Opinions

The Christian Case for Reparations

In a world where religion plays such an integral role in American politics, it is important to analyze our own political loyalties with the lens of the true teaching of the Bible. This is especially true when addressing such controversial issues as reparations, as it is easy to put our economic, political, and ideological concerns ahead of Christ’s intention for our life. Instead of falling into the trap of fitting spirituality into our politics, I urge each of us to step outside of our politics and see how it fits into our spirituality.

One of the most clear concepts the Bible teaches us is the pursuit of justice, peace and wholeness in the face of injustice, violence, and brokenness. No one is free from the burden of sin, which has weighed humanity down since the Beginning. We are told that the crucifixion story frees us from this burden, and forgives of the sins we are destined to commit. The act of saving all of humanity in one fell swoop suggests a greater theme of collective redemption. The divine did not pick and choose who should be made whole, but rather freely offered it to anyone open to receiving.

In our journey as Christians to be more Christ-like, we also strive to repair the brokenness of the world through Christ-like Love. Scripture makes it clear that Biblical morality is defined not only as individual actions, but collective morality (1 Corinthians 12). We cannot achieve the Justice, Truth, and Love of Christ without collective Justice. Collective Truth. Collective Love. This is an integral part of the morality we acknowledge when we proclaim the christian faith.

The hard part, however, is that these concepts do not exist in a vacuum. Instead we must wrestle with what this kind of collective action looks like in our lives, communities, and the broader structures we exist within.

It is questions like these which can be approached by looking specifically at Jesus’ life on Earth. Jesus’ is described to have been followed by the spiritually and physically hungry masses. He responds to this by first addressing their immediate physical needs with the miracle of loaves and fish. However, Jesus does not stop there. He continues to affect real systemic change in a very broken Jerusalem. He works to reform flawed religious, economic, and political systems through reorganizing temples (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-16) , political regimes (Matthew 6:24; John 18:36), and social orders (Matthew 5:1-11; Mark 1:40-45).

But what does this look like in practice? I would like to indulge in a little bit of myth busting. As Christians, we can agree that Jesus’ teachings included that of justice, the Greater Good, radical love, and the concepts of shalom and restoration to wholeness through Christ. For many, this is easily applied to the societal and spiritual brokenness which results from racism. However, the conflict arises when it is suggested that we repair the brokenness in these communities through reparations.

And so, the myth I would like to address is that the damages done to people of color, specifically African Americans forced into chattel slavery, are issues which are very recent and painful to America as a whole. We tend to use the rare individual racist in middle America as a scapegoat for a greater systemic issue. However, as Christians I believe we are called to true justice, and this includes the reality of systemic racism which continues to have a strong hold in America today.

I am not going to try to convince you that racism still exists and is prevalent in America. It does. Instead, let me address that the damages done to African Americans forced into chattel slavery are issues recent and painful to our society and culture. While it is easy to use the rare, Southern racist as a scapegoat, the empirical reality is that racism is a systemic issue, not an individual one.

Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates describes this reality well.

“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.”

This history brings us to today. A generation of Americans convinced that racism is old and gone, while the systemic reality of racism is merely the air we breathe.

The wholeness which Coates describes is akin to the wholeness described in the Old and New Testament. A responsibility placed on us to work towards making whole what has been broken, beaten down, and burdened by sin and domination. It is a brokenness which burdens African Americans in America today, and will continue to have economic, physical, and psychological effects for years to come. It is also a brokenness which creates pain, dissonance, and isolation in whites, as we fight to uphold a system which cannot continue justly.

As so eloquently said in 1 Corinthians 12, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. We will not be a true body, in unity as one, until we begin to repair the injustices and damage inflicted upon each other and ourself.

There is something about unity and togetherness which is sacred and vital to our religion, and indicative of the divine Creator. We cannot authentically pursue God without also authentically pursuing these things in our community.

The reality is that the damage done to blacks in America is more than what can be fixed on a personal, relational level. While education to fight ignorance and hatefulness is a vital step in repairing the harm done, we are called to address a greater issue of structural discrimination; a responsibility that the life of Jesus illuminated to us. No longer may we walk blindly, focused on our own life and relationship with God. We are a body, and our relationship with the Creator is dependent on its health and unity.

I can choose to address racism within my own life and relationships, but without genuine structural change, I am still part of a system which oppresses my brothers and sisters in Christ, and which I benefit from. In America, freeing ourselves from this bondage in order to become one in Christ, looks like repairing the damaged communities and structures which perpetuate this division.

If justice is what we seek, then reparations are what we need.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King Jr.

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