MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: compensating descendants of African slaves in the United States. Reparations is another word for it.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Black scholars and advocates have argued for decades that reparations are needed. They say some form of financial payment is the only way to make up for past injustice.
Former Congressman John Conyers filed a reparations bill every year for almost 30 years. But it never went anywhere, whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge.
REICHARD: Now several Democrats vying to be nominated for president are endorsing reparations.
And off the campaign trail, debate over reparations is spreading to churches. Some church leaders welcome the discussion. They see it as an opportunity for Christians to have a voice.
WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has our story.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Several 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls say they support reparations. But each candidate has a different plan for what they would look like.
California Senator Kamala Harris told The Grio in February that if she becomes president she’d support the LIFT Act. It would give an annual tax credit to families earning less than $100,000 a year.
She says that would benefit 60 percent of African American families.
HARRIS: We have to recognize that everybody did not start out on an equal footing in this country and in particular black people have not.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has proposed so-called “baby bonds.” They would create an education and housing trust fund for all newborns. Booker says that would help close the wealth gap between high- and low-income children and broadly address racial inequalities.
Activists say these policies aren’t really reparations. They are simply taking existing policies and renaming them reparations.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren told a CNN town hall last month that she supports forming a panel of experts to propose reparation policies.
WARREN: I love the idea of this congressional commission. Let’s bring people together and open that conversation as Americans…. Ignoring the problem is not working.
But not all candidates think financial solutions are the answer.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the Democratic frontrunners. He dismissed monetary reparations for African Americans during a February appearance on ABC’s The View. Instead, Sanders said he would broadly address impoverished communities of all races.
SANDERS: I think that right now, our job is to address the crises facing the American people and our communities, and I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check.
Polls show Americans’ support for reparations is largely divided along racial lines. A 2016 Marist poll found more than half of black Americans supported monetary reparations while less than 20 percent of white Americans did.
Advocates argue the effects of slavery are still evident in American society. They say reparations would force the country to reckon with past wrongs—and begin to make things right.
Critics say reparations would drive a larger wedge between whites and blacks. They also contend that slavery and Jim Crow segregation did not directly affect most African Americans alive today—so they shouldn’t get payouts.
Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director for 9Marks—an orthodox ministry resource for pastors. He says evangelical leaders are also discussing reparations and coming to different conclusions.
LEEMAN: Those who support reparations… sometimes they’ll make the argument that this is a matter of justice. This is something that’s owed to the victims of slavery or Jim Crow. On the anti-reparation side, you hear the argument that Christians are forgiven by the blood of Christ. No further forgiveness or restitution needs to happen.
Leeman says the debate boils down to one question: What is required for the repentance of racism? He argues when it comes to monetary reparations Christians are going to arrive at different answers and that’s OK.
LEEMAN: I believe that this is a matter of Christian freedom. If you’re gonna make a pro-reparations argument, then be careful to affirm that, you know, believers in Jesus Christ might come to different tactical solutions and support the same principles of justice that you want to support. And if you’re going to oppose reparations, that’s fine. Just make sure you also affirm that some Christians might come to different tactical strategic solutions about supporting the issues of justice that you support as well.
Vincent Bacote is a professor and the director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College. He says wherever Christians stand on monetary reparations, they should all be for creating a more just government and institutions.
BACOTE: I would say that Christians should support a government that truly seek to do justice in as many ways possible. And if that means considering reparations, then you consider it. Would you consider it without putting labels on reparations like socialist or something like that? Because that doesn’t help anybody. That is just a smokescreen to not talk—to not deal with the question.
Jonathan Thomas is the founder of Civil Righteousness. He says the church needs to lead the conversation on racial reconciliation. Because only the gospel can bring lasting healing.
THOMAS: I think that there is a measure and a role that the government can play in addressing and in helping to aid in the healing of our national wounds, but they alone do not have the source of healing when ultimately I believe that has been entrusted to the people of God in our nation. I believe that we have an opportunity to actually lead this conversation.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.