December 21, 2021
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House
1236 Longworth H.O.B
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Speaker Pelosi,
We — the undersigned faith-based organizations representing millions of people of faith across the country — strongly urge you to support the passage of H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act. This bill would establish a commission to examine the history of enslavement and discrimination in the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. Contrary to popular misinformation, H.R. 40 does not commit the United States to pay any money to anyone. It only begins a study process where the cases for or against reparations can be studied systematically and in depth. We believe that such a study is vitally important to understand the full depth and breadth of the effects of slavery in the U.S., both the accounts from the past as well as well as its lasting impacts today.
During this holiday season, our interfaith coalition is writing to ask that you bring H.R. 40 to the House floor for a vote before the end of December. Our faith traditions recognize the importance of reparative justice. Our more than three-thousand-year-old sacred texts call for amends to those who have been harmed. The 32-year effort to pass H.R. 40 is one step in the direction of honoring our faith. The number of co-sponsors and “yes” votes is unprecedented. Now is the time to bring H.R. 40 to the floor.
There are pieces of legislation that the House has voted on this session that will impact Americans for at least a generation. This comes as many of our own denominations are taking steps to examine our own legacies and the necessary remedies to address past harms. The House should be proud of all these accomplishments under your leadership. However, there is one piece of legislation that is game changing for our entire country and could define a member’s legislative legacy. This bill is H.R. 40. This bill is on the right side of history regarding African Americans in the United States of America.
Our theological teachings have a long and rich history affirming that reparations are a matter of justice. One example of this is highlighted by Christian scholar Thabiti Anyabwile in his article “Reparations are Biblical.” He looks at the book of Ezra, a scribe and scholar who helped lead the second group of Jews returning from Babylonian exile who chronicles God’s reiterations of reparatory promises.
The action begins “in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezra 1:1). That places us at 539 B.C. when Cyrus the Great came to power. It is 70 years after Babylon captured Israel and took them into captivity. Already we’re talking about roughly two generations. Please note that everything that happens is so “that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled” (Ezra 1:1). What had God spoken through Jeremiah? Essentially that after 70 years the Lord would return Israel from captivity back to the land (Jer. 29:10-14). One hundred years prior, Isaiah also prophesied that the return would happen at the hand of a pagan ruler named Cyrus (Isa. 45:1). Ezra really records the fulfilling of God’s promise. So two generations (70 years) after the Babylonian defeat by Nebuchadnezzar, an entirely new empire has emerged, and a pagan king uninvolved in the sacking of Israel initiates the repatriation and the reparation of Israel. That reparation began with returning the items taken from the house of the Lord when Nebuchadnezzar defeated them (Ezra 1:7-11). This was the first act of reparation. This was all by God’s hand.
But the story does not end there. Anyabwile argues that ”(t)he historical case of Israel during the days of Ezra proves that reparations in the case of African American descendants of slaves in the United States is no injustice at all, and therefore is quite biblical. If reparations of this sort is an injustice based on [typical anti-Black] objections, then those who hold those objections have the unenviable responsibility of showing that God himself is unjust, since all that happens in Ezra happens according to God’s premeditated plan.
In 2019, the Jewish Reform Movement, the largest Jewish denomination in North America, passed a resolution in favor of reparations for enslavement and 400 years of systemic racism.
In the Talmud, we learn that all people are descended from a single person so that no person can say, “my ancestor is greater than yours.” (Sanhedrin 37a) “God created humanity from the four corners of the earth – yellow clay, and white sand, black loam, and red soil. Therefore, the earth can declare to no part of humanity that it does not belong here, that this soil is not their rightful home.” (Yalkut Shimoni 1:1) – Resolution on the Study and Development of Reparations for Slavery and Systemic Racism in the U.S.
The rabbis understood that the victim of a crime was made whole by financial repayment for damages done. Maimonides went one step further, linking the payment of damages to the concept of t’shuvah, noting that repentance must accompany the financial commitment (Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 1.1).
As people of faith, we are calling on you to join our call to action and pass H.R. 40. We are called by our Creator to do what is right and repair wrongs done to another human being and to work for personal, social reconciliation, and renewal. We believe we are duty bound to follow this spiritual call to honor and protect all people’s inherent dignity and to seek justice when that dignity is violated. This December, we have an opportunity and sacred obligation to bring H.R. 40 to the floor and pass this monumental legislation.
As our nation works to heal from the egregious attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also discern our own complicity in the use of laws and customs to justify enslavement, systemic racism, and white supremacy. We should allow the truth to speak. Until the United States honestly addresses the original transgression of slavery and the centuries of systemic actions to deliberately keep the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to America poor and born to a destiny of being disadvantaged, there will be no healing, moral accountability, or peace in our country. Reparations are a matter of Justice, found in our sacred faith traditions, international law, and practiced by Congress in response to the internment of Japanese Americans and more recently with the 9-11 Survivor Fund. This Congress has an opportunity to live up to the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Reparations is a peaceful and just way to provide new safeguards for African Americans future security. The time is now, the call is reparations.
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Church World Service
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ Justice and Local Church Ministries
Faith in Public Life
The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
Bread For the World
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team
Alliance of Baptists
Rep. Steny Hoyer
Rep. James Clyburn
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee
Rep. Tom O’Halleran
Rep. Matt Cartwright