In the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine, prominent American journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates published an article entitled, “The Case for Reparations,” which discussed the continuing negative effects of slavery on African-Americans in this country and demanded that reparations be paid. The article is the latest in a movement seeking compensatory payments from the American government to descendants of Africans who had been enslaved as part of the Atlantic slave trade. According to proponents, the goal of reparations is to restore the African-American community to the economic position it would have enjoyed but for centuries of slavery and ensuing racial discrimination.
Whatever you may think of the call for such reparations, it is painfully obvious of late that racial tension and inequality continue to thrive in this country. Kaepernick’s knee-taking gesture, the “Black lives matter” movement, and the violence in Charlottesville a little over a year ago testify to that reality. It also seems relatively indisputable that much of the conflict is rooted in severe economic inequality. According to a recent article from the Pew Research Center, for example, large gaps between the incomes of blacks and whites persist in this country, with “blacks earn[ing] 65% as much as whites in 2016” at the median (July 12, 2018).
In the second reading today, Saint James has harsh words for the callous rich. “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud [and] have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (Jas. 5:4). We may too easily exculpate and excuse ourselves from social injustices because we have no direct involvement. Yet, most of us enjoy an unparalleled standard of living compared to others.
While few of us may have any real control over global poverty, we can work to keep our side of the street clean by advocating for social justice, paying our workers a fair wage, and giving back a significant portion of our income to the poor. As Protestant reformer John Wesley once said ,“earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
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