A growing number of religious groups are developing compensation programs for black Americans.

On the Sunday before Juneteenth, the Rev. Ryan Marsh stood in front of about 50 mostly white parishioners to announce a “repair delivery” program for the church.

The program includes dedicating a percentage of the church’s budget – about $6,000 – to reparations efforts, as well as encouraging parishioners to donate to a reparations fund that distributes money through a lottery held twice a year. is – Juneteenth and in December. Applicants can use the money for anything they need.

“The white American church has always been involved in the evils of white supremacy,” Marsh of Salt House told his youth Lutheran congregation in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. “Reconciliation requires both repentance and repair … and the Church cannot wait for governments to act justly.”

Tired of waiting for federal government action on compensation for black Americans, a growing number of churches and other faith groups have begun reparations programs of their own.

One of the pioneers is Marsh’s Salt House. But others across the country are weighing in as well.

The definition of what constitutes reappraisal varies widely.

Andrew Ndyambaje, a member of Salt House Church in Kirkland, Wash. and part of the church’s repair committee, attends a libation ceremony to honor Juneteenth at a June 19 morning service.
Julia Duin

In West Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood, members of Memorial Episcopal Church voted in January 2021 to make five $100,000 grants — from its $450,000 endowment and private donations — to the Guy Holiday Memorial and Justice Reparation Fund over a five-year period. The money—through a committee named after the late Baltimore city’s housing inspectorate—will go toward criminal justice reform, affordable housing, safe drinking water, more urban green spaces, local schools and more jobs for black youth. The church had been discussing the establishment of the church – as a memorial to the slave owners – since 2017.

The rector of the parish, the Rev. Gray Magiano, said black-led non-profits or black-led organizations are managing the charity. A committee first identifies the projects the church wants to support and grants between $5,000 to $15,000 are awarded in the early fall of each year, starting last year. The donors are usually parishioners or members of the community.

“It’s been extremely positive,” Magiano said of the response.

In Brookline, Massachusetts, the 300-member United Church of Christ Congregation sings a traditional black spiritual each time on the grounds that the slaves who composed the hymns never got paid. The money – about $12,000 raised since last October – will go to a concert for black youth.

In Denver, the 1,500-member Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church is launching a similar program this fall, paying about $500 each time someone spiritually appears during a worship service.

Its music minister, Adam Waite, estimates that about $5,000 will be raised per year.
“We’ll have talks with local black musicians about where the money should go,” he said. “We hope it’s a natural connection, more of a grant process where you just make a check.”

Waite shared the idea with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Congregational Song, which now has a “repair royalty pilot” on its site, which the center says covers 20 congregations, including Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Unitarian interest has been attracted. Universalist, Moravian and Mennonite Churches.

One of the project’s stated goals is “to provide music ministries of majority white congregations the opportunity to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ related to racial justice in America”.

Don Rojas, communications director for the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), does not object to white congregations paying for Negro spiritual singing.

“They should be commended for their sense of moral/spiritual responsibility
Actively address America’s ‘original sin,’ the living legacies of slavery,” he said.

Some organizations keep their reappraisals in-house. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Northwest Washington Synod in Seattle, which oversees the Salt House and 108 other congregations, has established a reparations fund for retired black ELCA pastors. About $28,000 has been given to a dozen recipients over the past two years.

Salt House, which has two reparations distributions of $7,000 each, gives it to whoever asks. Money has gone to more than a dozen recipients for medical bills, housing, business start-up expenses and other needs.

“As a person of color myself, I was thrilled to hear about Salt House’s reparations fund,” said Andrew Ndayambaje, one of the committee members that decided the disbursements. “I knew it would help cover up economic inequality.”

Black Hand Break Chain Repair
Compensation for centuries of black slavery is a concept first introduced after the Civil War but never implemented. Nearly two centuries later, churches and other religion groups are paying compensation on their own.
Getty Images

Marsh said his congregation soon decided to send the money through organizations rather than putting the money in the hands of local individuals and families.

The inspiration for Salt House’s reparations program was historian Jamer Tisby’s 2020 book “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complexity in Racism.”

“Repair is what matters,” Marsh said. “The reason for this is a generational loss, and this money is a reimbursement.”

In an email interview, Tisby told Newsweek that the federal government should be the primary source of reparation funding, but should also pay Christian institutions that benefit directly from slavery. Those who did not benefit from slavery could voluntarily compensate “as a way of loving and serving their neighbors of African descent.”

