The Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam is the Rev. DeEtte Decker’s guest on ‘Being Matthew 25: Summit Edition’
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam, the director of the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms, will be among the workshop presenters during the Matthew 25 Summit being held at New Life Presbyterian Church Jan. 16-18, 2024, in Atlanta.
Ross-Allam, a minister, social ethicist and scholar, was the guest Wednesday on “Being Matthew 25: Summit Edition,” hosted by the Rev. DeEtte Decker, communications director for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Ross-Allam’s comments came during his recent time in Juneau, Alaska, when he and others were part of a PC(USA) delegation making apologies and reparation for the racist closure of Memorial Presbyterian Church in 1963. Watch the 16-minute broadcast of “Being Mattew 25: Summit Edition,” recorded and edited by Rich Copley, a multimedia producer in the PMA, here, here or here.
Ross-Allam said that repair and reparations are not interchangeable terms. Repair is what churches, universities, cities and family foundations can do “to deal with the most intimate and local level of harms.” Reparation can only take place at the national level, he said. The U.S. government must “listen to what indigenous nations say that they require in order to be treated as sovereigns,” Ross-Allam said.
The name of the workshop Ross-Allam will lead at the Matthew 25 Summit is “The Case for Repair.”
“Repair is what we do on multiple levels. It’s the work of the people,” he said. Repair work includes “doing local activities that signal to the larger society that public opinion is shifting on the question of reparations.”
At the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms, “We acknowledge that we have to repair ourselves spiritually on multiple levels,” including “giving up obsolete theologies” and not “confusing fatalism with faithfulness,” he said.
“All of those things are the way that repair our damaged spiritual imaginations,” he said. Presbyterians “have to be humble and realize, yes, we are called both to justice and charity. But we’re not endowed enough economically to solve even the problems of racism that the Presbyterian Church has set in motion by itself, much less to address the larger global scale of reparation” owed to “people of African descent, people of many different groups.” When we do that, “we become partners in a process rather than competitors for the proceeds that might be garnered from a little bit of white guilt before that trend runs out.”
Matthew 25 asks us to do two things, Ross-Allam noted. The first is to do acts of charity. “But to really listen to the depth of that scripture, it helps us understand that not only are we to continue to persist in acts of charity, but we’re also to investigate what is required of us to eliminate the need to continue to do those acts of charity,” he said. Racism, mass incarceration and systemic poverty “are not tragedies. They’re unnecessary crimes,” he said. Matthew 25 tells us to “visit the sick, feed the hungry, visit those who are incarcerated, and to be faithful to the incarnation of God and Christ.”
“We realize that while we continue to do those things, we also have to pay attention to what we are doing to cause people to be hungry beyond what tragedies may befall people.”
When Ross-Allam talks about reparations from a Matthew 25 perspective, “I’ll remind people that theological transformation and local acts of repair are indispensable for sending a message to society at large and our leaders that public opinion has shifted and that people will no longer tolerate an approach to racism, for example, that doesn’t take reparations seriously.”
“We’ll talk about the need to be humble and to be realistic about what we can achieve in terms of our local actions versus the witness that we can perform in public by doing local actions with the intention of signaling a shift in public opinion that will cause our inspired leaders to take notice that people are going to require something very different than what the people have required before,” he said.
Ross-Allam said he’s excited that Dr. William Yoo, the Columbia Theological Seminary scholar who wrote “What Kind of Christianity: A History of Slavery and Anti-Black Racism in the Presbyterian Church,” will be among the speakers at the Matthew 25 Summit. “I think if people paid a little bit more attention to some of the details in his book, especially around exegetical strategies around slavery and the notion of unity among Presbyterians at all costs, I think it will give people a fresh way of looking at why we have certain enduring problems around activism and racism and economic democracy in the 21st century,” Ross-Allam said.
“Reconciliation without reparation is a childish idea, but it’s a dangerous idea,” Ross-Allam said, “and I’m hoping that intelligent people have moved beyond that kind of fantasy are willing to get down to business.”
He said he hopes the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms “will give people a practical way of putting their faith into action and permanently make repair simply the way we go about creating the future. … We can organize ourselves intelligently and compassionately and we can solve these historical problems and be done with them in historical time, and then move on to the other bigger challenges that we have that are facing us.”
He said he want people to think of the Center as “a workspace where people willing to be a part of the solution to a long-standing problem can come” with their resources, ideas, work ethic and faithfulness “to a place where all of their offerings will be used and appreciated.”
The next edition of “Being Matthew 25: Summit Edition” is scheduled for noon Eastern Time on Wednesday, Nov. 29. At that time, it can be viewed here. To learn more about the Matthew 25 Summit, “An Invitation to Innovation,” go here.
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