The Bible calls for Restitution When People Have Been Mistreated
African Leader Atones For the Legacy of Slavery
In 1999 Benin President Mathieu Kérékou 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
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
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
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.
Return to History