ways that it sheltered White supremacy and the ways in which it benefited from that sheltering. Indeed, throughout its history the government has paid reparations to Native peoples, to Japanese Americans interned during World War II, and most relevantly, to slave owners following emancipation. The United States government has already demonstrated its capacity to enact reparations when it finds the moral and political will to do so. (21)

Our final intended contribution is our insistence that reparations requires what the Christian community refers to as repentance. (22)


The first…very simply, why us? (23)

The second concern is that of paternalism and its correlate, victimization. (24) …we have labored to write this book not from the perspective of the paternalist or from a spirit of messianic presumption. It is, rather, written from the perspective of the perpetrator and the penitent. (25)

[via: This is really, really good. So well done.]

Another frequently heard concern regards entitlements,… …reparations are not primarily given in light of a hoped-for future; they are given in light of an actual past. (25)

The simple truth, historically speaking, is that the White middle class was created by entitlements. (26)

A fourth concern is whether…we are perpetuating racial divisions… The trauma of racism, as we see it, comes not from the continued deployment of racial categories but from the continued existence of the destructive social realities from which those categories emerged and to which they refer. The way to heal from American racism is not to change our words but to change the social order that put those words in our mouths in the first place. Until we do this, no matter what language we use, our racial divisions will remain. (26)

| Finally, there is a more academic concern regarding our conception of human identity and history. (26) … First, we believe it to be perfectly reasonable to speak of the power of historical realities like race and White supremacy without thereby ascribing to those realities some sort of metaphysical essence or eschatological force. We are not, in other words, confused about the difference between the historically contingent and the theologically normative. Second, we sense in this concern a lurking tendency toward ecclesial self-interest, a subtle shift of focus away from a concern for historical injustice and toward a concern for theological self-preservation. …we believe that this work, rather than being a threat to our theology, is, to the contrary, its proper fruit. (27)


This leads us to our hopes for this work. We honestly don’t know what the impact of this project might be. At times, the harm done by White supremacy, the work required to repair it, and the comparative smallness of our own labors seem overwhelming. But, if we may be vulnerable, here is what we hope.

| Our hope for ourselves is that the call to reparations will continue to change us, to shape our imaginations, our loves, and our labors. We hope to become people whose lives are inexorably bound to the vocation of repair. Our hope for our children is that each of you will renounce the beguiling myths that tempt us and instead see the truth about the world. And not only that you will see the truth, but that in seeing it you will give yourselves, in your own ways, to the work of repairing the world. We know this means (28) that your lives will often be marked by grief, anger, and struggle. We grieve this for you. But this also means that your lives will be marked by the truth and by the faith, hope, and love that true lives require. As you labor to live the truth, remember that you are crowned with light.

| Our hope for the church is that the work of reparations, the work repair our communities from the ravages of White supremacy, will become central to its mission. Our hope is that the language of White supremacy, and reparations, now so unfamiliar and awkward, will one day become as fixed in the church’s imagination and fundamental to its vocation as the language of repentance and reconciliation is today. This is the only way that the church can fully live with integrity, and the only path to beholding the joy of redemptive love made flesh in the streets of this world. Our hope for our nation is that we will renounce our willful blindness to our history, confess, and give ourselves collectively and collaboratively to the work of repairing what we have done. Until we do this, we will never embody the meaning of our creeds, never escape the secret shame and uneasy conscience that shadows our national identity, never know peace in our cities.

| Most of all, however, our hopes are for our African American friends and neighbors. Our hope is that the singular harm wrought by White supremacy, the theft it has visited upon you and those you love, will broadly be seen for what it is. Our hope is that when it is seen, it will be confessed. Our hope is that when it is confessed, it will be renounced. Our hope is that when it is renounced, the world that it made will pass away, and its weight will fall from your shoulders. Our hope is reparation. We labor toward this hope. This work is for you. (28)

1. The Call to See

The Call to See

Ways of Seeing Racism

Many of us need a different way of seeing race in America, one that makes reparations not only plausible but inevitable. The task of what follows is twofold: First, we explore three dominant ways of seeing American racism and the responses to which each of them inclines. Second, we gesture toward a different way of seeing American racism—to be more fully developed in chapters 2 and 3—that serves as the foundation of this work. (32)

Racisms as Personal Prejudice

Racism as Relational Division

Ebedded in More Than Equals [:Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice], and the various endeavors to which it gave rise, is a particular way of seeing American racism. They describe American racism not primarily in terms of personal prejudice but in terms of relational division. (35)

reconciliation is not simply the cessation of hostilities or the willingness to coexist. It is, rather, about the cultivation of friendship and the creation of a community that bears witness to the reality of life beyond estrangement. (36)

Racism as Institutional Injustice

Racism as Cultural (Dis)Order

Specifically, racism is an entire culture—a comprehensive way of being and doing that is embedded in our structures of meaning, morality, language, and memory and expressed in our patterns of individual, social, and institutional behavior. (42)

Second, we do intend to say that racism is not incidental but elemental to American culture—that it goes all the way down. …it is also the case that, historically speaking, these things have been functionally indivisible. (42)

Because racism is a comprehensively broken culture, what is needed—if we are to truly heal—is comprehensive cultural repair. (44)

The Struggle to See

The Social Struggle

The segregated structures of American life function as a sort of cataract to true sight. (45)

| But this social structure is not simply a cataract. It is also coercive. It not only blinds us from seeing; it also pressures us not to see. (45)

The Personal Struggle

The Most powerful obstacles to sight lie instead within ourselves. … Many of us resist seeing the truth of American racism not simply for social but for personal reasons as well. (45)

The first of these reasons is that American racial history threatens our personal identity. … No longer may we see ourselves as the benedicted inheritors of a city on a hill. We must also see ourselves as inhabitants of a city that was built on the graves of broken children, and as beneficiaries of that breaking. We must see ourselves not simply as inheritors of history’s nobility but also as ones who are implicated in history’s nightmares. (46)

| Another reason that we refuse to see the truth about race in America is because it complicates our personal histories. (46)

What if the bricks of the buildings we love were built by the hands of the tortured? What if the gates that open for us onto shaded groves close behind us in the faces of others? What if the place that built our minds was also a place in which others’ bodies were broken? What then? (47)

| Finally, we believe there is a third reason that many of us resist seeing the truth about American racism: it questions our personal aspirations. (47) … What if the cultural inheritance we have received is not universal but selective and exclusive? … What if, out of no evident fault of our own, our pursuit of happiness entails the sorrow of others? What happens to our aspirations? What happens to the lives we have imagined for ourselves? (48)

But we also see these temptations for what they are: temptations to flee from reality. Temptations to blind ourselves to the truth about who we are as a people and a society, and what will finally be required of us if we are to heal. To succumb to this temptation is to undergo a kind of death—the death of ourselves and of our neighbors and the communities we share. To resist these temptations is to embrace freedom: freedom from blind complicity with evil and freedom to rejoice in the possibilities of a world made new. (48)

