by Andrew Yang | Published in Geez Winter 2022 Issue |
Every Sunday during our meeting at Circle of Hope, our pastor or another member of the community stands up and reminds us that, as the church, we have the opportunity to model a different economic system.
We can share our money for the purpose of mutuality and support one another while remembering what we owe one another: common resources shared in love.
This language of giving took on new resonance this year when our church team, Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter, took on an ambitious project. The racial wealth gap in the United States is vast, with the net worth of a typical white family valued ten times higher than the wealth of a Black family. This gap is due to injustices both historical and present, including mass incarceration, red lining, segregation, and of course, the slave trade.
So what if we asked white members of our church to give money, which we then redistributed to Black members of the church?
My team’s co-leader, Bethany Stewart, once jokingly posted an article onto her social media feed asking people to “Venmo their Black friend $50,” and was surprised when people actually took her at her word. This experience made us realize that people were actually willing to put their money where their mouth was, so to speak, in terms of racial justice and reparations.
So we committed to trying it out in our church context, calling it the Juneteenth Jubilee Wealth Redistribution in order to emphasize ties to historical Black liberation as well as the biblical tradition of wealth redistribution. We were aware of the difficulties inherent in an experiment like this. It wasn’t true reparations, which includes addressing systemic injustices. It couldn’t be framed as penance, which absolves people of their guilt or complicity. But it could be a way for our church to think about the way our faith is connected to our money.
We ended up raising over $32,000, much more than many of us (including me!) cynically expected. Just as important, we sparked a substantive discussion in our church community that continues to the present. We developed resources for our church’s small groups to discuss historical and systemic injustice, the practice of reparation, and its roots in the Bible.
To the extent that it was only happening among our church community members, it was symbolic justice and not true justice. Even so, it was a way for us to do what we talk about every week: model a way of living that’s rooted in the liberating power of Jesus.
Andrew Yang is a Han Taiwanese attorney and activist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He helps lead the Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter compassion team and is a co-host of Color Correction, a podcast about the intersection of race and faith.