‘Reconciling to what?’

This piece is part of an ongoing series focused on the themes of “healing” and “repair.” Follow the blog or check our Facebook page to see the other posts in the series as they’re published bimonthly.


Reconciliation usually means “the restoration of friendly relations.” It is fair to ask exactly what we would be “reconciling” to in the context of any racial divide, injustice or harm…”

 

‘Reconciling to what?’ That was one of the first questions I had from a member of the newly formed “Repair and Reconciliation Alliance” of the Pittsburgh Presbytery. The alliance had been formed with the mandate to do two things:

  • (1) to engage in a thorough review of the experience of our Black Presbyterian churches through history.
  • (2) to offer recommendations on actions of repair and reconciliation.

The hopeful outcome of this work is that “the Pittsburgh Presbytery may become a more harmonious, joyful, and just community within the Body of Christ.”

As the chair of the committee, I was meeting with each member of the alliance to learn more about their hopes for the work we are going to engage in over the next two years. The alliance is a mix of teaching and ruling elders, both Black and white, and includes pastors from two of our historically Black churches.

As I met with Pastor De Neice Welch of Bidwell Presbyterian Church, her question about the destination of reconciliation was one that, thanks to my white privilege, I had not considered.

 A reconciling process indicates a return to a time when there were right and equal relations between the parties. Unfortunately, there has never been a time in our country’s history when things were right or on equal footing between white and Black people.

The current racial wealth gap is a difference of close to $1 million between Black families and white families. The average household wealth for Black families is $294,000, compared with $1,252,000 for white families.

This wealth gap is not because white people have worked harder over the centuries. This gap is the result of a 400-year history that includes chattel slavery, Jim Crow and ongoing discriminatory practices. My family recently received some inheritance money from Great Uncle Joe, who served in World War II and was able to take full advantage of the GI bill and buy a house in an “up-and-coming” community in Pittsburgh.

This same wealth and opportunity to purchase a house were denied to thousands of Black GIs who just as faithfully served their country as Great Uncle Joe did. My family now has wealth that was denied to other equally deserving Black families.

So, again, we can ask, reconciling back to what? To the time when church records in Pittsburgh Presbytery indicate the KKK was meeting at Hazelwood Presbyterian Church? A church that started as a white church but became a Black church as that community turned into a poor urban center that saw white families fleeing to the suburbs. Is that what we want to go back to?

A diverse group of 8 members of the Repair and Reconciliation Alliance stand together for a photo

Members of the newly formed Alliance for Honor and Repair for the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

As our alliance began our work this past January, our first order of business was to address our name. We considered calling ourselves simply “The Alliance for Repair.” But that did not seem to address the fullness of what we hope to do. So, after some more thought and reflection, we landed on the name “The Alliance for Honor and Repair.”

The 1 Corinthians 12:24–26 (NIV) verses read: “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

For the whole of the history of America, Black people have not received the honor they deserve, and the body of Christ and the fabric of our nation have been divided and torn apart because of it.

For the whole of the history of America, Black people have not received the honor they deserve, and the body of Christ and the fabric of our nation have been divided and torn apart because of it.

In renaming ourselves The Alliance for Honor and Repair, we do not look to reconcile ourselves to some past that does not exist, but rather we hope to forge a new future. This future takes that past into consideration and acknowledges the harms that have been done. It finds a way forward that offers healing, repair and helps to restore wholeness to the body of Christ.


Headshot of Jeff Eddings wearing a grey colored shirt with tone on tone stripes. Jeff's hair is close-cropped with a mustache and a beard. The Rev. Jeff Eddings serves as the associate for Coaching and Spiritual Formation for 1001 New Worshiping Communities. He is an ACC coach, Ignatian spiritual director and facilitator for the Confronting Whiteness curriculum. Learn more about him and his work at jeffeddings.com.