2. Seeing the Reality of White Supremacy

The Immeasurable Distance

Seeing America

While we believe that the ideals and institutions of this nation are a source of singular benefit, we also believe that these benefits have been primarily—and at times exclusively—for White Americans. This is what we mean when we say that racism is a cultural disorder. In order to truly see the way that racism is a fundamental part of the American cultural order, we have to see the ways in which America has sheltered the supremacy of Whiteness. Until we do so, we will never respond adequately. (53)

Seeing Whiteness, Seeing Supremacy

Whiteness: A Modern Invention

The Creation of Blackness

In the decades following this encounter, European colonial powers struggled to keep up with the insatiable colonial appetite for slave labor. The practical problem was where to get the slaves. There were two obvious markets: the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe (from which the world slave is derived), who for five hundred years had been the favored source of slave labor in Europe, and the Native peoples of the so-called New World. But the constant war that resulted from attempting to enslave people who lived nearby and the ravages of disease made these markets impractical. The slaves would have to be found elsewhere: Africa. Unlike the Slavic and Native peoples, Africans lived a world away, reducing the need for endless border wars. And unlike the Native peoples, Africans proved more resilient to the scourge of European disease. These insights gave rise to a virtually exclusive focus on the trade of Africans. This trade, funded by newly formed European companies and enabled by partnerships with African traders, provided the apparently boundless supply of enslaved labor necessary for extending the religious and cultural ambition of European imperialism into the New World. (56)

| Because distinctions between the diverse linguistic, religious, and political backgrounds of the various African tribal peoples were invisible to the European traders, the human beings swept up in the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade were simply designated as “Black.” Over time, slavery and a distinctly African form of Blackness became inexorably (56) linked, constituting a significant shift in the meaning of slavery. Whereas, for hundreds of years, slavery was justified largely on religious and cultural grounds, now an additional ground entered the picture: Blackness. Thus, in the emerging cultural logic fo enslavement in the New World, and for the first time in history, enslavement and Blackness were indivisibly bound together. (57)

| As with all social processes, this emergence took time. Initially, Africans were enslaved not for their Blackness but primarily because Europeans viewed them as culturally unenlightened and religiously pagan. But in time a problem emerged. If, as the European powers claimed, the goal of imperial expansion was to brig culture to the unenlightened and religion to the unconverted, what happens when the project succeeds? What happens when the slaves adopt the master’s culture? What happens when the unconverted convert? On what basis do they remain enslaved? This was precisely the question facing slave owners in the American colonies at the end of the seventeenth century. One option, of course, was to free the slaves, to consider the imperial goals accomplished and to enfold the formerly enslaved into the empire. But that would be an economic disaster. Without slavery, the entire imperial project would fail. From the imperial perspective, slavery had to continue. This continuation required a new justification for slavery: Blackness alone. (57)

Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a new meaning for Blackness emerged. Rather than simply a physical description, it became an account of personal capacity. To be Black was to possess lesser mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational capacity; it was to be inferior. It also came to signify moral deficiency, an innate tendency toward laziness, theft, duplicity, and lust. To be Black was to be dangerous. As a result of these notions of personal inferiority and moral danger, Blackness also came to take on a new meaning: social marginalization. Blackness became not (57) simply a personal but also a social designation. Over time, Blackness came to indicate not merely dark skin but also dimmed personal capacities, a shadowed moral orientation, and a place at the hidden margins of the social order. (58)

The Mirror of Blackness

Understanding this history is crucial because it is in the context of these emerging notions of Blackness that modern racial notions of Whiteness emerged. …to be White meant simply to not be Black. (58)

| But over time Whiteness came to mean more than this. … Where Blackness signified inferior personal capacity, Whiteness signified superior personal capacity. Where Blackness signified moral deficiency, Whiteness signified moral virtue. Where Blackness signified the margins of society, Whiteness signified a rightful claim to the center. To be White came to mean not only having lighter skin but also possessing elevated personal capacity, inherent moral virtue, and an assumed place at the center of the social order. And, as with Blackness, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the presence of this newly invented notion of Whiteness was clearly (58) visible in American cultural life. But the fullness of its social implications was yet to be seen. (59)

Supremacy: Its Social Function

White Supremacy as Original

We are not seeking to offer a comprehensive theory of America or to imbue the complex origins of America with a single meaning. Our claim about American origins is much more modest. Simply put, it is this: The social supremacy of people characterized as White—in other words, White supremacy—was present and powerful in the founding of America. (60)

| The most obvious expression of this fact is the decision to maintain and protect the institution of slavery. (60)

It always seemed a most iniquitous scheme to me to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. – Abigail Adams, quoted in Holt, “Children on Fire”

White Supremacy as Pervasive

White supremacy, rather than being an unfortunate and aberrant weed in the garden of democracy, was in fact a native species that grew into and flowered out of every institution that the American founders created, in every region of the nation. (63)

Most pressing was the concern about the role of the growing number of free Blacks in a system of representative government. Given White beliefs about the limited personal and moral capacity of Black Americans, and given White fears of the possibility of Black political influence, any notion of Black citizenship was out of the question. But if they were not slaves and not citizens, then what were they? How were they to be (63) governed? And, perhaps most important of all, how were they to relate to Whites? Rather than resolving these difficult questions by enfolding American Americans into the American republic, the founding fathers established two approaches to African American life, approaches that transformed the nature of American institutional life. The first of these was segregation. … But by the turn of the century, a more dramatic solution had begun to take root: colonization. If Black Americans deserved freedom but could not live as free people in America, perhaps they should be sent back to Africa. (64)

In the intervening years, the central question of American political life was what would happen to those institutions as the nation expanded into new territories. Would the agricultural slave economies of the American South dominate these territories (and thus the nation) or would the more urban and abolitionist energies of the North expand their power? It was a question that would only be answered by war. (64)

The slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery. – W.E.B. Du Bois

White Supremacy as Enduring

Contrary to popular perception, the civil rights movement did not simply emerge out of the context of mid-century southern American racism. It was, rather, a contemporary expression of one of the most abiding struggles in American culture—the struggle against the enduring dominance of White supremacy. (67)

| The second important reality is that White supremacy did not come to an end after that particular era of the civil rights movement. (67)

White supremacy is not merely a historical accident, an occasional emergence in an otherwise egalitarian history. Rather, White supremacy is original to America and pervasive across its institutions, enduring from the beginning of its history to the present moment. (68)

Seeing Ourselves

3. Seeing the Effect of White Supremacy

Even unto Death

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
Of the Statute of Virgina for Religious Freedom
and Father of the University of Virginia

The Declaration of Independence told his republican political story, articulating his vision of free citizens. The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom told his Enlightenment philosophical story, articulating his vision of a free mind. But the University of Virginia old perhaps his most important story, his American cultural story, his vision of what a free society could be. (72)

But like the republic itself, Jefferson’s university was bound to the contradictions of White supremacy. … “He believed that a southern institution was necessary to protect the sons of the South from abolitionist teachings in the North,”… (72)

