Racial Justice Commission spotlight: "Reparations as love in action"

A reflection from the Racial Justice Commission's Subcommittee on Reparations, spotlighting its priorities and progress.

St. Paul tells us that “faith, hope and love remain…and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13, CEB)  In the work of becoming an antiracist church, we see reparations as antiracist love in action.  Not love as a feeling or a sentiment, but love as rubber-meeting-road action.  Unearthing the shameful, painful truth behind the extent to which the diocese's, diocesan congregations’ and other Episcopal communities’ economic benefits were derived from the forced labor of enslaved people is an important first step, but this acknowledgment is not love in action.  In action, love is retelling our history, to ourselves and to the world--from our pulpits, through our plaques and monuments and on our websites.  Assessing the extent to which our current fortunes are the result of these past ill-gotten gains is another important step, but such an assessment is, still, not love in action.  In action, love is willingly offering up some of those resources with no expectation of return.  This is the foundation of what we understand our work to be.

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In this first year, our work has been twofold:  First, to develop a toolbox of resources that congregations and others can use in their work of unearthing and acknowledging their own histories as they relate to benefiting from the labor of enslaved people, as well as stories from enslaved people and their descendants; and, second, to begin laying the foundation for developing a diocesan Reparations Fund.  

The toolbox, to be introduced at Diocesan Convention in November and available thereafter on the diocesan website, lays out a framework that any organization can enter, regardless of where they are on their own road toward reparations.  The toolbox will provide a template for congregations and communities to use in moving through the work of reparations, along with resources and models to aid in that work at each stage.  

In beginning to plan for a diocesan fund, we are looking at the lessons learned by others leading the way in this work (such as the dioceses of Long Island, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia; the Virginia Theological Seminary; and others) while beginning to examine which of the endowed and agency funds of our diocese we might draw from in order to seed such a fund.  Recommendations that have come from our study will be included in a proposed resolution to the Diocesan Convention.

Following the lead of sibling dioceses, our initial focus is on repairing the harm done to descendants of enslaved Africans and their communities, recognizing the need for further study and listening to understand how best to address needed reparations to Indigenous peoples.

In 2022 our work will focus on assisting in the use of the toolbox and other resources; organizing a Lenten series and other opportunities to continue the work of story sharing, discernment and study in order to develop an understanding that is broadly accepted across the diocese of what reparations are and what form they should take. We will continue to look at other models as well as our own financial holdings and budgetary processes in an effort to develop a financing structure and a mechanism for defining and implementing funding priorities and principles. Echoing the spirit of the 2020 resolution adopted by the Diocesan Convention, impacted individuals and their communities need to be in control of these critical decisions.

Racial Justice Commission Subcommittee on Reparations:

Co-Chairs: Constance Perry (Trinity Church, Boston) and The Rev. H. Mark Smith, Missioner for Youth and Young Adults, Diocese of Massachusetts (hmsmith@diomass.org

Members: Michael Bent (Diocesan Council and St. Peter's Church, Beverly); Leonie Drummond (Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan and Historically Black Churches Racial Justice Committee); The Rev. Dr. Tom Ferguson (St. John’s Church, Sandwich), Diane Jemmet (St. Barnabas’s Church, Falmouth); The Rev. Tamra Tucker (The Crossing/Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston); The Rev. Skip Windsor (Trustees of Donations)

Mandate: Reparations, in the language of the 75th General Convention in 2006, “examine the a) complicity of The Episcopal Church in the institution of slavery and in the subsequent history of segregation and discrimination and b) economic benefits The Episcopal Church derived from the institution of slavery;” and identify ways to make financial and psychological reparations for pain incurred.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash