Monday, August 8, 2016

The Call for Making Reparations

Over the last few years the call has been stirred up by some apologists (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) seemingly on behalf of blacks for America to pay reparations for the past enslavement of blacks. This appears to be nothing less than a lofty mistaken notion because it traces back to a convenient point in recent history to the temporal problem of slavery, but not the root problem of mankind. It purports to take the moral high road and it sounds like a moral, just cause for some. It sounds like something out of the question for others. Of course, there are ideological and economic considerations involving such reparations. I am concerned with neither those considerations nor the reparations themselves. I am concerned with what purports to be a moral call for justice on behalf of blacks by some even while others deny any wrong involving the enslavement of blacks in America. Still others resist and oppose reparations for no reason other than their contempt and disdain for the black skin color of a human being.

the apologists
It may be that Christians, that is, the saints in Christ cringe perhaps not so much at the thought that their ancestors' supported and practiced slavery in America, but they cringe at the post-emancipation unleashing of all manner of atrocities and injustice by so-called Christian white racists against former black slaves in America. It is the latter of these two which remains present and alive in different forms today. Reparations seem like the way to right a wrong or at least ease one’s conscience while also capitulating to the pressures of political correctness. Of course, this ill-conceived proposal for reparations does not even began, and I would venture to say, it has no intention to think about untold reparations to untold different groups; the point being that there is no end to that road. This is the so-called Christian apologists’ theological consideration.

Today there is no surprise in the self-flagellation of would-be Christian apologists who purport to expose the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of faith by Christians who practiced and advocated slavery in America are themselves misinformed. They do not examine and present the root of the problem of sin seemingly because of their own embarrassment of a God who allowed slavery in Israel. Effectively, their apology against slavery and call for reparations is to distance themselves from God and the word of God, that is, the scriptures.

The purported outcry against slavery and the racism against blacks in America steers clear of the testimony of slavery in Israel in accordance with the commandment of God because of the apologists’ own lack of understanding. The truth is that there were no reparations paid to Israel for their enslavement under the Egyptians. Instead it was a plundering of Egypt in accordance to what God declared. A mere allusion by apologists on the discussion of reparations about "how people understood God's view on slavery" (6) hardly constitutes knowledge or the apologist's understanding of God’s view or slavery.

“Despite praying to the same God, how people understood God’s views on slavery depended greatly on their own stakes in slavery itself.”

Furthermore, that understanding of God's views may to be as concerns one's own stake in slavery, such as the profiteering from the enslavement of blacks, not as concerns the moral problem of sin.

God and slavery
There is something, as noted above, which seems especially egregious about a presumably high moral call for payment of reparations as heard from Christians. It raises some questions, not about their faith or love of God, but about their understanding about God and slavery. Is it that those Christians are 1) embarrassed and have chosen to distance themselves so as to judge and indict God (No, this is not an indictment on their love of God.) for the slavery which He commanded Israel to practice? 2) Would they conclude that God compounded his mistake concerning slavery when He failed to make reparations for those whom Israel enslaved? 3) Have those Christians mistakenly equated their message for social change with the displaced dynamic power of the gospel message to transform the individual? Clearly, at least for Christian apologists and the saints in Christ the lessons and the standard concerning slavery are found in the history of Israel and the scriptures. Israel was enslaved in Egypt, but Israel also enslaved foreigners in her midst.

slavery in Israel
God did command Israel concerning the enslavement of people. Israel was allowed to take slaves from the pagan nations which surrounded Israel. It was not that Israel was to go and take slaves from those nations, but as those pagan foreigners entered Canaan to live among the children of Israel they could be subjected to slavery by Israel. Yet, Israel was sternly forbidden to enslave permanently any of the children of Israel. Any Jew who was enslaved was for the purpose of helping them through a difficult time in their lives. They were more like hired laborers and were to be set free on the seventh year of their enslavement or on the year of Jubilee regardless of any outstanding unpaid debt owed to their master. There were stern instructions and commandments regarding the treatment of those slaves held as possessions by their masters. There were instructions concerning the slave owner's care and provision of women and children if the male was set free. Israel was ever mindful and they were continually reminded by God of their own history of slavery in Egypt. There were instructions concerning the beating of slaves, not that the beating of slaves was commanded, but that such beatings could result either in punishment for the slave owner or freedom for the slave.

This is the point, the mention of the beating of slaves, where any further discussion on slavery is dismissed as null, void and completely unnecessary and useless. One of the ironies involving the discussion of slavery under the shadow of racism is that for all the charges of racism (being a disregard for another as inferior on the basis of skin color) the discussion is inevitably cut short precisely because, as the charge is often made _ no one can understand or has any right to speak credibly on slavery unless the person is of black color or has experienced slavery literally.

However, the Christian apologist is not to speak to the question of reparations as an American, a man or a woman, slave or free, but as a child of God and by and with the authority of the word of God. The scriptures are quite sufficient to provide an intelligible, comprehensive response to all who would inquire about God and slavery in Israel or concerning reparations.

So please, in light of the big picture this (beatings and other treatment of slaves) is not the focus of this article, but the mention of it here is only to point out how easily one can become the very thing about which they cry out and protest.