At the heart of our case for reparations lies the claim that White supremacy is best understood as a massive, multigenerational project of cultural theft. In the name of White supremacy, America stole Black bodies from their homes, stole the labor from those bodies, stole the fruit of that labor, stole the wealth from that fruit, and in the end stole the very memory of those it victimized from the annals of the earth. Not only this, America then used its ill-gotten gain to build monuments to tis own genius on top of the very graves of the forgotten. This theft, every bit as much as the Declaration of Independence, is the legacy of both Thomas Jefferson and the republic for which he stands. (74)

White Supremacy and the Theft of Truth

American White supremacy is rooted in and sustained by an account of the world, a cherished collection of myths—about the nature of humanity, the character of society, and the obligations of morality—whose purpose is to normalize the political and cultural supremacy of White Americans. (74)

The Theft of Identity

We are speaking of identity in a different sense, not in the ineradicable theological sense but in the constructed and contingent social sense—that is, to the meaning and value assigned to a given person or group of persons by the social order in which they live. Our claim is simply that the social identity assigned by the order of White supremacy was a powerful theft of the truth of African Americans’ inherent dignity. (75)

Black Animalization

Black Demonization

In this framework, the inferiority of Blacks is not merely physical but moral. … The social, and in particular sexual, anxiety created by this convergence is almost impossible to overstate. The threat of BLack-White sexuality became the moral offense of the White supremacist (76) order. … No longer simply viewed as lazy, they were now considered predatory. (77)

Black Infantilization

The core assumption of infantilization is diminished capacity—…. (77)

The Theft of History

White supremacy also stole the truth about history. It could hardly be otherwise. White supremacy, after all, was not simply an anthropological (77) account but a cultural order, a world. As a world, it required an account of itself that could render this world believable. Yet the believable history it created was a lie sustained by two powerful forces: romanticization and erasure. (78)


The first of these is the myth of the honorable war. As with most wars, the American Civil War began in the context of recrimination, with each side viewing the other as a mortal enemy so dangerous that it must be destroyed. (78)

How can a winner and a loser collaborate in the construction of a new life together? This challenge led the nation to embrace a second myth: the myth of the Lost Cause. The Lost Cause is a nostalgic and highly edited view of the antebellum South and the war that was fought to preserve it. In this post-war re-narration, the war was not over slavery. In this retelling, slavery was “incidental.” It was, rather, a valiant if doomed effort to preserve a way of life characterized by honorable men, socially refined and sexually pristine belles, benevolent masters, happy slaves, fruitful soil, and—above all—political self-determination. (79)

This led to a third myth in the work of national reconciliation: the myth of the tragedy of Reconstruction. One of the most consequential realities of American history is that Reconstruction, the decade-long attempt to rebuild the post-Civil War nation on terms established by the federal government, was ultimately a failure. … Each side needed to acknowledge Reconstruction’s failure, but in terms that avoided mutual recrimination. This led almost immediately to a national revision of the era of Reconstruction, in which the real tragedy was not the aggression of the North or the intransigence of (79) the South but the disastrous ways in which African Americans expressed their newfound freedom in political vindictiveness and sexual license. (80)

This points to the fourth, and perhaps most important, element of the post-war history: the myth of the problematic Negro. …the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw an unprecedented rise in the promotion and appropriation of Whiteness as a category. Crucially, however, this decision to sublimate sectional differences under the politically expedient banner of Whiteness led to a renewed emphasis on the problem of Blackness. …its most basic conviction was that the presence and growing power of Black people in America was a fundamental threat to the American way of life. … The answer was Jim Crow. (80)


From the 1880s to the 1920s, an explosion of articles, books, films, and memorials appeared, all devoted to perpetuating the new American story. (81)

As important as what is said, however, is what is not said, what books are not written, what films are not made, what memorials are not erected. … In this new American self-narration, the most important truths about African Americans were simply erased from the story. Erased were the truths of the dignity of their humanity. The crime of their abduction. The violence of their subjugation. The endlessness of their captivity. The rape of their bodies. The significance of their labor. The sale of their children. The desperation of their resistance. The courage of their flight. The resilience of their communities. The shrewdness of their institutions. The brilliance of their art. The power of their religion. The legitimacy of their demands. The triumph of their mere survival. Where are the monographs and monuments to these truths? In the White supremacist mythology of post-war America, the answer is nowhere. (831)

| This erasure, this “willed forgetting,” reveals something deeply important about the nature of American racism: its aim was not, fundamentally, to hate African Americans; its aim was not to see them. Its aim was to (81) render invisible their humanity and its claims upon White Americans. (82)

White Supremacy and the Theft of Power

Race, in short, is an effect of power. – Bruce Baum

Personal Power

In its most elemental sense, this theft expressed itself as the theft of personal power, of an individual’s ability to express agency of body or mind. (82)

Political Power

White Supremacy and the Theft of Wealth

Theft by Extraction

Economically speaking, more important than the enslaved person’s status as wealth was their role in the creation of wealth. (87) … though it is easy to view cotton as little more than a quaint agricultural heirloom in our national memory, the truth is that its production and trade created the world’s first truly international economic empire. (88)

It is tempting to create a barrier between the historically distant economy of slavery and the economy of our own time, to imagine that the two economies are sealed off from one another. But this distinction, consoling as it might be, is false. The two economies are in fact one economy in history, and the enslavement of human beings is its foundation. (89)

…the whole history of the United States comes walking over the hill behind a line of people in chains. – Edward Baptist

Theft by Obstruction

…land was the basis of the American economy. To control land was to control one’s economic destiny. (89)

Rather than transferring the lands to African Americans outright, the federal government decided to sell the land at auction. … And so this land, held so long by White men from the South, became land held by White men from the North. (90)

cf. the Freedman’s Savings Bank

African Americans were never able to close the wealth gap created by centuries of enslavement. …there was another more sinister reasons that contributed to this inequity: the menace of White violence. (92) … Though varied in proximate cause, each of these resulted in the systematic destruction of the institutions of the Black economy. Thus, even as the nation emerged from the Long Depression of the 1870s to the 1890s and entered into the roaring economy of the Gilded Age, African Americans were largely excluded from its benefits. (93)

cf. the New Deal program implemented by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s.

Seeing Theft

What, then, is the effect of White supremacy on African American life? In short, theft. The theft of truth through the romanticization of American history and the erasure of African Americans from that history. The theft of power, of the personal and political agency necessary for effectively challenging White supremacy. And the theft of wealth by extracting it from African Americans and by purposefully obstructing their struggle to acquire it. Understanding each of these forms of theft is crucial, not only because it helps us see the truth about White supremacy but also because it shows us the work that must be done if we are to finally repair the damage wrought by its centuries of plunder. (95)

4. The Call to Own

The True Test of Their Faith

Why did you single out the church? (98)

Because the church is the only institution claiming to be in the business of salvation, resurrection, and the giving and restoring of life. General Motors has never made that kind of claim. – Calvin B. Marshall III

The “Black Manifesto,” in other words, was far more than a call to pay. It was a call to own. (100)

The Call to Own

Whose responsibility is it to address White supremacy’s centuries-long theft of African Americans? Ask anyone this question today and the most likely response will be that this responsibility, if it belongs to anyone at all, belongs chiefly to the US government. (100)

cf. Indian Claims Commission, 1946; The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971; The Civil Liberties Act of 1988; Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862

