PC(USA)’s Washington office signs letter backing reparations legislation

Office of Public Witness among nearly 200 supporters calling for passage of H.R. 40

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The U.S. Capitol (Photo courtesy of the Office of Public Witness)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness is among nearly 200 faith-based organizations, faith leaders, and advocates that have signed a letter urging Congressional leaders to support legislation to study reparations for African Americans.

The legislation, H.R. 40, 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, according to the sign-on letter endorsed by OPW.

“We have an opportunity and an obligation to swiftly pass H.R. 40 as a first step in redressing centuries of injustice against Black people in the United States,” the letter to House leadership states. “H.R. 40 has been described as the ONLY present possibility in adequately addressing and redressing these historic injustices.”

In a historic vote last month, H.R. 40 was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee, a feat that had not been accomplished since the late Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) first introduced a reparations bill in 1989, according to Politico. However, it will be a “tall order” for the legislation to be called up for a floor vote, given that many Republicans oppose it and some people would prefer for President Joe Biden to establish a reparations commission of his own, the story notes.

The sign-on letter calls H.R. 40 an essential step toward making reparations a reality in the United States and for the nation to heal.

“As our nation works to heal from COVID-19, we must also have a national reckoning with our legacy of enslavement and systemic racism,” the letter states. “Until the United States acknowledges the systemic failings that we have allowed to persist and offer Black people redress for these harms, there will be no healing in our nation.”

Some of the organizations that have signed the letter include African American Ministers in Action, Church World Service, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, the National Council of Jewish Women, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Leadership, The Episcopal Church, Faith in Public Life Action and The United Methodist Church–General Board of Church and Society.

“As people of faith, we are calling on you to pass H.R. 40 because God calls us to repair wrongs done to one another and to work for personal and social reconciliation and renewal,” the letter states. “We believe we are duly bound to follow a spiritual call to honor and protect the inherent sacred worth and dignity of all people and seek justice when that worth and dignity is violated.”

Using similar language, the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness issued an Action Alert last month asking for members of the public to urge their representatives to support H.R. 40. It also noted that various entities, including Union Presbyterian Seminary, have acknowledged benefitting from slavery and have taken steps to compensate for that.

“Our government must now fully acknowledge its culpability in the institution of enslavement and systemic racism, the resulting harms to the Black community, and make restitution,” the Alert states.

The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness is part of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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