Dear friends in Christ,
A few weeks ago I renewed my call for a diocesan conversation about reparations — a call I first made in my address to convention last November. Some of the feedback I’ve received moves me to repeat and amplify the substance of my desire for such a conversation.
(1) Reparation is not primarily about money. It is about the acknowledgement of past injustices, and the way in which those injustices (even if we have had nothing to do with perpetrating them) continue to poison our relationships, in overt or subtle ways. It is about honest and respectful sharing about what stands between us and a deeper, more effective and more joyful partnership in our mission as followers of Jesus Christ. This does not mean that reparation has nothing to do with money, but money, if it ever comes into the picture at all, is just one dimension of the way commitment to greater partnership can be demonstrated. Reparation means repair, and this is primarily and crucially about working together to identify problem areas in our relationships with one another, individually and in larger ways, and to begin to talk those through. I view this work — which is first and foremost about conversation— to be our most pressing agenda as the church.
(2) Reparation is not about making up for past injustices which we did not or could not participate in at the time. It is about owning the racial, ethnic and classist dynamics which persist as a result of the injuries those injustices continue to inflict on us, however we understand ourselves with regard to race, ethnicity, or class.
(3) Reparation is not simply a response to the recent and ongoing unrest in our nation. Serious work on reparation has been going on for more than a decade in numerous institutions in the Episcopal Church, including seminaries and dioceses who have been facing and addressing challenging histories, including the use of African-American slave labor to build and maintain seminary buildings and places of worship. Obviously, Ohio was never a slave state, but we are part of a denomination that, as a whole, has benefited directly or indirectly from the labor of enslaved people or at crucial junctures has turned its back on the problem. Nor can the the history of slavery and its consequences be isolated from the ongoing reality of white privilege. As part of the Episcopal Church, we have a duty to involve ourselves in the soul-searching in which our branch of the body of Christ has been engaged for some time, and in which the Diocese of Southern Ohio has historically played a significant role.
(4) Reparation is not just about relations between the black community and the white community. Of course, there is tremendous work to be done on that front in this diocese and throughout our nation. But reparation — which literally means repair — is also about the repair work needed to bring healing to every community that remains outside of the halls of privilege. What excludes Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans, and any other minority from full participation in this nation’s common life? What excludes poor whites? The work of reparation must take every dimension of exclusion seriously.
(5) So reparation is also about the white community itself. The geography of this diocese is largely Appalachian, including concentrations of citizens in Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati who self-identify as Appalachian. There is a long and painful history of oppression within the Appalachian community of exploitation of poor whites by rich whites. Reparation means surfacing that history and making it a permissible topic for discussion. This history does not, however, negate the reality of white privilege, even in the poorest white areas of our diocese. The reality of white privilege has been a factor in the manipulation of poor whites by powerful white forces throughout our nation’s history.
(6) Reparation is not a new focus for this diocese. It is integrally related to the grassroots work that is happening about becoming beloved community, ongoing attempts to address the spiritual needs of our growing Hispanic population, and continuing efforts to support disadvantaged entrepreneurs in our Appalachian region — efforts that have borne fruit in Good Shepherd’s coffee shop in Athens.
(6) Reparation is not about quick fixes. It is about slow but deliberate efforts on the ground to acknowledge the need for repair, however that need or that call addresses us. As Isaiah puts it:
“Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
You shall be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of streets to live in” (Isaiah 58:12).
(7) Finally, reparation is not a topic to be put to one side because of COVID-19. This is a stressful — and for some, catastrophic — time. I understand that for people who have lost their income or are grieving over loved one who have died, it may seem insensitive or inappropriate to invite conversation about making amends. But in fact this is just the time for that kind of repair work. The vulnerability we all feel right now is a decision point. Either we solidify lines of division and mistrust in order to protect our individual interests, or we seize this opportunity to embrace our common frailty and our common strength. We are in a place to see and feel why repairing every breach matters so much.
I ask for your prayers as this diocese (which is all of us) continues to wrestle with these questions.
You are in my prayers as we continue to move through this difficult but spiritually abundant time.