Excerpt from Leviticus 6: 1-5
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘When any of you sin and commit a trespass against the Lord by deceiving a neighbor in a matter of a deposit or a pledge, or by robbery, or if you have defrauded a neighbor, or have found something lost and lied about it—if you swear falsely regarding any of the various things that one may do and sin thereby— when you have sinned and realize your guilt, and would restore what you took by robbery or by fraud or the deposit that was committed to you, or the lost thing that you found, or anything else about which you have sworn falsely, you shall repay the principal amount and shall add one-fifth to it. You shall pay it to its owner when you realize your guilt.'”
Reflection by Kenneth L. Samuel
I know that in American racial discourse, the term “reparations” is explosive. Quite a few black and white Americans agree that the whole notion of giving reparations to black people for the unspeakable loss and damage brought about by some 200 years of slavery and some 100 years of segregation is futile and counter-productive to racial progress in America.
Yet, the push for reparations is not without biblical validation. The writer of Leviticus is very clear about the moral responsibility of every person who has defrauded another to not only restore what was taken, but to make amends by adding compensation for the loss as well. If this is the moral mandate for individuals, I think a case can be made for its application to institutions as well.
Realistically speaking, I don’t think anyone expects a dollar for dollar plus one fifth restitution for losses incurred by America’s racism and bigotry. There is no amount of money that can adequately compensate for the lives that have been lost, the people that have been dehumanized, or the opportunities for advancement that have been systemically denied. But the spirit of wanting to make amends for the unjust damage done to a class of people is as noble and necessary today as it was in Old Testament times.
We can honor that spirit by working to ensure that all groups that have historically been disenfranchised are included in the college enrollments and corporate rosters of our nation’s economy. Let’s work to get Native Americans off of reservations and into the mainstream of American life. Let’s make certain that women receive equal pay for equal work. Let’s extend the benefits of marriage to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Let’s stop exploiting our Latina/Latino sisters and brothers for their cheap labor and criminalizing them for their citizenship status at the same time. In the spirit of justice, let’s try to make amends for the corporate wrongs that have been done.
Lord, we have the opportunity to not only be a great nation, but a good nation. Make us good and great by our willingness to make amends for the wrongs we have committed against our neighbors. Amen.
About the Author
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, United Church of Christ, Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Live simply. Love generously.
Care deeply. Speak kindly.
Leave the rest to God.
“The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; [the Lord] upholds the orphan and the widow.”
– Psalm 146:7-9
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