Book Review: Reparations – A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Jemar Tisby, CEO of The Witness Inc. “We are at an inflection point in our nation. We can either continue with the racial status quo or earnestly engage in the long-overdue process of repair. Reparations is a book for this moment. It is a call to action to offer tangible restitution for the historic exploitation of Black labor. While Christians should have been leading the way on this all along, sadly, too many have demonstrated compromise and complicity instead. Kwon and Thompson marshal deep research, theological acumen, and pastoral tenderness to make a timely call for reparations and the dignity of all people.”


Thabiti M. Anyabwile, pastor, Anacostia River Church. “The objections to the very idea range from ‘it’s an injustice committed against people who had nothing to do with slavery’ to ‘it’s a ploy used by those who never suffered under slavery to take the hard-earned wealth of others.’ Arguments for reparations have often veered into emotional and moral appeals without careful theological, biblical, and historical reasoning. This book ends the era of poor pro-reparations arguments and silences the criticisms of those who suspect reparations as a kind of ‘reverse injustice.’ Duke Kwon and Greg Thompson have given us the careful yet daring, gracious yet trenchant, historical yet relevant, principled yet persuasive teaching the church and the world has desperately needed.”


Paul Chang-Ha Lim, award-winning historian and professor, Vanderbilt University. “Two words encapsulate this bookfor me: indictment and invitation. Writing in the prophetic tradition, Kwon and Thompson are unrelenting in indicting the American church for its complicity and collusion in keeping its relative silence regarding the ongoing cries of the African American communities in the Civil War, during the civil rights movement, and in contemporary contexts. With crisp historical details and analysis, combined with a wide-ranging engagement with sources, the authors are to be commended for exposing America’s original sin.”


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.

Duke L. Kwon & Gregory Thompson

The Rundown

A much-needed conversation to determine what reparations look like in the 21st century and beyond. And this book is written primarily for the Christian conscience because the adherent and reader have a written framework by which to guide them on the path of restitution and reconciliation. Now, this is not to say that other religions or worldviews, even, say, secular efforts cannot venture into the topic of reparations and come up with wholesome resolutions. What the authors intend to promote is the idea that the Christian conscience produced a society within the American west or perhaps the Americas in general that favored one race over all others. This conflation of faith or perhaps the misuse and distortion of faith with a supremacist ideology spawned the centuries of genocide we are still attempting to reconcile to this very day. 

What is troubling and also new to me is that reparation is not a monetary issue alone. We cannot give a monetary value that can reduce the amount of suffering experienced in the past nor can we pay people a one-time amount to do away with the compounding consequence and legacy of centuries of white supremacy.

The authors identify the cultural, communal, personal, financial, emotional, and spiritual life-long commitment Christians must make to not only better our racial relations but also stand for the just cause of restitution. 

If we limit reparation or the repair of a dilapidated society to an economic layer alone we miss the point altogether. 

Reparation is not a hush-money payout. They’re not giveaways. This effort is a conscious commitment to continual relationship repair and restoration between several communities who have for centuries been at odds and whose disparities must be amended by the very people who claim to hold the words of the Divine Creator.

If the Christian conscience will not take on this task with a clean heart and a clear conscience, without bitterness or ill will, then someone else will with the aim of returning harm-for-harm and economic distress for the same. 

Mind you, this is also a call for the federal government to take on as well. It is not new nor is it impossible for the government to pay out reparations to the families of former slaves, native Americans, or the poor within the land because this same government paid reparations to former slaveowners through Abraham Lincoln’s District of Columbia Emancipation Act. 

Reparations are doable but their success and fruition depend upon the tenderheartedness and gracefulness of regenerate minds and souls. 

Push for them, in Christ’s name. Push. 

Contents

  1. Introduction: Generations without Recompense
  2. The Call to See
  3. Seeing the Reality of White Supremacy
  4. Seeing the Effect of White Supremacy
  5. The Call to Own
  6. Owning the Ethic of Restitution
  7. Owning the Ethic of Restoration
  8. The Call to Repair
  9. Epilogue

RSDB (Read, Share, Dismiss, or Burn) Verdict:

Read and share.

If you misunderstand the meaning, the true and lasting meaning of reparations you will dismiss it as a contrite and bitter intent to ‘get back’ at white people for things they did not commit. Things their ancestors committed ages ago.

This book opens the readers mind and plagues the Christian conscience toward action, toward restitution, toward restoration, toward reconciliation, without which our witness is tainted.

Please revisit this topic with grace and humility, and yes, an open mind and compassionate heart.

Duke L. Kwon (MDiv, ThM, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor at Grace Meridian Hill, a neighborhood congregation in the Grace DC Network committed to building cross-cultural community in Washington, DC. Kwon is active in public conversations around race, equity, and racial repair in the American church, and he lectures on these topics around the country. His work has appeared in the Washington PostChristianity Today, and The Witness. (Website)
Gregory Thompson (PhD, University of Virginia) is a pastor, scholar, artist, and producer whose work focuses on race and equity in the United States. He serves as executive director of Voices Underground (an initiative to build a national memorial to the Underground Railroad outside of Philadelphia), research fellow in African American heritage at Lincoln University (HBCU), and visiting theologian for mission at Grace Mosaic Church in Washington, DC. He is also the cocreator of Union: The Musical, a soul and hip-hop-based musical about the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike. Thompson lives in Charlottesville, Virginia (Website)


What hope do we have of racial reconciliation unless we right the wrongs of our past?

Latasha Morrison

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