A substantial portion of our Reformed faith and tradition rests on the catechisms and confessions. They have served, and continue to serve, as cherished road markers and guides for centuries. Some in our Reformed tradition would even consider them Spirit-inspired just below the Bible in terms of Christian scope and authority. Lyle Bierma, Ph.D., in our Reformed Creeds and Confessions course at Calvin Seminary, prefaced his lectures on the Heidelberg Catechism with a quotation from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who proclaimed, “Give us a child for seven years, and we will have him for life.” Thus, as first-hand witnesses to the theological and practical power catechisms have over our collective faith formation, to see this excerpt below from a catechism given to slaves and their children in Charleston, S.C., is both shocking and downright blasphemous.
“Question: Who gave you a master and a mistress? “Answer: God gave them to me.
“Q: Who says that you must obey them? “A: God says I must.
“Q: What book tells you all these things? “A: The Bible.
“Q: What does God say about your work? “A: He that will not work will not eat.
“Q: Did Adam and Eve have to work? “A: Yes. They work to keep the garden.
“Q: Was it hard to keep that garden? “A: No. It was very easy.
“Q: What makes the crops so hard to grow now? “A: Sin makes it.
“Q: What makes you lazy? “A: My own wicked heart.
“Q: What did God make you for? “A: To make a crop.”
As hard as this is to read, Duke Kwon and Gregory Thompson, co-authors of Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair, center their argument for reparations around numerous excerpts such as these to lay a historical foundation, undergirding what they believe to be a longstanding theological and ecclesiological abuse, or theft, as they would call it.
Theft is the prominent basis of their argument: “When you take something that does not belong to you, love requires you to return it.” Kwon and Thompson argue that the church’s centuries-long involvement in and complicity with the complex systems propagated by white supremacy requires an equally complex and exceedingly intentional process of repentance (acknowledgment) and reparations (restoration).
Although the book itself is only about 200 pages, Kwon and Thompson dedicate almost 10 percent of their argument to build a fence around what the book hopes to do, what it doesn’t attempt to do, and to outline the vast limitations of their work. They do so with the hope of convincing the church that reparations are first and foremost a spiritual necessity rather than a political debate.
If there was ever a book to own and read as a hard copy, this is it—not kindle, and especially not as an audio book. Reparations is one that you’ll want to read slowly, engage with the arguments, process its claims, and get into groups and have conversations about. It is a gift to the church, and Kwon and Thompson’s work should give us cause to reflect with the purpose of moving the dialogue forward. My inclination is to believe that the current cultural moment not only necessitates this dialogue but also demands it if the church’s witness is to have any credibility with future generations.(Brazos Press)