The question is not whether it is legally or economically feasible for the government to enact reparations; history clearly demonstrates that it is. The question is, and always has been, whether the government and the citizens it represents can muster the moral and political will to own our collective past and to devote ourselves to its repair. (101)

Even so, the work of repairing the ravages of White supremacy is not the burden of the government alone. We believe that the Christian church in America bears a singular responsibility to address the historical thefts of White supremacy, for three primary reasons. First, the church’s fundamental mission should compel God’s people to become agents of repair in a world ravaged by theft. Second, the church’s complicated history, which tells of both its faithfulness and its failure in the face of White supremacy, demands an honest reckoning and furnishes the church with both hope and humiliation before the call to repair. Third, the church’s moral tradition, particularly its ethics of restitution and restoration, equips it with the spiritual resources with which to address this history and to begin the work of repair. (101)

…we must briefly clarify what we mean by the “church.” In some places throughout this book and particularly in this chapter, we use the term in reference to congregations. (101)

In other places in this work, we intend the label “church” to be inclusive of Christian institutions: denominations, academic institutions, publications, and other ecclesial organizations and societies that serve a more specialized ministerial purpose than that of local congregations. (102)

In other places still, we use the label “church” to include the Christian movement of individuals. (102)

The Mission of the Church in a World of Theft

…one tendency is to begin by weighing the church’s sins—its historical and ongoing failings and flaws. … However, we believe there is a more compelling starting point: namely, the church’s abundant convictions and claims about its relationship with the broken and plundered world to which it has been called—in short, its mission in a world of theft. (103)

Vocational Identity

The first missional reason the church has a fundamental responsibility to respond to the theft of White supremacy emerges from its nature and (103) identity as a community of love. (104)

In other words, the church by its nature exists to be a healer of the very kind of wounds inflicted by the extractor, captor, and oppressor known as White supremacy. … The church must take seriously the work of repair because, in the most profound way, love is simply who we are. (104)

Transformational Capacity

First, the church’s greatest asset is its human capital—its people and the relationships it fosters. (105)

…the church must nurture a certain kind of community. In other words, it must devote its immense spiritual resources to the transformation of individual lives. (105)

Third, churches are equipped for the work of reparative love because of their commitment and calling to love their neighbors in a local context. (105)

Finally, the church is uniquely equipped to do the work of love because of the substantial financial resources at its disposal. Reparations is more than the transfer of material goods, but it is certainly not less than that. … In short, giving is what Christians do. And in engaging the work of reparations, giving is what Christians must continue to do for the good of our neighbors. (106)

Missional Integrity

…How should churches minister if they are embedded (106) in one of the longest standing White supremacist social orders in the history of the world? (107)

In the name of God, in the interest of human dignity and for the cause of democracy, I appeal to these millions to gird their courage, to speak out and to act on their basic convictions. In their hearts the white Southerners know the loyalty, the courage and the democratic responsibility of the Negro people. … And the South should know that the effort of Negroes to vote is not merely a matter of exercising rights guaranteed by the United States constitution. The question is beyond rights. We have a duty to perform. We have a moral obligation to carry out. We have the duty to remove from political domination a small minority that cripples the economic and social institutions of our nation and thereby degrades and impoverishes everyone. But beyond this, it is our duty to struggle by non-violence for justice, because we are opposed to all injustices, wherever it exists, first of all, in ourselves. – Address Delivered at a Meeting Launching the SCLC Crusade for Citizenship at Greater Bethel AME Church | The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute (

Thus King appeals to the duty of American citizens both (108) Black and White to secure for Blacks their “democratic responsibility”—indeed, their “moral obligation”—to vote. (109)

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. – Jeremiah 29:7

And when the church forms and equips its members to participate in the work of reparations—selflessly seeking the welfare of their fellow citizens, reimagining the plundered world which they have been called to love, and laboring toward a more just and whole social order—it must do so not only as a private act of Christian faithfulness but as a public act of democratic citizenship. (109)

The History of the Church in a World of Theft

I love the religion of Christianity—which cometh from above—which is pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of good fruits, and without hypocrisy. I love that religion which sends its votaries to bind up the wounds of those who have fallen among thieves. By all the love I bear to such a Christianity as this, I hate that of the Priest and Levite, that with long-faced Phariseeism goes up to Jerusalem and worship[s], and leaves the bruised and wounded to die. I despise the religion that can carry Bibles to the heathen on the other side of the globe and withhold them from heathen on this side—which can talk about human rights yonder and traffic in human flesh here. I love that which makes its votaries do to others as they would that others should do to them. … There is another religion. It is that which takes off fetters instead of binding them on—that which breaks every yoke—that lift[s] up the bowed down. The Anti-Slavery platform is based on this kind of religion. It spreads its table to the lame, the halt, and the blind. It goes down after a long neglected race. It passes, link by link till it finds the lowest link in humanity’s chain—humanity’s most degraded form in the most abject condition. It reaches down its arm and tells them to stand up. This is Anti-Slavery—this is Christianity. – Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country (

A History of Faithfulness

No condition of birth, no shade of color, no mere misfortune of circumstance can annul the birth-right charter, which God has bequeathed to every being upon whom he has stamped his own image, by making him a free moral agent. … He who robs his fellow man of this tramples upon right, subverts justice, outrages humanity, … and sacrilegiously assumes the prerogative of God; and further,…he who retains by force, and refuses to surrender that which was orginally obtained by violence or fraud, is joint partner in the original sin, becomes its apologist and makes it the business of every moment to perpetuate it afresh, however he may lull his conscience by the vain plea of expedience or necessity. – [Theodore Dwight Weld, “Weld to William Lloyd Garrison, Hartford [Conn.], January 2, 1833,” Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimké Weld, and Sarah Grimké, 1822-1844, ed. Gilbert H. Barnes and Dwight L. Dumond, 2 vols. (Gloucester, MA: P. Smith,  1965), quoted in David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 253.]

…it is impossible to conceive of the civil rights movement without placing black Christianity at its center, for it empowered the rank and file who made the movement move. And when it moved, it demolished the system of legal segregation. – Paul Harvey

A History of Failure

But if the story of the church in America is one of vocational faithfulness, it is also one of shameful failure. (115)

That is, if the effect of White supremacy is a multidimensional cultural theft of African Americans, then we may see the church as having inhabited three different roles in relation to that theft: as perpetrator, as accomplice, and as silent bystander. (117)

The Church as Perpetrator

In 1855, abolitionist minister and educator John Fee estimated that ministers of the gospel and members of Protestant churches owned a total of 660,563 slaves whose total market value amounted to about $264 million. …local churches themselves that own slaves. (117)

The church also functioned as an active perpetrator of White supremacist theft in its gross misuse of the Christian Scriptures. (118)

cf. “Slave Bibles.”

