Restitution without reconciliation sabotages the healing process.
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.
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