Wednesday Word: Reparations

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has been dealing with the topic of reparations for possibly 20-some years, although that number could be wrong since I've only been here four years and have only heard a few discussions about how long this conversation has gone on. Regardless, 20, 10, or 5, the Diocese of Maryland has been dealing with this topic for some time.

Maryland itself was a slave state, but had divided loyalties between pro- and anti-slavery. Many of the churches in the diocese were purchased and built with slave labor. And in our own history, the Rev. Thomas Pitt Irving, who served this parish from 1813 – 1816, owned two slaves when he arrived and purchased one more during his time here.

Slavery in Maryland has a long history. This state and the churches of this diocese benefited greatly from that evil institution. Much of what we have today is a direct result of that free, forced labor of people whose lives were valued less than their owners pets.

And so we have been talking about reparations.

Reparations is a word that has its roots in repair. We are working at repairing the damage done by one group of people against another group of people; damage done based solely on skin color. When we talk about reparations, we are talking about a system of reconciliation that leads to restoration. Reparations, as the Diocese of Maryland envisions it, is a systemic solution to a systemic problem.

It's important to know how the leaders of our diocese view reparations. Reparations is not apologetic. That is, there is a recognition that nobody alive today participated in the institution of slavery, so therefore nobody alive today needs to apologize for slavery. Reparations is not a system of paying back. That is, the leaders of our diocese have not placed a dollar figure on slave labor and committed to paying back that amount to descendants of slaves.

Reparations, as the leaders of our diocese see it, is based in a theology of new beginnings. It is based on the fact that people have been taken advantage of, disrespected, abused, and marginalized for far too long and it is time to put God's justice into play. It is time to recognize that there is no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, black or white in the kingdom of God. It is time to recognize that, moving forward from here, those who have benefited from systemic inequalities must now step up to help eliminate those inequalities and work to make things better.

At our diocesan convention earlier this month, Resolution 2020-06 was overwhelmingly approved. This resolution called for the initial establishment of $1,000,000 to begin the work of reparations. It also called for all congregations and affiliated schools to consider committing a percentage of their endowments to this work (percentages to be determined by each individual congregation/school).

Why do this now? Because it is past time that we who have benefited from systems of discrimination begin doing the work of repairing that damage and begin doing the work of God's justice. It reminds me of planting trees: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.

This is certainly not the end of the story, but only the beginning. Today we are planting a tree of justice, and today we are beginning the work of repairing centuries of damage.



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