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REPARATIONS: CAN IT OBTAIN ABSOLUTION?

REPARATIONS: CAN IT OBTAIN ABSOLUTION?
Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore votes to set aside $500,000

By David W. Virtue, DD
www.virtueonline.org
February 11, 2021

If anything underscores how far mainline Christian churches in this country have strayed from their mission, it is their embrace of demands by racial activists for monetary reparations for black slavery. Episcopalians, as befits their guilt-ridden souls, once again have taken the lead in this misguided mission, writes columnist Carl Horowitz.

Cementing the idea of reparations has been a theme of black Episcopal Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton. The bishop wants $1 million seed fund from his wealthier parishes to make reparations for slavery and systemic racism in order to create a seed fund for programs that would benefit the African American community in Baltimore and beyond.

More than 82% of delegates to the diocese's annual general convention recently voted to establish the fund. Officials said it's a key step in a long-term campaign to confront -- and repent for -- the role the church played in fostering and benefiting from systemic racism in the state.

Sutton claims to base his remarks on the "Holy Scriptures" and "teachings of Jesus." However, Sutton is vague on the specific verses or Christian teaching that he was espousing. It seems to be just a lot of vague religiously tinged words, signifying nothing.

On Sunday, January 24, the members of Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore's Bolton Hill area voted to set aside $500,000 over the next five years for "justice-centered work" as atonement for the church role in slavery and related injustices.

Designated community organizations would spend the money pretty much as they please. The initiative was the brainchild of the church rector, Rev. Grey Maggiano, who led an internal probe of his church's connections to slavery. The investigation widened after a deacon, Natalie Conway, who is black, learned that some of her ancestors were slaves of founding pastor Charles Ridgley Howard. The report concluded, "Racism is interwoven with Memorial Church's history." The church thus should provide compensation.

But, says Horowitz, such extractions are economically predatory, politically divisive, legally unconstitutional and morally reprehensible. They rest on the false premise that if an individual belongs to a race that has done bad things (and what race hasn't?), then he or she must assume guilt and compensate the victims. Such is a consequence of the widespread and growing view in our society that social equality matters more than property rights or rule of law.

Reparations, put bluntly, are shakedowns, he writes. "The fact that all the slaves and slave owners in this country are long deceased does not matter to advocates, convinced that white wealth rests on an edifice of theft of black labor. These paladins of racial justice ignore many historical considerations that undercut their claims."

Historically, for example, blacks themselves owned black slaves, especially in Louisiana and South Carolina; many Indian tribes, including the Cherokee, also owned blacks; whites, though classified as "indentured servants," functionally were slaves; the vast majority of African slaves transported to the Western Hemisphere were not destined for any of the 13 American colonies; and most African blacks brought to the New World already had been owned by other blacks in Africa.

Such considerations don't register with Memorial Episcopal Church. Its grovelers have promised a hefty sum of $500,000, spread out over five years at $100,000 a year, to the "victims." Half of the funding would come from the church's endowment, and the other half would come from its operating budget.

The Baltimore parish is not alone. In just the last two years, Episcopal dioceses in Maryland, New York and Texas have committed large sums of money toward reparations. The February 2020 commitment by the Diocese of Texas for a whopping $13 million "aims to repair and commence racial healing for individuals and communities who were directly injured by slavery in the diocese." The money would go to six designated funds.

In 2019, Virginia Theological Seminary, vowed to create a $1.7 million endowment fund to support reparations to living "victims" of slavery. But will the money "heal" the wounds of slavery? Unlikely. The money could actually create them.

Laura Baxter, writing in the Federalist says bluntly, no, Christianity does not support paying reparations 150 years after slavery. "The evils of slavery are too great to be fixed with cash. Forgiveness cannot be bought, and no number of government commissions will make things right."

She cites four key biblical concepts that Sutton distorted in his remarks to Congress.

She says it is a distortion of justice. Justice does not mean holding people responsible for wrongs they have not committed. In fact, that is the opposite of justice! We are responsible for our actions alone: "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20).

No one disputes that slavery was a great injustice. Yet it has been 154 years since the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, 55 years since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, and 11 years since American voters elected our first black president. It is a distortion of "justice" to require remote descendants of one group to make restitution to the remote descendants of another group. And this assumes that the remote descendants of the two groups could be accurately identified!

Reparations is also a distortion of forgiveness. Christ spoke of forgiveness as the cancellation of a debt. Forgiveness means that when someone wrongs you, instead of trying to collect on that wrong, you forgive the debt. You act as if the person no longer owes you anything (Matthew 18:21-35).

Forgiveness is so important that Jesus commanded his followers to do it over and over and over, 77 times if necessary. If Sutton and the community of faith he represents have truly forgiven white Americans, why are they still acting as if something is owed? Why are they still trying to collect the debt?

It is also a distortion of atonement. The truth is that, despite heroic efforts by many, America can never pay the moral debt it owes for its history of slavery and other corporate sins. The evil is simply too great for mere mortals to repair--especially if our best hope is a committee to study throwing money at the problem. If we must offer atonement for the original sin of slavery, as Sutton urges, we will never be done.

This is the very heart of the Christian gospel: atonement for sin must be made, but human efforts are woefully insufficient. For this reason, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die and rise again, as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 3:16). If you are looking for atonement outside of Jesus Christ, you are not preaching the gospel.

Finally, it is a distortion of Reconciliation. Sutton claims his goal is reconciliation. It is true the early Christians were all about reconciliation. In fact, St. Paul called the gospel the "message of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:19). Christ's great prayer before his crucifixion was for unity--"that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:11). But how do reconciliation and unity happen?

The Apostle Paul states, "For he himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14). Because of sin, our relationship with God was fractured, and so were our relationships with other people. Christ's death did not just atone for our sins and restore us to God, it also enables us to have peace with each other.

For Christians, the saying "we are all God's children" is not trite nonsense. It is the precious legacy of the death of our Savior. Reconciliation does not come from redistributing resources through government programs. Reconciliation does not come from woke calls for justice, but through the cross, which Bishop Sutton sadly fails to mention.

For more stories you can go here: www.virtueonline.org

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