Consider the following excerpt from an Episcopalian slave catechism issued in Charleston, South Carolina:

Q: Who gave you a master and a mistress?
A: God gave them to me.
Q: Who says that you must obey them?
A: God says that I must.
Q: What book tells you all these things?
A: The Bible.
Q: What does God say about your work?
A: He that will not work shall not eat.
Q: Did Adam and Eve have to work?
A: Yes, they were to keep the garden.
Q: Was it hard to keep that garden?
A: No, it was very easy.
Q: What makes the crops so hard to grow now?
A: Sin makes it.
Q: What makes you lazy?
A: My own wicked heart. (119)

Here is how another catechism explains what the Bible says about the slave’s ultimate purpose:

Q: What did God make for you?
A: To make a crop. (119)

In homes and across plantations, enslaved image-bearers were taught despoiling deceptions: that God had ultimately created them for utility, not for God-honoring doxology nor with ineradicable dignity. With the authority of Scripture, their existence and their identity were defined by their labor. (120)

The Church as Accomplice

cf. The Negro, a Beast; or, “Im the Image of God” (1900)

The Church as Silent Bystander

To be clear, bystanders do not bear moral responsibility for a theft or robbery simply because of their physical proximity to it; rather, (125) they are responsible only if they have knowledge of the act, together with the ability and moral obligation to prevent it. But the church was not an “innocent bystander,” stumbling upon the scene of a crime, frustrated by its powerlessness. Rather, the church had ample knowledge of the thefts of slavery, Jim Crow, and the racial violence of the Klan and the lynch mob. And it also had the moral obligation, authority, and practical resources to successfully disrupt or prevent these evils, whether in part or in whole. (126)

Owning Our History

First, it is hardly a singularly Christian tendency to read history selectively. But as a people committed to truth, we must resist the temptation to neglect either the story of the church’s faithfulness or the story of the church’s failures with regard to White supremacy. … The American church, in other words, must learn to own its whole history: if the church’s role in the abolition of slavery, then also its role in establishing and preserving slavery; if the righteousness of Douglass, Wells, and King, then also the unrighteousness of Dabney, Criswell, and Jones; if the moral courage of the Black church in the civil rights era, then also the moral cowardice of the White church during that same period; if the church’s faithfulness, then also the church’s failures. All of it is ours, and indivisible part of our ecclesial inheritance, and thus all of it must be fully owned. (130)

| Second, this history implicates us all. (130)

Just as we must see and own each part of our collective story, we must also respond to each part. … The simple truth is that when the people of God collaborate with one another and with their neighbors in redemptive labor, powerful social transformation can occur. On the other hand, seeing the church’s history of failure is critical not only because it keeps us from proud triumphalism in our labors but also because it demands that we honestly reckon with those failures. In other words, the church’s past faithfulness fuels us with hope concerning the possibility of the church in its work of repair. (131)

A Call to the Church

5. Owning the Ethic of Restitution

Blood spilled in violence doesn’t just dry and drift away in the wind, no! It cries out for restitution, redemption. – Ralph Ellison, Juneteeth

Blinded with the Love of Gain

In 1684, John Hepburn departed Great Britain and settled down in East Jersey, where he made a quiet living as a tailor. He arrived in America as an indentured servant and a Quaker. Both of these attributes, each in its own way, would arouse within him a moral disquietude over the enslavement of Africans—the former by fostering personal empathy for those laboring under lifelong bondage, the latter by embedding him in a religious community on the front lines of the abolition movement. Initially, however, Hepburn’s convictions, not to mention his pen, lay dormant. (133)

| But year after year Hepburn’s disdain for slavery deepened as he studied abolitionist writings from both sides of the Atlantic and witnessed an alarming number of his neighbors purchasing slaves. He also gained firsthand knowledge of the cruelties of the slave trade during frequent visits to Perth Amboy, the port city that became the center of the slave trade in New Jersey. As slavery was increasingly woven into the colony’s political economy, and as local slave codes created increasingly unbearable (133) conditions for enslaved Africans, Hepburn grew more troubled in conscience. Finally, after thirty years of waiting silently—mistakenly, he would later confess—he could bear it no longer. Hepburn decided to publicly contend for the truth. (134)

| The result was a strongly worded pamphlet, The American Defence of the Christian Golden Rule, published in 1715. Writing out of a sense of “Christian duty,” Hepburn condemns slavery as “an abominable Anti- Christian practice” and “an Affront upon the ever blessed Messiah, and his glorious Gospel.” He enumerates the cruelties of slavery, critiques the greed of slave merchants, bemoans the hypocrisy of Christians, and calls slave owners to repentance. But the most remarkable feature of American Defence is its argument that the Bible requires a particular expression of repentance for the “inriching sin” of slavery—namely, restitution. Not only does slavery “rob men of their Liberty and Labour”; slavery also, by forcing and compelling God’s creatures against their will, entails the “Manifest Robbery” of human agency itself. “Blinded with the love of Gain,” enslavers continue this inhumane practice of robbery only in order to “highly inrich themselves by the Bargain.” Thus, Hepburn concludes, slave owners not only must repent of these sins but also must return to their enslaved image-bearers all that they had stolen from them:

I am of Opinion, that such Sins cannot be repented of without Restitution made to them that they have wronged; for until the Cause be removed, I know not how the Effect should cease. But they that live and dye without making Restitution to them that they have wronged, how they can expect the Forgiveness of God, I leave this to the Reader to judge, and then they cannot blame the Writer for a false Construction. . . . It cannot stand with the Justice of God that the Negroes or the wronged shall have no Restitution at all; and seeing then that they must be restored of the Wrongs that they have suffered, it must be restored out of the Property of him that hath wronged them; and this Property is his Interest of Eternal Life; and such a proportion of this as will be equivalent to the Wrongs done unto the Negroes or any others, must go to make up this Restitution; for they will have it.

Owning Our Ethical Heritage

Restitution for the thefts of White supremacy is an old idea. Indeed, it is older than America itself. (136)

| What is more, American Defence also demonstrates that the early call for restitution in America, like abolitionism as a whole, was originally a distinctly Christian endeavor. (136)

We believe that to construct a Christian account of reparations, it is crucial that we own not only the church’s fundamental mission in a world ravaged by theft, and its complicated history in regard to White supremacist theft, but also its scriptural an theological heritage in regard to the ethics of theft. That heritage raises a fundamental question: What is morally required of those who are guilty of stealing? And it offers an unequivocal answer: not repentance alone but restitution. Ideed, the two are inseparable. (136)

Restitution and Zacchaeus

Thus, not unlike oppressive systems in every time and place, the despoiling practices of tax collectors in Judea, while technically illegal, were permitted by uncodified social norms and facilitated by the control of knowledge. (138)

The ancient tax collection system promoted nothing less than “institutional robbery,” and Zacchaeus was one of its very best robbers. (138)

the surprise of Jesus’s radical kindness. … Love sees, stops, and calls us by name. … In the ancient world, the giving and receiving of hospitality was a sign of intimacy and solidarity, a whole-hearted exchange of friendship. …tax collectors were widely regarded “almost as the moral equivalent of lepers”—condemned for their habitual stealing, shunned as ritually unclean because of their regular contact with Gentiles, and loathed for their collusion with Rome. (138)

the tax collector’s radical transformation. … Surely it is the kindness and grace of Jesus that leads Zacchaeus to renounce his former way of life and pledge to redress his wrongs. He stands as if to make a public vow and boldly declares, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (19:8). … Once a despised thief, now a beloved son, Zacchaeus promises to make restitution. (139)

[via: Just a note that there is an alternative explanation, hanging on the word “if.” That is, Zacchaeus offers restitution if he has done anything wrong. Given that the name “Zakkai” may mean “innocent,” the story may be an indicator of Zacchaeus being more a victim of communal ostracization than of defrauding people. Again, possible interpretation.]

