Reparations Towards Transformed Newness | General Synod 34 reflection
Reflection by Robb Kojima—pastor of Wailuku Union Church on Maui; delegate of the ‘Aha O Nā Mokupuni ‘O Maui, Moloka‘i, A Me Lāna‘i.
The General Synod randomly assigned delegates into committees to study proposed resolutions. This exposes delegates to resolutions, and resolutions to a wide variety of perspectives. I was assigned to the resolution asking to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans; to fill the gap between white wealth and Black wealth.
Their theological reasoning paired reparations with atoning sacrifices. This is a common misunderstanding of the use of sacrifice. Sacrifice was never used as payment of sin, but to show how devoted a person was to turn towards God’s way. A sacrifice was used to signal a change and how important this change in direction was. The sacrifice was not to punish or destroy the offender as in retributions, but to enter into new relationships, with new revelations, an admission of hurt and the promise of new patterns of behavior.
The American/European feudal ideas of justice, places value on money and punishment as ways to rectify injury or hurt, but is not the kind of justice Jesus talks about. Jesus said to walk another mile or turning the other cheek. This is to move from of a system of reparations to a system of forgiveness where the focus is on renewed relationships, treating each other with respect, honor, grace, equality and lovingly transforming our communities.
This made me think about the discussions of reparations for those who have suffered at the hands of the misguided culture of colonization. It is impossible to accurately imagine what might have been, or the depth of the loss, or what reparations would be needed to adequately pay the price of such hurt.
The words of the preacher at the Opening Worship of the General Synod, Jamar Doyle, talked about “new things” from Isaiah 43. In that light, reparations are important, not as an end in itself but as a step towards the transformation of our communities. There isn’t enough colonizer gold to pay the debt of their offenses. So reparations need to be used as steps towards reconciliations that transform our communities into something new. Reparations need to be part of the story of transformed communities. Forgiveness can do what reparations cannot do; bring healing to relationships. Forgiveness has the power to bridge gaps of hurt and transform relationships into communities of equity, love, respect, appreciation and kindness.
The resolution identified the disparity between white wealth and Black wealth as $350,000. The proponents of the resolution felt that if every person of African descent receives that amount that the disparity would be fixed. We saw something similar happen in Hawai‘i when returning service men from WWII took advantage of the GI Bill and their education enabled them to move off of the sugar
plantations as laborers to become doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, politicians, business people, and leaders in the community (Ironically we were having these discussions right after the Supreme Court voted against upholding the practice of Affirmative Action in college admissions [view UCC response]).
Reparations must lead to a story of renewed relationships and transformed communities; if not, there will never be enough reparations to bring healing to our communities, leaving deep-seated hurt to surface in every generation and making the work of forgiveness elusive. Our faith calls for a justice that brings about our transformation of relationships in which God’s love creates something new.