A conservative Christian book ignites debate over reparations — and faith itself

Duke Kwon is a minister in Washington, D.C., at Grace Meridian Hill, which is part of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). Gregory Thompson pastored for 20 years — most of it in Charlottesville, Va. — in that same denomination, which is decidedly on the conservative side of American Christianity in terms of its theology. The PCA itself was formed by congregations who objected to the civil rights movement.

And yet these two men, one an Asian-American and the other a Caucasian-American, have written a book called "“Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair.”

And one of their primary points is that they don’t think the place to start is with questions like, “How much?,” “Who gets them?” and, “Who has to pay them?”

Thompson said he and Kwon wrote the book for two reasons: they want the American Christian church — including the conservative and mostly white evangelical wing in which they have pastored — to help lead and shape the debate over reparations, and they also know that the conservative church is still broadly resistant and often fiercely hostile to even considering the topic, even as the Episcopal church and other more mainline denominations are grappling with it and in some cases embracing it.

It’s a tall order within conservative, largely white evangelical Christianity. On Thursday, the first major rejoinder to their book came from a conservative evangelical pastor with a significant national following. Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina — another PCA congregation — wrote a critical review for The Gospel Coalition, a prominent evangelical website.

Thompson and Kwon represent a corner of evangelicalism that parts with liberal Christians in significant ways in how it reads and interprets the Bible and in how it understands the faith’s core teachings. Yet evangelicals like Thompson and Kwan also believe that true fidelity and orthodoxy requires a much broader understanding of what the Christian gospel means than the narrow interpretation that has dominated much of conservative evangelicalism for a long time.

And they argue that it's critical for Christians to grapple with this issue, not only as a matter of faithfulness to their professed doctrine, but also as a matter of credibility. The stakes, the argue, are high because many are watching and weighing their own faith in light of the church's response to this.

Outro music: "Bloomsday" by Samantha Crain

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