Restitution and the Hebrew Scriptures

…[the Old Testament’s] moral foundation is established primarily by three passages from the law of Moses: Exodus 21:33-22:15; Leviticus 6:1-7; and Numbers 5:5-8. (139)

Realization. Restitution starts with the personal realization of guilt. (Lev. 6:4). This, we are told, must also lead to verbal confession of sin (Num. (139) 5:8.

Return. After realizing their guilt, those in possession of sinfully acquired goods are required to “return” what was taken and “make full restitution” to the injured party (Lev. 6:4-5; Num. 5:7). This must be done even at painful cost to one’s own livelihood (Exod. 22:3). In many circumstances, guilty parties must also pay an additional penalty based on the value of the stolen goods—for example, an added fifth of the value (Lev. 6:4-5; Num. 5:7), or a total restitution payment of double (Exod. 22:4, 9), or four or even five times (Exod. 22:1), the original value. (140)

This basic command is applied to a wide range of types of stealing: severe forms of sinful taking, such as robbery, extortion, or thefts aggravated by perjury, and also more underhanded expressions of theft, such as taking something entrusted to you by a neighbor, or finding and keeping lost property (Lev. 6:2-4). According to these laws, restitution is required even in cases of indirect causality and negligence—for example, when someone’s livestock wanders into a neighbor’s field and consumes the produce there or when a fire started by one person damages a neighbor’s property (Exod. 21:33-34; 22:5, 6, 14). Thus, it is clear from such examples that Scripture does not portray restitution as a rare and radical response to only the most heinous instances of stealing. Instead, it is a routine response to even the most ordinary instances. (140)

Relatives. …Numbers 5:8: “But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him.” (140)

Ram. …(Lev. 6:6-7; Num. 5:8). … some scholars argue that the word [אשם] may refer to the penalty or compensation that, first, renders payment for the sinner’s guilt as restitution made unto the Lord (all thefts against God’s image-bearers ultimately being thefts against God himself), and second, repairs breaches of faith with the Lord. Thus, they conclude, the ‘asham that is the focus of Leviticus 5:14-6:7 may be more accurately called a “reparation offering.” (141)

Remission. By remission, we refer to the forgiveness of sins, which is generously offered to all: “He shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty” (Lev. 6:7) … Restitution is presented in these passages as a condition of divine forgiveness. … This truth is established by the sequence of reparative actions outlined in these passages: first, guilt is realized, then the stolen property is returned, and only thereafter is atonement made and forgiveness declared (Lev. 6:4-7; Num. 5:7-8). (141)

According to the consistent testimony of the church, when making restitution, Christians are no longer required to pay the added fifth of the value (Lev. 6:5; Num. 5:7), or to pay back double (Exod. 22:4, 7, 9) or four or five times the value (Exod. 22:1), as the case may be. Now, in Christ, “simple restitution” will do. (142)

Since the advent of Christ, restitution differs from its practice in the Hebrew Scriptures in that only simple restitution is required and atonement for theft is accomplished in Christ’s death, but its ethical force otherwise remains fundamentally the same. As with Zacchaeus, the basic obligation endures to this day: If you steal something, you have to give it back.. (143)

Restitution and Christian Tradition

The Comprehensiveness of Restitution

First, restitution is required for every kind of stealing—not only the sinful taking of what rightfully belongs to another but also the sinful withholding, obstructing, and keeping of those stolen or found items. (144)

| Second, when making restitution, the original goods must be returned—or payment of equivalent value must be made—whether they be material or nonmaterial possessions. (144)

Third, while the principles or restitution are ordinarily applied to cases involving individuals, older commentators view them as relevant to the theft of groups or corporate bodies as well. (144)

The Recipients of Restitution

If restitution entails the return of the thing originally stolen, whether it be a material or nonmaterial good, then to whom should those goods be returned? According to the early literature, there are three classes of rightful recipients of restitution: original owners, heirs, and the poor. (145)

The Providers of Restitution

cf. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae), Thomas Boston (Illustration of the Doctrines), and Richard Baxter (Christian Directory; cf. Beveridge, Nature and Necessity of Restitution)

…the restitutionary responsibility of these heirs is not grounded in a moral transfer of the parent’s (or ancestor’s) personal guilt to their heir but in the simple yet crucial fact that the stolen possessions, despite now being in the hands of the heir, still belong to the original owner (or that original owner’s heir). (149)

The Moral Urgency of Restitution

To retain ill-gotten goods is itself an expression of unrepentance, a persistence in sin. …apart from restitution, divine forgiveness is illusory, for restitution authenticates our repentance for theft. (150)

Till this is done your Sin can never be pardoned, for it is plain, there can be no Pardon without true Repentance; and it is as plain, that there can be no true Repentance without Restitution; for no Man can be said to be truly Penitent for any Sin that still continues in it; but as I observed before, he that sinned in getting his Neighbour’s Goods, still continues in the same Sin until he hath restored them to hi; for he wrongs him as much by unlawful keeping, as he did by unlawful getting, of them; and therefore it is in vain to pretend that you are sorry for the Sin, until you restore what you got by it. [Beveridge, Nature and Necessity of Restitution, 27.]

…according to passages such as Proverbs 21:7, Jeremiah 17:11, and Job 20:12-29, when restitution is forsaken a “secret withering curse” is visited upon the thief, his possessions, and his entire household. (150)

But there is a second reason that restitution should be made with a sense of moral urgency: the well-being of the injured party, which must be properly considered in love. (151)

Restitution and White Supremacy

The ethic of restitution, like White supremacy, was original in America, woven into the moral fabric of the new nation. And yet,… How could this be? The problem, as we have seen, was not that they didn’t believe in restitution. The problem was that they didn’t believe they had stolen anything—or anyone. (152)

cf. A Dialogue concerning the Slavery of the Africans, Samuel Hopkins; A Disuasion to Great Britain and the Colonies, James Swan; “The Charitable Blessed,” Timothy Dwight IV

When we introduced these unhappy people into this country, we charged ourselves with the whole care of their temporal and eternal interests; and became responsible to God for the manner, in which we should perform this duty. It is in vain to allege, that our ancestors brought them hither, and not we. As well might a son, who inherited an ample patrimony, refuse to pay a debt, because it was contracted by his father. We inherit our ample patrimony with all its incumbrances; and we are bound to pay the debts of our ancestors. This debt, particularly, we are bound to discharge: and, when the righteous Judge of the Universe comes to reckon with his servants, he will rigidly exact the payment at our hands. To give them liberty, and stop here, is to entail upon them a curse. We are bound to give them, also, knowledge, industry, economy, good habits, moral and religious instruction, and all the means of eternal life. [Dwight, “Charitable Blessed,” 22-23]

