Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. Ta-Nehisi Coates
Americans who oppose reparations care more about responding to political expediency than about the emergency of inequality. Ibram X. Kendi
The conditions that we are suffering force us to address the real issues that affect the life and well-being of the majority of our people. That is why the call for reparations and justice in dealing with the problems of Black people is so relevant now. Louis Farrakhan
More than 200 faith leaders are calling for President Biden to establish a commission on reparations. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie and Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner joined me on #PoliticsNatiom to discuss the fight for reparations in America, and more. [advertisement posted on Al Sharpton’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1372101223624022]
The problem is, I say “so-called reparations” because it was actually restitution. It was the actual victims of the Holocaust and the Japanese victims of the camps across the US. They were the ones that received the restitution for what had happened to them. With this, this is mostly going to be going towards people who were not the actual victims of, of redlining and all that. So that creates a lot of problems. Samuel Sey
Tell the Israelites, “When a man or woman commits any sin that people commit, thereby breaking with the Lord, and that person is found guilty, then he must confess his sin that he has committed and make full reparation, add one-fifth to it, and give it to whomever he wronged. Number 5:5-7
Fathers should not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin. Deuteronomy 24:16
And Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord, Lo, O Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any man in any thing, I restore fourfold. Luke 19:8
I trust readers of my blogs take time to read the quotes and scriptures I strategically begin each blog post. I do so to illustrate my familiarity with the cultural conversation, but more importantly, I seek to ground my reasoning through the prism of God’s inscrutable Word. I resolutely believe God’s Word and only God’s Word should bind the Christ-follower's conscience.
Let me jump right in and state the thesis of this blog post up front. The call for Reparations today is both impractical and unbiblical. From this point forward, although I am addressing the term the secular culture identifies as reparations, I will use the biblical term restitutions going forward as I discuss the matter from a biblical perspective but will use the term reparations when I present it from opposing viewpoints. Although the topic is a hot-button topic, I still believe it will be most prudent to define the terms:
Restitution: The word Restitution is very biblical and it means both “restoring something to its original state” and “returning something to its rightful owner,” such as a public apology that leads to the restitution of a person’s honour and reputation.
On first blush, it may seem both words mean practically the same thing, that they can be employed interchangeably, but that is a vexing dilemma in our Evangelical community. There is a dearth of critical thinking because there is a profound difference between the two. Biblical restitution can only be made to the offended party and distributed solely via the offending party.
Thus, regarding the advisability of restitution today in response to the salvage history of antebellum slavery, the directly aggrieved people are no longer alive, and the preparators of this gross moral ill are no longer present to be held financially liable. Now, let there be no misgivings about what my biblical position entails. It most certainly does not mean I do not find the acts of the preparators morally repugnant or that my heart does not ache for the savage treatment of men and women who look like me. My heart rages with visceral disdain for the men and women who could pen and posit America as the Land of the Free, with every human being imbued with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness endowed by the Creator, yet nonetheless found my ancestors as less than fully human and with the dignity such a disposition rightly affords.
The Natural Man in me wants to hate the White Man for his barbarity, and I am convinced that if there was no God, I could do so in good conscience and nary blink an eye. Yet, as sure as I pen this blog, both you and I know there is indeed a thrice holy God who sits above, created all things, and is keeping perfect score on all the actions of the human affair.
Evangelicals acknowledge there will never be perfect justice in this fallen world. Because we yearn to bend the knee to God’s perfect provident of His creation, we accept America [specifically slave owners] has defrauded our ancestors. Still, those slaves who placed their trust in God through Jesus Christ will one day receive a full recompense.
Evangelicals gladly bend the knee to God’s revelation when He moved the Apostle Paul to pen the following in Romans 8:18,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Now, mockers of God’s Word will ridicule Evangelicals for their escapism and pie-in-the-sky naivety, but I say go right ahead and color me pie-in-the-sky all day, errday, and twice on Sundays. The only difference between the mockers and Evangelicals is the foolish mockers suppress their knowledge of God because they seek to sit on the Throne. We both will acknowledge Christ’s supremacy in time and space. The mocker will just do so when it is too late, while Evangelicals gleefully do so now.
I will now turn my attention to the sad reality that the Evangelical Church continues to allow the tail to wag the dog. Reparations remain a major point of contention for many of the Social Justice Warriors holding sway in the larger culture. Prominent Pastor Dr. Eric Mason preached a sermon titled A Biblical Case for Reparations. While Pastor Mason correctly exegeted the story of Zacchaeus, his application was something a first-year College Bible student could easily spot as eisegesis of the biblical text. Here is a short excerpt from Mason’s sermon:
Well, who’s more extorted than black people in America. Black people in America were extorted by Europe… we’ve been extorted by a substandard form of Christianity; we’ve been extorted by America. We’ve been extorted. Why? Because we gave 256 years of free labor… What’s crazy about that reality is that’s there’s no genuine belief that we’ve been extorted, but we worked for free.
