Reparations Task Force Continues Work and Study with Historical Report, Agape Framework
Formed in response to thoughtful discussion at Annual Conference 2022,
the Task Force will bring a report to the 2023 Annual Conference session
By Latoya Damon
On January 21, 2023, the Reparations Taskforce assembled for the third time to discuss pathways toward a healed and beloved community freed from the divisive injustices of the past.
During this meeting the group was debriefed by its historical subcommittee on ongoing projects and future plans to excavate the historical narratives of people of color in The United Methodist Church. The task force was then presented with a theological framework for approaching the racial healing initiatives operating within the North Georgia Conference. The framework was proposed by Dr. Robert Foster, an active layperson and Senior Lecturer in Religion and New Testament at the University of Georgia.
The historical subcommittee presented its work on a film project to be shared at Annual Conference 2023, which documents the experiences of church leaders and congregants on the margins of the faith. These stories are powerful repositories of inspiration and encouragement that demonstrate the grace and healing capacity of reparative efforts taking place within the North Georgia Conference.
One such account, presented to the group by Rev. Beth LaRocca-Pitts, pastor at Oak Grove UMC in Decatur, was the moving story of Rev. Paul Easley. Rev. Easley, a graduate of Gammon Theological Seminary and long-time chaplain at Clark Atlanta University, entered into full connection during the segregation era. The now 93-year-old retired pastor recalled the day he was prohibited, by church ushers, from attending a worship service at St. Mark UMC in Atlanta because of the color of his skin.
LaRocca-Pitts explained to the task force that she had heard a version of Rev. Easley’s story while serving as the pastor of Saint Mark UMC, which she often recounted to new members of her congregation. In a divine twist of fate, LaRocca-Pitts had an opportunity to personally invite Rev. Easley to St. Mark. The full account of the church’s efforts to heal the relationship between Rev. Easley and Saint Mark UMC are documented in the video project to be presented at Annual Conference this summer.
In uncovering this part of its history, the church recognized that there may have been more than one such story, including a memory of a prominent church member, who upon realizing a Black man had been turned away, found the man and invited him to sit with him in the balcony.
In addition to Rev. Easley’s story, the historical subcommittee also presented the challenges of excavating the narratives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the North Georgia Conference. The politics underpinning whose stories are preserved and transmitted have often been racialized and opportunistic.
The reparations task is working to overcome these challenges and recover less visible stories within the church through the documentation of oral histories, the development of strategic partnerships with historians at Gammon Theological Seminary and Candler School of Theology, and the deployment of student research teams convened to delve into the minutes, records, and archives of local churches.
The second order of business during the January meeting of the task force was to clarify the definition, scope, and theological foundations of reparations discourse. Dr. Robert Foster recommended that the task force operate out of a framework that lifts up agape love.
The spirit of agape, which may ultimately serve as the theological foundation for reparative work in the North Georgia Conference, is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 13:6, which teaches love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
In terms of defining the scope and meaning of reparation beyond its theological foundation, the task force is working with communities most impacted by historical inequalities, to develop a language and shared analysis around healing and repair. They expect to have a working definition by the end of the February session.
At the conclusion of the meeting Rev. Brian Tillman, Director of Racial Inclusion and Advocacy, addressed the concerns of church members who may be apprehensive about excavating a history laden with old wounds, stating, “part of the role of a reparative task force is to demonstrate how people work together to heal injustice so that we might rejoice in the realization of a beloved community reconciled under Christ. If we are courageous in our pursuit of community healing, we will see that encountering a harmful part of our past does not have to remain an open wound.”
Read the first report of the reparations task force at 'Task Force Begins Work, Study'
—Latoya Damon is scrivener for the North Georgia Conference Reparations Task Force.