Our unpaid labor has been a stepping-stone to its financial success. Some of its dividends must surely be ours. – Sojourner Truth

If the Government had the right to free us she had a right to make some provision for us and since she did not make it soon after Emancipation she ought to make it now. – Callie House

The call of reparations, we believe, is to sing this song with these forebears of our faith and, with God’s help, to fulfill the demands of restitution at last. (156)

6. Owning the Ethic of Restoration

A Good Samaritan of Hunted Flesh and Blood

Owing the Vocation of Neighbor Love

…in the face of White supremacist theft, the Bible commands us not only to spare no effort in repairing what was broken and to spare no expense in restoring to our neighbors all that was unjustly taken, but to do so even if we ourselves are not directly culpable. This, then, is the second of the two moral logics of reparations: the radical, rehabilitative work of neighbor love. (160)

…we are also persuaded that, according to the Christian Scriptures, 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. We believe that it is necessary to reckon with our culpability in the pursuit of racial repair, and we believe that it is also necessary as Christians to reckon with our essential calling in this world—our missional identity, integrity, and responsibility to love our despoiled neighbors as ourselves. (161)

The Context of Restoration

The Essence of Restoration

Restoration is a work of love. That may not be a word normally associated with reparations; for some, justice or even retribution might more easily come to mind. (163)


First, love is essential. To love our neighbor as ourselves—to love as the Samaritan loved—is the sum of all that God requires of us according to the consistent teaching of Christ and his apostles. (164)


Closely related to the essentiality of the work of restoration is its universality—the unrestricted reach of the call to serve as agents of neighbor love. Every reader of the good Samaritan parable is implicated in the beauty and boundlessness of this love. (165)


“Compassion” is a visceral word. It means to be moved in one’s bowels, the bowels being thought of in the ancient world as the seat of love. Compassion is suffering with a person; it involves feeling someone else’s pain in your gut. “mercy” is a closely related term that refers to compassion blossoming into action. (166)


Restorative love is sacrificial in that the Samaritan’s actions were both costly and risky. (166)

[via: On p.167, the authors state, “In the ancient world, the price of one’s stay at an inn was typically unfixed, and innkeepers were ‘invariably untruthful, dishonest and oppressive.’ The Samaritan would have known this, of course, but that is how restorative love speaks, with near-reckless generosity: charge it to me.” The authors cite the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and I think the whole entry is worth noting (with the cited line underlined):

3. Their Evil Name:

There is usually a well of good water in the center of the quadrangle, and travelers as a rule bring their own food and often that of their animals (Jg 19:19) with them. There are no fixed payments, and on departure, the arranging of haqq el-khan generally means a disagreeable dispute, as the innkeepers are invariably untruthful, dishonest and oppressive. They have ever been regarded as of infamous character. The Roman laws in many places recognize this. In Mishna, Yebhamoth, xvi. 7 the word of an innkeeper was doubted, and Mishna, `Abbodhah Zarah, ii.4 places them in the lowest scale of degradation. The New Testament is quite clear in speaking of “Rahab the harlot” (Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). The Targum designates her an “innkeeper,” while Rashi translates zonah as “a seller of kinds of food,” a meaning the word will bear. Chimchi, however, accepts both meanings. This evil repute of public inns, together with the Semitic spirit of hospitality, led the Jews and the early Christians to prefer to recommend the keeping of open house for the entertainment of strangers. In the Jewish Morning Prayers, even in our day, such action is linked with great promises, and the New Testament repeatedly (Heb 13:2; 1Pe 4:9; 3Jo 1:5) commends hospitality. It is remarkable that both the Talmud (Shab 127a) and the New Testament (Heb 13:2) quote the same passage (Ge 18:3) in recommending it.

The best-known khans in Palestine are Khan Jubb-Yusuf, North of the Lake of Galilee, Khan et-Tujjar, under the shadow of Tabor, Khan el-Lubban (compare Jg 21:19), and Khan Chadrur, midway between Jerusalem and Jericho. This last certainly occupies the site of the inn referred to in Lu 10:34, and it is not without interest that we read in Mishna, Yebhamoth, xvi.7, of another sick man being left at that same inn. See illustration, p. 64.

I’m usually cautious when these kinds of pejorative comparisons are drawn to make a point, and so this is here to ensure that we can provide a more robust historical critique of the conclusions.]

I imagine that the first question which the priest and Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” … The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. [MLK, Strength to Love, 34, 35].

…restorative love is inescapably a call to self-renunciation. … Rightly understood as a response to God’s prodigality toward sinners, restorative love is nothing less than a call to risk-assuming, reckless, self-renouncing sacrifice on behalf of our plundered neighbors. (167)


The sacrificiality described above, practiced consistently over time, proves to be, humanly speaking, impossible. (168)

The Neglect of Restoration

Why is the work of restoration commonly left undone, even when the effects of theft are in plain sight? (169)


We must be honest about this reality: Reparations remains largely unconsidered not merely because we are unpersuaded by its moral propositions but because we feel threatened by its personal implications. (170)


…the lawyer desires only “to justify himself.” Which is to say, he asks for a more precise definition of neighbor “not so much to determine to whom he must show love, but so as to calculate the identity of those to whom he need not show love.” He did this in order to vindicate his past failures, as well as his present refusals, to love those around him. Using the parable as a response, Jesus exposes a common way of neglecting the work of restoration: casuistry that masquerades as moral curiosity. With pedantic equivocation and oversubtle reasoning—that is, casuistry—we seek to release ourselves from the simple demands of love. (170)


The priest and Levite see, but they do not perceive. They are morally blind. … Left unacknowledged, the “willed forgetting” of our neighbors will continue to serve as a powerful barrier to the vital work of restoration in our time. (172)

We have already examined one important consideration: fear. Another is that they embodied a unique sociocultural identity marked by ritualism, elitism, and tribalism,… (172)

The priest and Levite saw only a bleeding body, not a human being like themselves. But the good Samaritan will always remind us to remove the cataracts of provincialism from our spiritual eyes and see men as men. [MLK, Strength to Love, p.33]

Alas, we cannot love what we do not see. (173)


It was a choice in storytelling “as deliberately shocking as if a Southern preacher before the Civil War had set up a black hero to shame the pillars of white society.” (174)

…let us remember that the parable was taught in direct response to the lawyer’s refusal to recognize people like the Samaritan as neighbors deserving his love. And Jesus’s purpose was to expose how bigotry treats certain plundered neighbors as unworthy of restorative love. His point was to correct the neglect of the work of restoration on the basis of our hostilities, and to call us to love in particular those whom our hostilities condition us not to love. R. T. France argues that what we have in the parable of the good Samaritan is “not primarily a call to universal benevolence.” To the contrary, “this parable, properly understood, is one of the most powerful challenges to racism in the Bible.” [France, Luke, 191. See also G. V. Jones, The Art and Truth of Parables (London: SPCK, 1964), 115, quoted in J. Massyngbaerde Ford, My Enemy Is My Guest: Jesus and Violence in Luke (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1984), 93: “The parable is not a pleasant tale about the traveler who did his good deed: it is a damning indictment of social, racial, and religious superiority.”] (174)

