Conservative Christian books ignite the debate about reparations — and the faith itself


Photo Illustration: Yahoo News, Photo: https: //www.reparationsproject.com, Getty Images (2)

Photo Illustration: Yahoo News; Photo: reparationsproject.com, Getty Images (2)

A pair of Christian ministers sparked controversy in conservative white evangelical Christianity in a new book on compensation for African Americans for the injustices of slavery and institutional racism.

And one of their main points is that they don’t think it’s a place to start with logistics questions such as who will receive compensation and who will pay them.

“People say,’Well, how do you intend to compensate?’ This is the same as saying,’Then, how do you resolve this coronavirus?’ Well, we’re going to solve it. We’ll understand that, “said Gregory Thompson, co-author with Duke Kwon.Atonement: Christian Call for Repentance and Repair.. “

“This is pretty complicated, so what we do is be willing to join the lab together and understand it. That’s really where we are culturally in this conversation. And I hope people step into it. “

Thompson said he and Kwon wrote the book for two reasons. First, they want American Christians (including the conservative, mostly white evangelicals they served as ministers) to lead and shape the debate over compensation. Second, conservative evangelicals are still broadly resistant and often fiercely hostile to even considering topics. Episcopal Church and other major denominations Working on it In some cases Accept it.

Kwon is a pastor of the Grace Meridian Hill Church in Washington, DC and is part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Thompson, most of whom served as pastor in Charlottesville, Virginia, for 20 years, is clearly a conservative aspect of American Christianity from a theological point of view. PCA itself Formed by a congregation against the civil rights movement..

Duke Kwon and Gregory Thompson.  (Author courtesy)

Duke Kwon and Gregory Thompson. (Author courtesy)

“It’s very interesting that this reparation conversation comes from, in a sense, the least likely place: a sect founded for a separation that is historically true about PCA,” Thompson said. .. “Still the only possible way is for us two to basically open ourselves to various forms of African-American literary and theological traditions, our own training and our traditions. Showed a way to actually not know the elements of the gospel. “

“What we are trying to contribute is to make it plausible to the American Church … We should lead the way in introducing such things into the community and throughout our country. “Thompson said. Interview with Yahoo News’ podcast “The Long Game”.

Kwon added: “In a sense, we are trying to redeem the word itself-” compensation “-and give it the proper meaning, and people do not just be surprised, but understand what their moral mind really is. It depends on it. “

It is a difficult order in conservative, mostly white evangelical Christianity. On Thursday, their first major reunion to the book came from a conservative evangelical minister with important national supporters. Kevin de Young, the chief pastor of the Church of Christ Covenant in Matthews, North Carolina, writes that it is another PCA congregation. Negative review For the Evangelical Union, a prominent evangelical website.

DeYoung’s broadside isn’t the last. Thompson said he expects “multi-front engagement” with some of the conservative corners that “what we did is insane.” He also believes that the book will be criticized by some liberals “because it broadens the concept of compensation and is not primarily government-based.”

The book itself claims that the idea of ​​atonement itself is a “unique Christian.” It means that it requires “self-inheriting love,” which is not possible without spiritual resources, born of a call for faith to restore what is broken. , The author believes that it comes from a connection with God and a fellowship with God.

“The purpose of compensation is not to punish the” criminal “. It’s about getting the offended person back. And that is really a moral emphasis on compensation. I think we need to clarify this. The goal is not punishment. The goal is repair, “Kwon said.

And they argued that the work of racial justice was not only central to the individual call of Christians, but also to the credibility of Christian Witnesses in the unique historical context of America. They use the term “white supremacist” without reservation and plunge into what is a minefield among most white Americans, including evangelicals.

“The American Christian Church fulfills its mission in one of the longest-running white supremacist social orders in the history of the world. In order for this mission to be honest, the church is in this context. We must take it seriously, “they wrote in the preface. “Our hope is that now unfamiliar, awkward white supremacist and reparation words, like today’s words of repentance and reconciliation, will one day be fixed in the imagination of the church and become the basis of vocation. Is to be. “

Broadly speaking, the book defines the term in the first half, argues why compensation is needed, and describes how dignity, power, and wealth were stolen from African Americans in a way that can be tolerated today. We must build a debate and the country must think honestly about its history.

The second half makes claims for returns and repairs, but doesn’t dig too deep into the details. And, as Thompson said, it calls on individuals, churches and religious institutions to take the lead, especially at the local level.

The final chapter gives some recommendations on what this looks like. The author supports work helping artists to explain American history more honestly, affordable counseling in low-income communities, fostering leadership, and “other forms of political and institutional empowerment.” Discuss church work with the actual transfer. Of wealth.

They argue that much of this can only happen with what Martin Luther King, Jr. described as “the man’s willingness to obey the unforced.” In other words, the government can only do a lot to bring about racial justice. Because there must be an individual willingness to accept the task of repairing the damage caused by white supremacy. “

This book spends little time discussing government solutions. However, Mr. Thompson said he borrowed a term from a South African commission established after the collapse of apartheid and “proposed government reparations that would derive from some sort of Truth Commission.”

This month’s parliament Passed the compensation bill From the House Judiciary Committee. The law also does not propose a specific solution and will instead establish a committee to study the problem. President Biden supports the committee, and if a parliamentary bill passes the House of Representatives, it may pressure the establishment of a committee because there is not enough support in the Senate to become a bill.

“I know that two major initiatives are now emerging from evangelicalism towards putting pressure on the Biden administration for the Truth Commission,” Thompson said.

DeYoung’s critical reaction takes the book seriously, even if it rejects most of its arguments for theological, historical, and practical reasons.

“The work of compensation outlined in this book is so extensive and non-specific that it can never be achieved,” said a professor of systematic theology at the Reform Theology Seminar and a prominent national writer. And the speaker, Deyoung, writes.

But it is Deyoung’s theological critique of the book that illuminates the central fault line between Thompson and Kwon and their conservative evangelical critics.

Because it is an argument that goes to the most basic part of each side’s understanding of Christianity. “Kwon and Thompson” call on the American Church of Christ to accept compensation as the center of a faithful Christian mission in this culture, “Deyoung wrote. “This is an important theological and ethical claim, and I find it ultimately vague, infeasible, and unconvincing.”

Thompson and Kwon represent a corner of evangelicalism that separates liberal Christians from liberal Christians in the way they read and interpret the Bible and in understanding the core teachings of their faith. But evangelicals like them also say that true fidelity and legitimacy are far more about what the Christian gospel means than the narrow interpretation that has long dominated much of conservative evangelicalism. I believe it requires a broad understanding.

“The Christian Bible and Christian stories are much broader than the forensic ones for the most part.’My debt was paid by Jesus. How long do I have to feel guilty? “Hmm?’ An explanation of the Christian faith,” Thompson said.

Deyoung said, “In a sense, he is the successor and proponent of the method of understanding the scope of the gospel that is characteristic of the country’s southern evangelicalism, and is primarily privatizing the gospel. Not throughout the history of Christianity, and certainly not around the world, but prescriptive in this particular culture, a tradition that Martin Luther King criticizes in a letter from Birmingham Prison.

“Some of the arguments we have are not just against white supremacy, but protecting it by reducing what we can and cannot say when talking about the gospel of Jesus. I also oppose the ongoing evangelicalism, which I think is part of this debate, “Thompson said.

“Evangelicalism is a cultural project that consistently misunderstands itself and presents it as a theological project. We must agree with it.”

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