A Prophetic Perspective
The Bible calls for restitution when people have been mistreated.
By Mark Pollard
African Leader Atones For the Legacy of Slavery
Benin President Mathieu Kérékou, a black Christian, recently called for a historic
gathering of spiritual leaders to atone--to Africans of the Diaspora--for the legacy
of slavery. His intention was to heal his nation of any economic and spiritual famine
caused by slavery, oppression and injustice.
There is a growing interest in the issue of reparations in the United States. Reparations refers to paying back what is lost and restoring to pre-damaged condition when injury and offense occurs.
At the center of this debate is the emergence of leaders seeking reparations for the enslavement of Africans and their descendants. They want an apology and just compensation to make a wounded people whole--beyond the 40 acres and a mule promised to the freed slaves after emancipation.
Every year since 1989, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., has sponsored a bill to establish a commission to study reparations. It remains stuck in committee. In June Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, introduced legislation urging the government to simply apologize for slavery. It continues to garner hate mail.
Fifty billion dollars has been paid primarily by the German government in the last 50 years, with another $20 billion to be paid by 2030 for the Holocaust and Nazi crimes. Are Germans more moral than Americans? Are African Americans less deserving than Jews?
Randall Robinson, a leading reparations advocate, believes not. In his book, The Debt: What America Owes Blacks, he writes: "Black people worked long, hard, killing days, years, centuries--and they were never paid! The value of their labor went to others' pockets--plantation owners, northern entrepreneurs, state treasuries, and the United States government...There is a debt here. The issue here is not whether or not we can, or will, win reparations. The issue rather is whether we will fight for reparations."
Should Christians join this fight? The answer depends on whether we believe reparations are biblical.
* Restitution is related to the biblical principle of Jubilee cited in Leviticus 25, and alluded to in Isaiah 61 and Luke 4.
* The admonishments of Exodus 22:3-4 are part of the key portions of Scripture taught in synagogues and Hebrew day schools as the foundation of the Jewish faith. The Mosaic Law on restitution reads that a person who has wronged his neighbor "'shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering'" (Lev. 6:1-5).
* The story of Zacchaeus gives a glimpse of the restitution principle. Zacchaeus, a tax collector, was convicted by the presence of the Anointed One and overcome with remorse and repentance for his dishonest business practices (see Luke 19:1-10). He confessed his sins, committed to repay his victims and conceived a new relationship with the offended parties.
Benin President Mathieu Kérékou, a black Christian, recently called for a historic gathering of spiritual leaders to atone--to Africans of the Diaspora--for the legacy of slavery. His intention was to heal his nation of any economic and spiritual famine caused by slavery, oppression and injustice. As Americans, we should be as eager to see the reversal of curses that plague our own soil.
Zacchaeus models for us, and Jesus confirms (see Luke 19:10), that true confession is restitution. But confession is worthless, and forgiveness invalid, where restitution has not been made. America's salvation depends on its willingness to repent, repair and relate. Everything else is empty rhetoric, political diatribes or pious platitudes. Healing is often painful, and some maladies require surgery.
Doing justice and prophetic spiritual work will bring about that healing. Is the cancer of slavery and Native genocide inoperable? I think not. There is still hope. Reconciliation and revival is the key to our nation's future. Repentance, restitution and relationships are the keys to healing the nation. I am looking for partners. What about you? *
Mark Pollard is the president of the National Common Ground Coalition, a Christian organization based in Atlanta committed to Christian unity, racial reconciliation and social justice.