The Work of Restoration

Cultural Resistance

Jesus presents the Samaritan—a paragon of redemptive, neighborly love—as an alternative way of living in a social order that can only be described as antineighbor. Loving his neighbor to the hilt, he represents a form of cultural resistance. (175)

…self-justification is countered with self-denial; fear is countered with risky sacrifice; acquisitiveness is countered with generosity; self-enrichment is countered with sacrificial service; tribalism is countered with magnanimity; invisibility is countered with seeing; superiority is countered with submission; robbery is countered with restoration. (176)

Comprehensive Repair

…the call of reparations is not merely for a check to be written or for a debt to be repaid but for a world to be repaired. (178)

Mutual Neighboring

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” … Indeed, I am my brother’s keeper. His burdens are mine. Her injuries and losses are mine. Because our common, image-bearing humanity. Because of covenantal solidarity. Because we are “we.” (178)

| Reparations is, at its most basic, a call to be a neighbor. (178)

Collective Witness

Reparations, in other words, bears witness not simply to our love for our neighbors but to the very love of God for the world. (180)

Owning Restoration

7. The Call to Repair

Toward the Promised Land

Centering Other Voices

cf. Anasa Troutman, Taj James, David Bailey, Justin Merrick, and Nwamaka Agbo

…reparations is comprehensive,… …reparative work is fundamentally local… (185)

…each views reparations no merely in structural or material terms but in deeply spiritual terms. (186)

It might seem strange, in a book that calls for reparations to African Americas, that our primary examples are of work done by African Americans. … Yet we nonetheless decided to proceed for two reasons. First, and most important, is that doing so was the explicit and consistent advice of the African American leaders with whom we discussed this work. They felt, and we feel, that in taking up the work of reparations, White Americans ought to look not simply to their own instincts but to the instincts of African Americans, to not simply set out a path but to walk on a path set for them by others. In doing this, White Americans take the first and foundational step of the work of reparations: the renunciation of control. … Second, examples of White Americans—and certainly White churches—self-consciously involved in the work of reparations are few and far between. (186)

A People of Repair

White supremacy, though complicated in its expression and incalculable in its harm, is nonetheless reducible, as all evil things are, to a small and dark singularity: the failure to love. …the work of reparations requires us not simply to restructure our social worlds but fundamentally—and perhaps more painfully—to restructure our inner worlds as well. (187)

The Vulnerability of Community

cf. Full Spectrum Capital Partners

One of the most important roles churches can play in the work of reparations is the cultivation of communities of vulnerability. This work calls the church to cultivate a spirituality of vulnerability. … The truth, however, is that this kind of life—a life in which we refuse to armor our vulnerabilities but instead open them in love to God and to one another—is precisely the life that faith, hope, and love open to us. This life frees us from the fear of being seen, from the inability to listen, and from the addictive need to be right. Because of this, if churches are to participate in the work of reparations, they must—in sermon, in song, in spiritual care—equip people with the theological vision, emotional capacity, and formative practices necessary to live with other sin mutual vulnerability. (189)

…create structures for community. As we have seen, the Christian church in America exists in a cultural context whose very DNA is estrangement, a context in which generations of personal and institutional habit conspire to keep us apart. (189)

The Humiliation of Truth

Reparations, after all, is not driven by the bondage of shame but by the freedom that coms from living in light of the truth. (191)

Spiritually, the church must deliberately cultivate the capacity for humility. …the painful fact of the matter is that one of the most broadly evident characteristics of the America church is pride: an intellectual pride that refuses to listen; a moral pride that hastens to condemn; and a political pride that beguiles us with the conviction that we are on the right side of history. (191)

Structurally, this requires the church to create contexts for truth. (192)

The Renunciation of Control

White supremacy is, quite simply, a social order driven by the pathology of its own omnipotence whose destinarian ambitions to control the world amounted to little more than the metastasization of vice. (192)

The essence of reparations is giving up control. – Taj James

The Revaluation of Wealth

…a fundamental shift away from White supremacy’s conception of wealth as an object of extraction and toward a vision of wealth as a tool for the well-being of ourselves and our neighbors. (195)

…churches as a whole need to create regular spaces for Christian teachings, not just on money management but on the deep meaning of wealth and its role in the works of love. (195)

The Practices of Repair

Becoming a people of repair and engaging the practices of repair are to be done simultaneously. (196)

Taking care of other people can’t simply wait on personal growth; we can’t sit by and allow people to starve and die while we sit in our book clubs. Self-transformation and service are parallel to one another. – Anasa Troutman

Repairing Truth

Acknowledging the Truth

We have been lying to ourselves about the totality of our core values. Yes, we can make an argument for brotherhood and freedom, but if you look back at the history of our country, at its founding, this country doesn’t exist without genocide, destruction, and subjugation. In order to make the leap from who we are to who we want to be we have to deal with that. – Anasa Troutman

Recovering the Truth

the work of repairing the truth is a lifelong process (198) of recovery, not a one-time act of acknowledgement. (199)

Memorializing the Truth

…we must give ourselves to the work of memorializing the truth, of creating stories, spaces, and structures that bear living witness to the resurrection of a long crucified history. (199)

Repairing Power

Seeing Power

No matter how well-intentioned the work, when churches come with a savior lens, it actually inhibits healing in the community. Shared decision-making is foundational to human healing. – Justin Merrick

Bringing Power

Enabling Power

…this calls churches to reflect not only on the people we hire and the leaders we nurture but also on the voices we invite and the initiatives we support. (202)

Repairing Wealth

Building Capacity for Wealth

We have to create an infrastructure for community wealth, an infrastructure that will enable black communities to become capital stewards on a much larger scale. This means more than giving people access to the large economy; it means transforming the economic structures themselves. – Taj James

Removing Obstacles to Wealth

Transferring Wealth

This language of “transfer,” though slightly jarring, is both intentional and important. It signals that we are not talking about using White-controlled resources to “help” Black communities. Instead, we want to transfer these resources into contexts that (204) are wholly owned and wholly governed by Black communities. (205)

Is it possible that it will be spent unwisely? Yes. But that’s not black—it’s human. (205)

The Possibilities of Repair


We believe that the racial healing so desperately needed in our nation—in White and Black communities—will be found not merely in personal repentance, relational reconciliation, or institutional reform but in the work (209) of reparations. We therefore call the church to listen to these voices and to answer them. We call specifically the Christian church in America to embrace reparations as central to faithful Christian mission in this culture. This is a call to renounce White supremacy, fully and finally. It is a call to consciously devote ourselves to the repair of the immeasurable harm—to truth, power, and wealth—that White supremacy has wrought in this world. Only as we do this can we bear witness to the God who makes all things new. Only as we do this can we answer, in concrete ways, the cry of our neighbors. Only as we do this can we become the community we were created to be: a community of repair. (210)



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