The word “reparations” makes the hair stand up on the back of many a white neck. It raises high emotions on all sides of the issue. Hearings were held by the House Judiciary Committee this past week and you could hear the heels digging into the hard Washington, D.C. hearing room floor clear out here in Oregon.

The challenge is often one of semantics. The way I see it, the word “reparation” is a noun and “repair” is a verb. They both refer to the same thing: fixing what has been broken.

Now the World Council of Churches, the Council for World Mission, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, after participating in a gathering in Jamaica called “Abolished, but not Destroyed: Remembering the Slave Trade in the 21st Century,” have issued a joint statement regarding the need for “reparation” to address the transatlantic slave trade as well as modern-day slavery and oppression.

The key phrase for me in the press release is: “The process of reparation requires the restoration of relationships that affirm the dignity and humanity of all parties in order to repair what has been broken.”

Too often I hear people reject the notion of reparations because they are convinced that it means that people who never enslaved anyone will have to pay money to people who were never enslaved. It’s going to take all of us digging much deeper beneath the surface of the issue of race-based oppression to understand the systemic nature of injustice and the need to repair what has been broken for centuries–and remains so today.