He continued, “Christian churches and denominations also played a large role in the creation and perpetuation of caste-based chattel slavery – their theology, their enslavement political and social status, and through their passivity, are also involved in Christian racism. “

The injustice done “has not been repaired,” he wrote. “The only question for Christians and churches is whether they will be part of the solution or will continue to ignore the harm.”

The idea of ​​reparations has been around since the Civil War, when the idea came that blacks should be paid back for their unpaid work for centuries and also address racial inequalities in housing, education, and business ownership.

Despite Japanese and Native Americans being paid for historical wrongs, there has never been a federally accepted system of compensation for blacks. Union General William T. Sherman ordered some remaining army mules as well as former slaves to move to 400,000 acres of confiscated Confederate land under a policy called “40 acres and a mule”. However, President Andrew Johnson rescinded the order several years later.

The cause went on for more than a century and the religious community got stuck in the middle. In April 1969, civil rights activist James Forman wrote the “Black Manifesto;” Compiled. A list of demands that included a call for a “Christian white church and Jewish synagogue” to pay $500 million to black Americans.

A month later, on May 4, 1969, Forman disrupted a service at Riverside Church in New York City by walking in front of a mostly white congregation to present the manifesto. The church organist sipped his words, who were playing while most of the pastor and the congregation went outside.

The following September, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, representatives of the Black United Front called for $10 million at the Banned Israel congregation in Washington, D.C., and “to give the Jewish Church the shackles of white racism and more”. shown for. Capitalist exploitation has strangled his Christian vision.” (He arrived too late in the day to meet any of the members, so the synagogue watchman was reduced to reading his demand).

Videos of nationwide demonstrations and riots that followed the killing of an unarmed black man George Floyd by a white policeman on May 25, 2020 may have changed religious attitudes. In 2021, the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States announced that it would raise $100 million to benefit descendants of slaves. Several Episcopal dioceses, including Texas, Maryland and New York, have also announced millions of dollars in grants.

Meanwhile, different congregations were wondering what they could do. When the city of Evanston, Illinois, decided to set up a repair fund with money to go toward better housing for blacks, some 100 members of the First United Methodist Church donated $50,000. The 669-member mostly white church has a black pastor, the Rev. Grace Imathieu, who has prioritized the discussion about racism. One of their leaders, Matthew Johnson, said 70 members have already raised $20,000 to donate this year.

“The [federal] The government hasn’t done anything yet,” Johnson said, “so we need to do something at the grassroots level that our country owes to past and future generations of people who have suffered from slavery.”

Last June, 16 congregations – including a Buddhist council, three synagogues, Bahá’ís and various Christian denominations – announced a union to contribute to the city’s fund and cited the Black Manifesto as one of their inspirations. did.

“No amount can adequately compensate for 400 years of systemic subjugation,” it said in a joint statement. “Repair first focuses on formally accepting collective responsibility for past mistakes and their continuing effects.”

First United Methodist Church, Evanston, Illinois
Tom Butler, chairman of the social justice committee for the First United Methodist Church of Evanston, Illinois, presents a $50,000 check for reparation purposes to Sol Anderson, CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation, on February 27, 2022.
First United Methodist Church, Evanston, Ill.

Not everyone is taken in by the idea of ​​religious indemnity. Woolard Lett, of the National Coalition for Blacks for Reparation in America (N’COBRA), said payments such as the interfaith effort in Evanston “are insufficient to repair the damage done to African chattels and slavery and its ongoing remnants.”

What is needed, he said in an interview, is not only compensation, but a more comprehensive effort that includes rehabilitation for the injured and the restoration of basically everything that was lost.

“To know the remedy, you have to understand the injury,” he said. “It’s not a broken labor contract, it’s a broken covenant between the human family. It’s part of the role of the church. They can play their part in promoting healing.”

But many churches have refused to do so.

“We see the impact of evangelical authority on the law,” Lett continued, “but when it comes to addressing injuries to Africans, what do they do? Throw up your hands and roll the plate around. pass by.”

But even the most conservative denominations, such as Southern Baptists, can move on to the issue. The majority-white Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has spent 18 months researching repairs. It plans to create a reparations fund that Nancy Goodhue, chair of the reparations task force, hopes will cover 1 percent of the church’s budget, or about $10,000. The money will go toward organizations that support better education, housing and job opportunities for blacks.

“We hope other congregations are doing the same and supporting each other and running grassroots agitations for compensation,” Goodhue said. “It’s ambitious, but we have to do something.

“Doing this work is justice, it is deep and it is hard. You have to see what the damage has been done. We are not the best people. This work must be done if our country is to change.”

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