Reparations Conversations

The Egyptians to their neighbors, the newly freed Israelites. God planned it, instructed Moses, and reminded him to tell the children of Israel to ask. Pharaoh certainly wasn’t paying reparations for slavery. But the Egyptians generously gave jewelry and clothing- portable wealth- to those who had not been paid a just wage for generations. 

This teaching in our Sept 6, 2020 online service seems so long ago. Indeed, our NCF conversations about the why of reparations have been ongoing. As a step of faith, putting our money where our mouths are, the Leadership Team began 2021 by committing half of our Ministry Development Fund to a newly created line item for Reparations. We didn’t know what that would mean, but we trusted God to lead. 

Out walking in early January, I sought direction. Asking the Lord, “What scriptures? What next?” When I heard the story of Zaccheus anew. Reparations, Jesus-style. The imperative to return wealth unjustly acquired (by a system that favors the few) brought salvation. Repairing relationships and the complexity of financial redistribution would likely be a lifelong journey for the tax collector. 

What about us? We keep learning about our history and grappling with injustice and violence in the now. Reparations are not limited to Hebrew history or Christian scriptures. The attempts to address grievous wrongs tell their own stories of nations grappling with guilt and suffering, seeking to repair their societies. 

This conversation is beyond New Covenant. International examples beg consideration. What has Germany done? What about South Africa? What is our part in those stories, and what do they tell us? We are not alone in these questions.

The Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation and the Interfaith Alliance of Champaign County join us in sponsoring our First Four Conversations. The historical and legal complexity demand the expertise of a scholar dedicated to the difficulty of these undertakings. Five times cited by the United States Supreme Court, Dr. Paul Finkelman specializes in the history of slavery, civil rights, religion, and race relations. He invites our questions and discussion as we bring this conversation closer to home with each session. From the aftermath of WWI to examples of reparations in US History to the latest proposals in Evanston, IL- we will explore them together. You are invited!

And then we will process our experience with Dr. Jeffrey Trask and Gladys Hunt, MSW. Longtime NCFers, gifting us with their teachings and music, invested in our CU community and the fellowship of faith. Together we will decide what’s next.

The recent move to consider HR 40 in Congress makes this a national conversation. For us, it is a neighborly endeavor. For the NCF extended family around the world. For the wider CU community. We engage as people of faith- called to justice, mercy, and repair of the world.

We start this Sunday April 25 at 6:15pm Central via Zoom. May the God of us all prepare our hearts and minds to listen and learn, that we might be equipped to do the work of justice and mercy ahead. 

“You Done Messed Up: But It’s Okay”
4/18 Bulletin

6 Comments On “Reparations Conversations”

  1. I was stunned to learn in Isobel Wilkerson’s book, “Caste”, that Germans sent researchers to the United States in the early 20th century to study the Jim Crow laws. They wanted to learn how the USA managed to subordinate and subjugate its African American population. They used what they learned to eventually form the antisemitic Nuremberg Laws.
    How is it that I was never taught this history? I am looking forward to what Dr. Finkelman has to teach us as a historian and legal scholar. May he help us discover a path forward.


  2. It’s a great idea to think & pray for reparations over past mistakes. What a wonderful initiative to plan a conference on such a topic. You’ll be in my prayers for this event for sure.


  3. This is such an important conversation – thank you for engaging in it as a congregation. As someone who grew up in Germany and who chose to make a life in the US, having spent 25 years in my original country and 12 years in total now in my adopted country, I never stop to compare these two places.

    Both countries have such painful histories, in very different but connected ways, and both countries’ present day situation is informed by the past and how it was dealt with.

    As a young person in Germany, learning about the Holocaust was a major part of our educational journey. Time and resources were dedicated to it. In the 9th grade, we had an exchange program with our Polish partner city, and when we went to live with our Polish families, all German students took a 2 day trip to see the concentration camp in Auschwitz. We visited museums in Germany, read books, debunked Aryan myths in biology class. Even if you weren’t that interested, you couldn’t miss this critical building block of the German education system.

    I know I didn’t actually spend those comparable years in the US – I only spent my junior year at an American High School. But from what I’ve learned from the majority of my friends and from young people I know, their educational journey does not include a deep dive into the shameful and destructive parts of this country’s history.

    I think it’s really hard to build something sustainable, and impossible to build something better, if you’re not familiar with what has been. It’s difficult to deal with the sins of the past, now knowing what to take on as your own legacy and how it should inform your actions in the present. But it’s easier to start that conversation with young people who are still developing, who are trying to figure out their world and who they will be in it, than to start that process with adults – many of whom feel the need to defend the ideas and beliefs they’ve come to rather than to keep an open mind, learn, and adjust with new information.

    I’m really glad you’re doing this work as a community. The current moment has such a heightened awareness about the ever present cruelty and systemic devaluation of life that has been a reality for Black and Brown people in this country. I hope that from this moment, more healing, accountability and justice will come and that we’ll grow to be a more equitable country. There’s so much to learn and so much to do. I often feel paralyzed and go from hope to despair, from despair to hope. I know we need to try and I look forward to learning with you.


  4. Thank you, Anja! Your insight is unique and so helpful. This is a journey we need to take as communities and as a country. I so appreciate you being part of this process!


  5. Barbara, I didn’t know that either! I appreciate hearing Anja’s experience as we work through this as a community. So much that we don’t know, but am glad to be learning together.


  6. I have used excerpts from this article in my classes before to talk about this issue. It also has a strong Clarksdale connection right in the beginning. If anyone hasn’t had a chance to read it yet, I think it could be helpful for framing the issue.


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