Presbyterian Racial Wealth Gap Simulation Event Calls for ‘Reparatory Justice’

Josiah Reedy on November 30, 2021

Christian Brooks of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness hosted the first event of a series entitled “Reparatory Justice: Atoning for Injustice and Building a Future Together.” Summarizing her main point, she said, “God is calling us to reparatory justice in order to fix relationships among ourselves and, quite honestly, fix our vertical relationship with God.”

To establish the necessity of reparatory justice, Brooks spent the bulk of the event going through the Racial Wealth Gap Learning Simulation, an interactive tool developed by Bread for the World. In the simulation, each participant begins as being labeled either “white” or “black,” with Brooks going so far as to rename each Zoom attendant in order to reflect this designation. While due to the constraints of a virtual event this assignment was done at random, ordinarily a participant would assume, for the purposes of the simulation, the opposite racial identity from their own.

The simulation then describes 13 various policies, including land seizures in the 1800s, redlining, exclusion of blacks from certain benefits like Social Security or minimum wage, school segregation, the War on Drugs, and voting restrictions. With each policy, “white” and “black” participants add or subtract a different number of “land” cards, “money” cards, and “lost opportunity” cards. After discussing all 13 policies, “white” participants should have 13 money cards, 7 land cards, and one lost opportunity card. “Black” participants, on the other hand, are left with no money cards, just one land card, 14 lost opportunity cards.

Such a simplistic presentation of the complex and serious matters of racial injustice and economic inequality is concerning. For one, the simulation is unscientific and subjective. Instead of being based in real, numerical data, the simulation adds or takes away arbitrary numbers of land and money cards. In fact, Brooks later presented data from the Pew Research Center which indicates that the gap in median net worth between white and black households is around 13:1. If the numbers in the simulation were believed, the gap would be 20:1.

Moreover, the simulation does not take other factors into account, effectively implying that these 13 policies are near-totally responsible for any success enjoyed generationally by white families or difficulties suffered by black families.

And even beyond that, the factual description of each policy was not necessarily historically accurate, and there was much unconsidered overlap between different policies. For example, no mention was made of pay disparities later in life having any connection to educational disparities or neighborhood segregation, but it was instead treated as a separate and merely discrimination-based phenomenon.

Furthermore, one of the stated objectives of the event was for participants to share about what they learned with their communities. Brooks said, “Share it with your family, share it with your churches, share it with your community, talk about it over Thanksgiving dinner.” While discussions about history and societal issues are important, they are also delicate and can aggravate disunity if not approached carefully. If divisive matters are to be brought up in churches and around Thanksgiving tables, and especially if these conversations are to be directly encouraged by church leaders, they usually ought to be matters with a greater level of historical and Scriptural clarity.

Finally, Brooks’s biblical ground for her argument is taken grossly out of context. After mentioning various policies, she says, “Because of these things, we are called to atone… We have an example of reparatory justice in our sacred text.” She then references Numbers 5:5-8, a passage discussing restitution when one Israelite wrongs another, as her basis for advocating reparations.

Now this is not to say that reparations is an anti-biblical position per se, or that there have not been great societal injustices that have done black people far more harm than whites over the course of American history.

However, Numbers 5 is written for God’s covenant people of Israel, and should be understood in the context of Israel’s call to be visibly different from the surrounding pagan societies. Even more contrary to Brooks’s point, the passage in Numbers 5 makes specific reference to one Israelite wronging another. Whatever way one chooses to view generational or cultural responsibility for unjust deeds, portraying injustices wrought by policymakers of the 1860s as if an individual today bears the same responsibility for those injustices as for his or her own actions is not a sustainable moral perspective.

In conclusion, while the racial wealth gap in America may be a problem to learn about and address, Brooks’s methods are not the most helpful way to do so. Brooks admits that she grounds her ideas in critical race theory, stating, “Critical race theory isn’t a theory; it’s a reality,” and regarding her presentation, “This was filled with critical race theory.” Churches must indeed strive to have a right understanding of race and inequality, but one that is filled instead with historical accuracy, Scriptural truth, and love of neighbor.

  1. Comment by Reynolds on November 30, 2021 at 10:59 am

    I am amazed how dumb the PCUSA is. They are losing members and churches at a rate that they will be gone within two generations. It took the Salvation Army one day to apologize to their donors for making them fill guilty but PCUSA is hell bent on running out their members quicker with this nonsense. CRT will be the death knell for many great organizations. PCUSA use to be focused on the Great Commission but now they just want to die.

  2. Comment by David S. on November 30, 2021 at 11:12 am

    “[If] these conversations are to be directly encouraged by church leaders, they usually ought to be matters with a greater level of historical and Scriptural clarity.”

    The PC(USA) has long abandoned any concern for historical or Scriptural clarity, but that is of no great surprise, because its predecessor denominations – the Southern PC-US and the more national UPC-USA – had long before abandoned inerrancy. As anow former member of the denomination, I am increadingly convinced that the denominational entities have ceased to be a true church.

