|Understanding our story within the larger story of our country, within the much larger story of God’s work in the world, is an ongoing process. Carolyn Vance thinks about her history within this widening context as we prepare for our Thanksgiving offering. May we also submit our stories to the light of God’s ongoing revelation. -Renée|
As I have been reading various books on race and racism, white privilege and the historic and theological role of the church in racism and white supremacy, I have had the opportunity to re-remember my family’s history in a new light. What I used to think of as “normal” I am now seeing as privilege. I am understanding that my family’s ability to build wealth was not due just to hard work and determination, though those things were also true, but also due to the privilege of being white.
My father, after serving in the U.S. Army, was able to go to college on the G.I. Bill. This great opportunity was denied to African American veterans. Because of his college education, Dad was able to get a good, well-paying job that supported our family and more. He was able to invest some of his earnings in stocks which created additional financial wealth. In his mid 40s, he decided to semi-retire and move back to the farm he grew up on in Texas. He yearned for the farm life, but would still be able to earn a decent income from consulting. He also had inherited some 60 acres from his parents. Land wealth. Inheritance.
In addition my parents were able to put me and my 3 siblings through college. None of us had student loan debt from our undergraduate education.
At the time my parents bought their first house, there were all kinds of loan opportunities available to whites that were not available to blacks. That was intentional. My parents bought the house I grew up in for $20,000 in 1961. They sold that house 14 years later for $48,000. Redlining prevented African Americans from being able to purchase homes in desirable areas that would appreciate in value.
Sadly, the white church was complicit in slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings and multiple discriminatory practices that prevented African Americans from creating wealth and opportunities in the same way that my family was able to. Though my family’s story is not every white family’s story, it is illustrative of how opportunities denied to black families were available to whites. It seems just for the church to ponder deeply the concept of reparations, repairing what has been broken. “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:34
There are probably a multitude of different ways of imagining reparations. One from the Old Testament is Jubilee found in Leviticus 25. It provided for a once in a lifetime restoration of land/property and release from indentured servitude as a way to stop multi-generational poverty. Another is from Acts 4:32 “The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common.” In college the Baptist Student Union leaders used to say “To whom much is given, much is required.” That has stayed with me all these years. Perhaps this is a re-wording of Luke 12:48 “… from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.”
Remembering God’s generosity to us and trusting our fears to him, let us imagine together the repairing, healing Kingdom of God that Jesus calls us to.