“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. “(1) And still happening today: mass incarceration, voter suppression, violations of Black bodies, especially prevalent in discriminatory health care practices and police brutality. And yet, when reparations are mentioned, that is the making of amends for a wrong that has been done by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged, (Dictionary.com) all too often the reaction especially among white people is “Are you kidding me?”
But, from the biblical point of view, reparations are part of Jubilee justice. Bear with us as we discuss the compelling Biblical evidence in support of reparations.
The Lord spoke to Moses after the Exodus and handed on to the Israelites the precepts that would govern them. One of them was to rest on the Sabbath, the 7th day. Then, every 7 years they would cancel debts so someone could start again with a blank slate, and not farm their land but let it lay fallow, to give the earth time to replenish itself.
The scriptures describe the idea of Sabbath and Jubilee.
Deuteronomy 15: 1-3
At the end of every seven years, you must cancel debts. This is the manner of remission: Every creditor shall cancel what he has loaned to his neighbor. He is not to collect anything from his neighbor or brother, because the LORD’s time of release has been proclaimed. You may collect something from a foreigner, but you must forgive whatever your brother owes you.
Deuteronomy 15: 12–15
If a fellow Hebrew, a man, or a woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you must set him free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. You are to furnish him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. You shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this command today.
Leviticus 25: 10-13, 39-41 describes it for us:
So, you are to consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be your Jubilee, when each of you is to return to his property and to his clan.
The fiftieth year will be a Jubilee for you; you are not to sow the land or reap its aftergrowth or harvest the untended vines. For it is a Jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You may eat only the crops taken directly from the field.
In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his own property.
If a countryman among you becomes destitute and sells himself to you, then you must not force him into slave labor. Let him stay with you as a hired worker or temporary resident; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he may return to his clan and to the property of his fathers.
So there is compelling biblical evidence for righting systems that inevitably go astray, for leveling the playing field if you will. We humans take what is not ours, enslave others, treat the land badly. We humans have a history of perpetuating oppression. We Americans have a history of oppressing Black people. We Jewish and Christian Americans have a biblical tradition of Jubilee: of a time when injustice and oppression are righted. Reparations are akin to this time of Jubilee justice…a way to make right what has been wrong.
(1) Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic Monthly. June 2014. Accessed 9/5/21 HTTPS://WWW.THEATLANTIC.COM/MAGAZINE/ARCHIVE/2014/06/THE-CASE-FOR-REPARATIONS/361631/