    Mr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, the current Stated Clerk, masquerades as an angel of light and a sheep, yet has demonstrated time and again that he could careless for clarity, truthfulness, and genuine unity on essentials and liberty of conscious on nonessentials. He is the perfect example of a deceitful individual masquerading as a sheep with his pleasant demeanor and smile, and is a perfect example of why the church’s fails when it places more emphasis on the wolves passages and not enough on the angel of light and masquerading as sheep passages regarding these false shepherds. I

    As an example of his untruthfulnesd, in his official statement regarding the Rittenhouse verdict, this deceiver stated that Mr. Rittenhouse brought a gun to a peaceful protest, which he later used and resulted in two deaths and an injury.  Forget that the video evidence indicated otherwise.  The leadership of this denomination calls itself Christian, yet reveal themselves to be time and again the servants of the evil one.  God have mercy on their souls for their actions continually indicate that at present, according to the Reformed perspective, they have been destined for a place not among the elect, barring a future action on God’s part to bring them to genuine faith and repentance, regardless of how many times, like the LDS, the JWs, the Prosperity Preachers, the Word of Faith movement, and others, they utter the name of Jesus.

  3. Comment by Loren J Golden on November 30, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    “Brooks admits that she grounds her ideas in critical race theory, stating, ‘Critical race theory isn’t a theory; it’s a reality.’”
     
    Critical Race Theory is more than a theory, but it is less than reality—far less, actually.  Critical Race Theory is a world-and-life view, and as such is an aggressive competitor against the Biblical worldview.  The CRT worldview classifies all human beings into the categories of “oppressor” and “victim.”  If one has benefited in any way from acts of oppression that have happened in the past, even if one has not participated in any meaningful way in actual oppression, then that one is, by definition, an “oppressor,” and therefore evil.  Conversely, if one has suffered in any form, including generational poverty, resulting from past acts of oppression, even if one has not actually suffered direct persecution, then that one is, by definition, a “victim,” and therefore good.  CRT would then execute justice by coercing the “oppressors” to confess themselves to be oppressors, and to make financial reparations to the “victims.”
     
    In reality, justice is not served, for if one were to follow CRT to its logical conclusion, the “victims” would become genuine oppressors in their coercion of those identified as “oppressors,” and the said “oppressors” would become their victims.
     
    Second, forced financial reparations would not resolve the problems of poverty.  The causes of poverty are numerous and complex.  Even if financial reparations were made to African Americans who have suffered generational poverty since emancipation, the mechanisms that perpetuate said poverty include a history of broken homes.  And until this issue is fixed, no amount of financial reparation will remedy this poverty.
     
    Third, and most devastatingly, there is no grace in CRT.  CRT demands justice for the “victim” class but has no built-in mechanisms for showing grace to the “oppressors” from whom it demands this justice.  And if there is no grace shown toward the “oppressors” by the “victims,” there will be only bitterness and hard feelings, and no reconciliation between the two, as the “victims” ostracize the “oppressors” they now oppress, rather than forgive them.
     
    “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Mt. 5.38-42)
     
    The need for racial reconciliation and healing of divisions is dire, but CRT will not bring them about.  We are all sinners, wallowing in the muck of our sin.  Christ died to redeem us from our life of sin, so that we might live a better way—His way—and thus be reconciled not only to God, but also to one another.  CRT bypasses our need for reconciliation to God, but attempts to force a reconciliation on us between one another.  But it is doomed to failure, because it is not of God.

  4. Comment by Dan W on November 30, 2021 at 3:49 pm

    I enjoyed the article and the comments!
    The Office of Public Witness would be more effective if they were pointing people towards salvation instead of reparation.

  5. Comment by Star Tripper on November 30, 2021 at 5:41 pm

    Ms. Brooks is a poster child for Paul’s admonition to Timothy (1Timothy2: 11-12) Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

  6. Comment by Tom on November 30, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    Reynolds nails it. The PC(USA) is hell-bent (words chosen deliberately) on self-destruction. And will use any and all means to achieve that goal.

  7. Comment by Loren J Golden on December 2, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    Star Tripper,

    Although I agree with you that Paul’s prohibition against women in ordained ministry in I Tim. 2.8-15 is clear, I think it unfair to single her out as the “poster child” of Paul’s prohibition, inasmuch as (1) she is hardly the only female teaching elder in the PC(USA) to believe as she does, and (2) a great many male teaching elders in the denomination also promulgate the same doctrine. The greater issue underlying this and most maladies afflicting the PC(USA) is that the denomination’s leaders are putting the authority of the Word of God second to the authority of a worldly social agenda, and they are most unwilling to confess that they have committed sin in so doing (Lk. 16.13).

  8. Comment by Donald on December 4, 2021 at 8:02 am

    I certainly hope that Ms. Brooks gives at least 10% of her gross income to this cause…on top of the 10% general tithe which is expected of all practicing believers.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.