Egypt's reparations
Israel is the big picture. Israel cried out to the Lord in their oppression and mistreatment under the Egyptians, not for reparations, but for deliverance from four centuries of enslavement. However, there was some semblance of reparations paid to Israel. It was not exactly proffered by Egypt. It was exacted by Israel when Israel plundered Egypt on the day of Israel's deliverance from their bondage to Egypt. Whatever the children of Israel wanted from the Egyptians they had only to ask for it and the Egyptians eagerly gave it to them as Israel made their way out of Egypt. However, this was a mere paltry, superficial payment reparation for Israel's slavery under Egypt.

There was a much greater payment for Israel's slavery. It was a payment which proved to be an utterly staggering blow which knocked Egypt into a reeling of pain and grief. It was the sacrifice of all of Egypt's firstborn including, men, women, children and livestock. It was not a mindless slaughter, but a very limited, deliberate and calculated sacrifice exacted by the hand of God, not by the hand of Israel. Prior to the death of Egypt's firstborn Pharaoh and Egypt had heard about each of the nine plagues which came upon them already. They saw those plagues come upon them exactly as Moses and Aaron had declared would happen. Yet, Pharaoh chose to ignore the warning and incurred the death of Egypt's firstborn. The death of the firstborn of Egypt was a portend of the payment for man's slavery to sin as paid for by the death of Jesus.

It bears worth noting that even after the colossal, monumental deliverance of Israel from her bondage of slavery to the Egyptians that Israel spurned the kindness and mercy of God. They cried out their longing desire to return to a life of bondage to the Egyptians. So much for their deliverance and reparations for their enslavement to the Egyptians.

the scriptures
The writers of both, the Old Testament and the New Testament, do not offer or make excuses or apologies for the practice and support of slavery.

Furthermore, there is no drive or cause for a social change by the prophets in Israel or the apostles whom Jesus commissioned to take his gospel message into the world.

Slavery was an established practice. Slavery in Israel was not on the basis of race. It was not a sale-for-profit slave market. Treatment of slaves in Israel involved safeguards against extreme physical beatings. Those beatings were not commanded in the law, but when they did occur there were stipulations in the law for consequences, both for the master and slave as a result of such beatings. The results could be punishment for the master and/or freedom for the slave. Some of these actions taken against slaves were different depending on whether the individual was one of the children of Israel or a foreigner. Other more serious actions were to be judged and meted out by the elders of Israel in the presence of the congregation and not by a sole individual.

The apostle Paul encountered slaves in his ministry of proclaiming the message of Jesus (1) (2) some of whom became obedient to the faith that is in Jesus. The letter to Philemon was written by Paul to a slave owner whose slave had run away and met the apostle Paul. The slave, Onesimus, was converted while he was with Paul who then sent him back to Philemon with the letter in hand. This presented a unique opportunity and change in the relationship between master and slave for both to demonstrate their mutual love as brothers in Christ. Slaves were commanded to be subject to their masters. They were encouraged to gain their freedom if it was possible for them to do so.

The emotional passion which surrounds the enslavement of blacks  and the treatment of blacks in America in their post emancipation can easily stir some rash and hasty conclusions, if not distortions of the scriptures. There is nothing in the scriptures which teaches or urges the enslavement of people outside of the nation of Israel under the law of Moses. Slavery is not exalted as a noble human experience whether in Israel or America’s past. Slavery was a social reality and an evil not unlike other means by which men become entrapped or entrap others for their own will. Israel, unlike America, had some very regulations to safeguard the treatment of slaves. Yet, slavery was also provided a way of refuge, security and stability for an individual and his family such that a slave who loved his master could choose to remain enslaved to his master rather than to leave his house and live in freedom.

The message of the gospel of Jesus was never and has never been about changing a society or of ridding a society of slavery or other evils. It has always been about the transformation of the individual sinner who ceases to be a part of the evils of his society and this world. The enslavement of blacks in America constitutes some of the worse and perverse distortions of scriptures by some Christians and perhaps even non Christians who seized the scriptures for their own gain, but the calls for reparations are as rash and hasty as they are without biblical precedent and oblivious to the problem of sin.

Whether or not the U.S. government determines to make reparations to blacks for the enslavement of their ancestors is not something which concerns me. I will neither oppose it nor champion it as it is a mistaken noble cause for social change. What does concern me is the misguidance by those saints in Christ who purport to right a wrong while they themselves do not seem to have an understanding of slavery in the history of Israel under the law of Moses or in the New Testament.

The lesson is lost concerning the slavery and deliverance of Israel as well as the lessons concerning Israel's own practice of slavery. Eventually, true deliverance came through Jesus whom only those who believe in him can appreciate and rejoice in their deliverance from the bondage of their sins. I reiterate: The scriptures, when they are read and examined, do not advocate or support slavery. Those foreigners whom Israel enslaved were spared death. The Gibeonites are one example of those foreigners who submitted themselves to slavery, even through deception in order to escape death. Reparations for the evils of slavery may make for a wonderful feeling and a great sense of moral justice, but it is a human endeavor which fails to understand and accept the greater problem of sin and the deliverance from that sin through faith in Jesus, the Son of God. The payment of reparations for the enslavement of blacks in America sounds great as long as it is the inanimate body of government which pays, not the living individuals who purport to cry out for justice.

The work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, was to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. (John 16) This applies equally true to all men and women who are enslaved, literally or virtually, as well as those who enslave themselves or others in the vice and evils of sin. Only you, the individual, can make that determination if you are convicted whether to accept the reparation for your sins as paid by Jesus or you can reject it.

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