The Gulf Coast Synod Council has been having conversations about reparations. I’ve encouraged this, and am in favor. Here are some questions with which we’ve been grappling.

What are reparations from a Christian standpoint? It’s “bearing fruit worthy of repentance.” Think of Zaccheus telling Jesus he would repay those he had cheated by a factor of four. It is a recognition that wealth in the U.S. is built upon the historic exploitation of vulnerable populations. In our synod, congregations of color struggle to pay pastors equitably. It’s a struggle to recruit Latin@ leaders who struggle to afford college. How might allocate resources to create a more equitable situation?

How much is enough? We don’t know. Can any amount really “pay back” African Americans for the loss of life, liberty, health, housing, education and economic well-being? Of course not, and so reparations are a symbolic gesture, representing an attitude of heart. Communities of color get this, but appreciate the recognition of complicity. Some have suggested amounts. We batted around a figure of $500,000, suggested by Rev. Duncan. I believe we could do more.

If we commit to reparations for African Americans, what does this say to our indigenous peoples? Latinos, who were stripped of lands and rights after the U.S. appropriated 55% of Mexico after the war? Asian Americans who were interred and exploited? This has become part of our conversation. Our African Descent Ministry leaders have encouraged us to engage in this discernment about reparations that doesn’t pit minorities against each other. This we don’t want.

How do we decide? The Churchwide organization is engaged in the conversation, as has been our synod. If we raise money as a synod, it could be used for our congregations of color in the synod, then if Churchwide votes for reparations later, our fund (or a portion of it) could become part of it. Our African Descent leaders have asked us not to rush to superficial decisions, but engage in a deliberative process of listening. We have education to do. I agree, and believe we need to do some listening in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, but I would hate to see us debate as nauseum. The synod could decide this year or early next year. The ELCA as a whole will probably require a vote of the Churchwide Assembly, which is two years away. My experience of the church is there rarely a pattern of moving quickly.

At this time a proposal is on the Synod Council table for creating an endowment fund to support our congregations of color in the GCS. We have ten: 3 African Descent, 2 Asian and 5 Latin@. A proposal was introduced and discussed at our meeting this month. Our next meeting should be interesting. I am hopeful. Our anti-racism team is also engaging these questions as part of a larger strategy. I ask you to spend time praying and learning, as we seek to deal with this pandemic of racism and live into the beloved community Jesus envisioned.

[Keep an eye on this post. I will update it with developments and eventually helpful links to aid in our learning.]