Remember, Mason preached this sermon in the twentieth-first century, so when he employed the pronoun “we,” that becomes very important. To the best of my ability, I do not believe any European has ever extorted me. I went to London in 2019, and the Londoners there treated me dandily while my family and I were there for the Chicago Bears game versus the LA Raiders. I am only fifty-nine years of age, so I do not qualify for approximately 197 of the 256 years of free labor Mason references. I am unsure of the substandard form of Christianity Mason speaks about, so I will refrain from speculation.
I make the previous comments partially tongue-in-cheek, but hopefully, you get the point. Mason’s application does a horrendous job of correctly applying the biblical text. No African American living today has been directly affected by the ills of slavery, and biblically the only person eligible for biblical restitution is the person directly impacted or wronged. I might add the biblical command necessitates the offender add a fifth to the penalty. The careful Bible student will note Zaccheus voluntarily went above and beyond in his exuberance. Good for him; it is a testament to someone encountering Jesus Christ and his heart responding with unabashed abundance.
While many will not feign surprise at someone like Louis Farrakhan for getting the biblical text wrong, how can alleged influential Christian leaders like Mason and Sharpton [remember him as the leader of a cadre of 200 faith leaders] so easily and clumsily disregard the clear teaching of the Holy Writ? I know some will attempt to rebuff my thesis because I appeal to an Old Testament passage like Numbers 5:5-7. Still, I can just as well direct your attention to the New Testament as it reveals God is no respecter of persons or So Peter opened his mouth and said, "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality."
The careful biblical exegete will understand that restitution is paid to the one wronged. Even looking at the Zacchaeus passage in Luke 19, you will note Zaccheus pledges to enumerate any man he has wronged, and it is Zacchaeus who makes the payment, not the Nation of Israel.
Equally crucial to arriving at the proper biblical understanding, Deuteronomy 24:16 teaches God demands that the son never bears the iniquity of his father and vice versa. Since we are well into the fourth and fifth generations since America abolished slavery in 1865 we are well passed the time it would be biblically possible to call for reparations.
I did mention implementing reparations would be impractical. That is not my principal objection, but let me briefly speak to it. How would reparations be administered without some comprehensive search of the record (and I doubt the possibility of such a feat being successfully accomplished)?
Not all African Americans were slaves, and just how would the reparation amount be quantified and equitably distributed, and most pressing, where would the money come from? Undoubtedly, the answer would have to be the American taxpayer, so would that be only Caucasian taxpayers? Again, not my most substantial concern or objection but a secondary issue that only reinforces the Evangelical understanding that the Wisdom of God always rule supreme.
If I could modify the pagan ideology of Ta-Nehisi Coates, I would say the following, “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Unless and until America reckons with our compounding moral debasement and expresses national repentance accomplished only by turning to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, America will never be whole.
I would change the folly of Kendi to Americans who oppose reparations care for today more about responding obediently to the Word of God rather than political expediency. We acknowledge there will always be inequality in this fallen world because only God can administer perfect justice, and perfect justice awaits Jesus Christ’s Second Advent. Until then, we will labor to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves as we seek to live up to the creeds of this country’s founding.
For the sake of brevity, I will forgo commenting on the baseless God-hating rhetoric of Farrakhan and Sharpton any further to draw attention to the eloquence of Samuel Sey, a rising star in the Conservative community. I owe a debt of gratitude to Brother Sey for helping shape my thinking on the proper perspective of restitutions. Many will naively interject, “America paid reparations to the Japanese, and the German government paid reparations to Holocaust victims.
Sey astutely points out why that was wholly appropriate because both governments paid restitutions directly to the victims. The American government interned the Japanese because of the misplaced fears of Japanese-American loyalty at the outset of World War II, even as many Japanese eagerly enlisted and served in WWII. The German government, albeit led by the vile Adolf Hitler, sanctioned the desired annihilation of the Jewish population in Germany.
In conclusion, we live in a severely flawed, fallen world. Every wrong will not be made right. That is supremely unsatisfying in some ways, but it is our reality. We can resolve to work harder for justice, but it will always be a fleeting and ultimately vain pursuit. As I providentially read the Book of Ecclesiastes during my Read the Bible in one year campaign , God’s Word reminds everything Under the Sun ultimately falls into the Vanity category.
As Dr. Voddie Baucham so eloquently says, I am just the mailman delivering the mail. I am not the author or final arbiter of truth. The thrice holy God of Creation and the Holy Writ is both the Author and the final Arbiter of Truth.
I suspect this is to be a topic that many are passionate about. I understand that. I only seek to add my voice to the conversation for due consideration. I am a deeply flawed individual with blind spots like all the rest. Accordingly, if you find my argument or biblical exegesis lacking, let's enter into a fruitful dialogue. I welcome dissent that is mature, thought-provoking, and sober-minded.
Let me know what you think. Until then, keep your hands to the plow and seek to serve for an Audience of One.
With fear and trembling,
Ricky V. Kyles Sr. DEd.Min