By Ian McCaulley
Recently, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary released a report detailing the history of racism at the institution, alongside a statement denouncing and lamenting said racism. In addition, the Southern Baptist Convention has denounced racism and slavery in an official statement. This is a good and necessary thing to do, distancing the seminary from the racist attitudes and actions of members in its past. Now that this has been done, the issue is settled, there is nothing else to be done. Christians do not hold past sins against each other, and certainly not the sin of those long dead.
Sadly, this sentiment is not unanimous. The reaction on Twitter (that fount of wisdom, discretion and mutual respect) was not good, as is to be expected. People are demanding reparations from the SBC, both of a financial nature and of other sorts. What they have, apparently, not considered is that the SBC has not harmed them. None of the folks taking to Twitter to demand money from the SBC were slaves. Ever. No current faculty member at the SBC owns, or has ever owned, slaves. What is happening here is that people who have not been wronged are demanding money from those who have not wronged them. The argument they will make is that their ancestors were wronged by the founders of the SBC. This much is true, according to the SBC itself. What the reparation hawks go on to conclude then, is that because their ancestors were harmed by the founders of the SBC, the SBC now owes them money. There are many flaws with this view.
First, the SBC is not a person; it is an organization. Organizations have no soul, no will, no conscience; they are not people. Organizations, as such, can not bear guilt, although the people of which they are composed most certainly can. The Bible does not speak of group guilt, nor does God demand that organizations repent. God desires that people repent; not organizations. As an organization, SBC is incapable of either guilt or innocence. This much is common sense.
Second, although reparation hawks will claim that the current faculty are the heirs of the slaveholding founders, they are not the slaveholders themselves. The current faculty of the SBC neither holds slaves nor endorses slavery. They have not sinned in this regard. According to Ezekiel 18, this means that they are not guilty.
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying,
‘The fathers eat the sour grapes,
But the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
As I live,” declares the Lord God, “you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
Ezekiel 18:1-3 (NASB)
The Lord continues on to illustrate His declaration throughout the chapter. Read the whole chapter; it’s good stuff, unsurprisingly. Notice that last line. “The soul who sins will die.” This is in stark contrast to the proverb that God cites “The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge”, a proverb that claims to justify punishment of a child for the sins of their father. God does not approve of this; if the Judge of the earth does not hold people guilty for the sins of their forebears, should we? Are we more just than God? (Hint: no) Since the faculty of the SBC do not hold slaves, they are not guilty of slavery. Therefore, since they have not committed this sin, they cannot be held to account for it, and to do so is a presumption verging on sin. Therefore, it is theologically untenable for christians to demand reparations.
In spite of this, those demanding reparations press on with their greedy divisive agenda, cloaked in talk of privilege. Their claim is that they are owed advantages and special opportunities (privileges) because their great-great-great-great ancestors were mistreated. This is a really bad argument. First, in the minds of its proponents, this argument only works if you have the requisite amount of melanin in your skin. Seriously. There is no reparation movement for Irish Americans (my ancestors), who were considered on the same level as black people before the civil war; that is to say very very low. They were considered drunken animals, even referred to as “white (n-word)s”. Then they were conscripted to fight in the Civil War, despite this. But they don’t have enough melanin to cash in on their ancestors oppression, so they get no reparations. This shows how selfish this movement is.
Second, the premise of ‘racial guilt’ only seems to work one way. If all white men are guilty for the actions of a few, which is the fundamental mindset of this movement, how much must we do to be free of this sin that is forced upon us? How much reparation is enough to pay back the sin that, although heinous, is finite? Are the deaths of 360,000, predominantly white, Union soldiers, given to free the slaves, of no account in this calculation? The answer, from reparationists, is no. Never mind that these men had never owned slaves, and were sent to fight hundreds of miles away from home, farmboys from Maine dying in Pennsylvania at the battle of Gettysburg. To the reparationists, it does not matter how many men were blown into bloody scraps by Confederate cannon, so that their ancestors would be free, their children remain guilty. The Union soldier who lost both his legs to a cannonball, only to have the gangrenous stumps sawed away without anesthetic in a field hospital, has not given enough to satisfy those who would demand money from his descendants to wash away their guilt for a crime he did not commit. Ultimately, the reparationist will never be satisfied. In their eyes, no sacrifice can atone for the crimes done to their ancestors.
Compare that to the attitude of the infinitely holy God towards those who, by enslaving their fellow man and treating him worse than an animal, had wronged not just the slave, but his Creator. Every slave taken, every moment of their slavery, every beating, every sale of a human being made in God’s image, was a direct offence to God Himself. He was more grievously wronged, because He is infinitely holy, than even the slaves. His wrath is more just than any human being’s ever could be. There is no reparation to be paid to God, no way for a sinner to buy absolution. But, rather than demand that we work to pay back our unpayable debt, God sent his Son to die, to pay that debt, so that His justice would be satisfied. And now, on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, God declares us not guilty. Both the slave owner and the slave, if they believe, are cleansed of their sins. God, who is infinitely more holy than the most righteous among men, God who was wronged and offended by the slave owner more than any man could be, sends His Son to die. Jesus, who had every right to demand reparation for the sins of mankind against him, instead dies the cruelest death mankind can imagine, to pay the debt of the slave owner who He knows will sin heinously against Him.
Compare the two. Which one is more loving? To demand penance for wrongs against your ancestors, or to lay down your own life to save the one who wronged you from eternal, deserved punishment? I think we know the answer.
This leads to the most disturbing and, frankly, disgusting aspect of this story. Christians are demanding payment for wrongs done to their ancestors from other Christians. Even if their theory of ‘racial guilt’ (which somehow only applies to white people *cough* racist *cough*) were correct, is the blood of Christ not enough to wash it away? Does Romans 5:20 not apply to white people? On their own theory, they are demanding payment from those whose penalty Christ has already paid, whose punishment He has borne. They are holding guilty those whom God, who is perfectly just and perfectly holy, holds guiltless. In short, they claim a higher moral standard than God. God has forgiven them any ‘racial guilt’, it is washed away by the blood of Christ. Yet the reparationist does not forgive; they do not hold their white brothers and sisters as guiltless, but rather demand that they atone for the sins of their predecessors.
Thank God, their theory is wrong. Just as children do not bear the sins of their parents, so no person is guilty of the sin of someone who happened to have the same skin tone as they. And even if they were, Jesus’ blood is enough not only to take away all of a person’s sin, but to make them righteous, as if they have never sinned, and have instead lived sinlessly from conception.
Now, in fairness, I wonder if the vast majority of those pushing for reparations have thought this through all the way. Most, I believe, have been lead astray by mostly-reliable leaders like Thabiti Anyabwile (who should know better), and by the narrative pushed by our modern secular society, which is derived from the class-warfare idea of Karl Marx, an atheist, and the radical activism of Malcolm X, a muslim (Danger, Will Robinson!). This means that the vast majority of reparationists need a better understanding of grace. We must remember that they are not the enemy, not if they are in Christ. And that, ultimately, is the answer to the question of ‘race’ (which is a bogus idea anyway) in the church. We should not care about the skin tone of our brothers and sisters in Christ, or about what they, their ancestors, or people like them have done to us, our ancestors, or people like us. Rather, we heed Jesus’ words in John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, Just as I have loved you.”