Congregations put reparation programs in place ahead of government

“Weary of waiting for the federal government to take action on reparations for black Americans, a growing number of churches and other faith groups have started reparation programs of their own,” writes Julia Duin in Newsweek (July 31). The debate over granting reparations for slavery and discrimination against African Americans has been a longstanding one, though mostly focused on government entities making payments. The Lutheran congregation, Salt House Church, located in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, is one of the first churches to inaugurate a reparations program. “The program entails dedicating one percent of the church’s budget—roughly $6,000—to reparations efforts as well as encouraging parishioners to donate for a reparations fund that distributes money through lotteries held twice a year—on Juneteenth and in December. Applicants can use the money for anything they need,” Duin writes. The church’s pastor, Ryan Marsh, preaches that “the white American church has always been complicit in the evils of white supremacy” and needs to engage in “both repentance and repair.” Marsh and Salt House have been influenced by author Jemar Tisby, who argues that Christian churches helped create slavery and thus in their histories and theology are complicit in racism.

Source: Tyler Merbler | Flickr.

Another prominent reparations church is Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore, which voted in 2021 to give five $100,000 grants over a five-year period to a reparations fund. The money will go toward criminal justice reform, affordable housing, safe drinking water, more urban green spaces, local schools, and more jobs for black youth. After the George Floyd protests in 2020, several religious groups gave grants to redress racial discrimination. The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States announced it would raise $100 million to benefit the descendants of slaves, while several Episcopal dioceses announced grants for millions of dollars. Duin finds that some organizations keep their reparations in-house. The Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has set up a reparations fund for retired black ELCA clergy. Other reparations efforts, such as in Evanston, Illinois, are funneled through city programs where ecumenical groups contribute to a common fund. Most of the churches Duin profiles are from mainline Protestant and liberal denominations, although she finds that evangelicals are also beginning to take up the cause. She reports on the Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, which plans to send 1 percent of the church’s budget, or about $10,000, to organizations supporting better education, housing, and job opportunities for blacks.