The idea of slavery reparations is all the rage in the woke sections of our culture, and in the rising ‘woke church’ movement. The idea behind this demand is that since black people were enslaved for centuries, that the descendents of those who enslaved them now owe the descendents of those slaves reparations for the wrongs done to their ancestors. A key premise of this argument is the belief that victimhood and guilt are passed down from generation to generation. This premise doesn’t fit at all with scripture; we’re held responsible for our own sins, not those of others. More concerning than the false premise, however, is the blatantly unchristian attitudes that underlie it.
The demand for reparations is diametrically opposed to forgiveness. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that descendents of slaves were wronged by the crimes committed against their ancestors (again, not biblical), then what are Christian reparationists doing? They are demanding that a debt owed to them be paid back in full, because they have been grievously wronged. At first glance, this doesn’t sound like a bad thing, proponents of reparations are constantly characterizing it as ‘justice.’ Jesus took a different view of the issue in Matthew 18:23-35:
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
In this parable, the first slave has a legitimate claim against the second slave, who owes him money, yet he is punished when he tries to collect. Why? Because, having been forgiven much, he was unwilling to forgive. In a way, the slave was saying that he was more important than the king because, while the debt owed to the king could be forgiven, the debt owed to him could not. It was, in the slave’s mind, a much more grievous sin to not pay him back a little money than to not pay the king back a massive sum of money. The same thing is happening when a Christian demands reparations. While they have been forgiven for all of their sins against the infinitely holy God, they refuse to forgive those they believe have wronged them (one doesn’t demand restitution from the innocent do they?) and instead withhold forgiveness unless/until the debt is made good. They treat the sins committed against slaves and, in their view, their descendants as somehow vastly worse than their own sins.
Jesus took a dim view of this attitude, to put it mildly. Christians are to forgive others, because we’ve been forgiven so much by God. On their own (unbiblical) theory of guilt and victimhood, reparationists are guilty of this exact thing. They (unintentionally, I’m sure) hold descendants of slaves up as being more holy than God. This is nothing short of idolatry.
‘But’ you may say ‘what about justice?’ That’s a valid question, even after rejecting the blatantly unbiblical idea that people alive today can bear any guilt for slavery in the antebellum South. I understand the feeling; slavery was a horrible thing, and the thought of such horrors raises a desire for justice. I get it. What people tend to forget is that the Civil War was a thing that happened. It was fought over slavery, and the pro-slavery side lost. Hard.
But ultimately, Christians shouldn’t place all of our hope for justice in this life. God is the Judge of the world and He is very good at keeping records. We are not called to be the avengers of wrongs done to us or our ancestors. That is for God to take care of. Justice will be fully and finally served one day when the Lord of Creation settles accounts. We are given a glimpse of this final judgement in Revelation 20:11-15.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Justice will be done, fully, finally, and in person. God will not punish the descendants of sinners, but sinners themselves for their transgressions against Him (and all sins are transgressions against Him, ultimately). It is not for us to try to reach back in time (as if we could) and right the wrongs of others. That is arrogance of the highest degree, to think that we, with our finite, fallen minds can somehow come close to God’s justice by punishing the descendants of those who have done wrong. Both the victims of slavery and their persecutors are dead. They are beyond our ability to avenge or punish. To try to do either is to presume to take the place of God. Obviously, we shouldn’t do that. Rather, we must obey God’s command in Romans 12:19.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Instead of trying to do God’s job, we should leave the punishing of evil to Him. It is not for us to take revenge, we are to love and forgive those who wrong us, and preach the gospel to them. Christians have no business demanding slavery reparations, for themselves or others. It shows, at best, that those demanding reparations don’t really trust that God will judge or, at worst, that they idolize mere humans. We should all leave the judgement to God, and forgive others as we have been forgiven. This is the proper attitude for Christians to have.