Let Forgiveness Come First
Restitution without reconciliation sabotages the healing process.
By Jack Gaines
Coming of age during the Civil Rights era, I know well the indignities of racism. During my stint as a professional baseball player, there were times when I couldn't eat with the rest of the team because of my color. Later I became one of the first black employees to work behind a desk at Norfolk Southern Railroad in Virginia.
A lot has changed since then. But there was a time in my life when I was bitter because of my experiences. After accepting Christ, I learned what real reconciliation is. Today I realize that racism isn't really about color; it's a sin issue. And because it's a sin issue, the only way to true reconciliation is through the blood of Christ, not through restitution or any other material means.
Unless one deals with underlying sin, one cannot eradicate racism. Horizontal reconciliation is predicated upon vertical reconciliation to God. The only solution is found in a spiritual response to God's work of reconciliation through Christ.
Because Christ reconciled all people, those who believe in Him are equals and have no right not to be reconciled to one another. And contrary to human nature, the victim has to initiate the process of reconciliation by forgiving the victimizer. This is so because Christ took the initiative in forgiving those who crucified Him.
Such forgiveness exemplifies a miraculous power and overcoming love that God develops in those who can achieve reconciliation. Unconditional forgiveness--combined with the truth that racist oppression is sin--frees the victimizer to genuinely repent and willingly apologize. From such repentance should flow voluntary restitution of some sort.
However, if reconciliation is ever reduced to reparations--if repayment is made the essence of reconciliation--animosity and resentment will result, and the process will be sabotaged. The essence of reconciliation is spiritual, and only a spiritual medium of exchange will suffice: the blood of Christ (see 1 Pet.1:18-19). The victim must be content with that, even if the victimizer never makes restitution in some physical way.
There is no money, no material thing you can give to pay for the horrors of slavery and social injustice. How much do you give for the 9-year-old boy whose eyes were burned out because he was trying to learn to read during the slave era? How do you compensate the descendants of a man whose anal cavity was packed with dynamite and a fuse lit to him?
There is no price, no physical, monetary medium of exchange that can compensate. Therefore we must be content with what Jesus has done and take that heavenly medium of exchange, saying: "You're forgiven. Nothing is necessary." But out of a truly repentant heart there will be a desire to make restitution.
In December I helped facilitate a reconciliation conference in Benin, West Africa, that saw the president of the nation issue a national apology for the role Africans played in the slave trade. By revealing that the root issue of slavery is not skin color but sin--since Africans sold Africans to the European traders--the conference brought forth a display of genuine repentance and forgiveness.
Dealing with this truth according to Christian principles would set people free from hate and prejudice and enable them to finally resolve the race question effectively. And out of a desire to build relationship, President Mathieu Kérékou is working on a plan to foster continued alliance between Africans and Africans of the Diaspora.
By dealing with the race issue through scriptural principles, Christians can finally see an end to the racial divide. And because the reconciliation will reflect a change of heart, it will be permanent. I know, because I'm experiencing it. Through repentance and forgiveness, I have experienced healing. What I have now is peace--and it is available to us all. *
Jack Gaines is missions pastor at Calvary Evangelical Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia. John Hatch, a doctoral student at Regent University, contributed to this report.