Is There a Christian Case for Reparations?

The protests don't take place via bus tours anymore — but they still happen. (Bettmann/CORBIS)
The protests don’t take place via bus tours anymore — but they still happen. (Bettmann/CORBIS)
Conservatives often have a blind spot about race. This is not, I hasten to add, because they are closet racists — they are not — or because conservatism itself is racist, either subjectively or objectively. I think the real reason is more subtle and more profound: Conservatism places a very high premium on individual responsibility, but racism is best understood not so much as a matter of individual vice, but as a systemic evil. 

Now, I happen to believe that a public square that places a high premium on individual responsibility leads a nation to flourish, which is why I do identify as a conservative. But as a Christian, I am compelled to admit that every ideology has blind spots, and I think the conservative emphasis on individual responsibility does lead to a lack of understanding of the systemic nature of some evils.

I say this because many conservatives in the United States happen to be Christian, and I think if most were presented with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ argument for reparations in The Atlantic, they would reject the idea out of hand, on the basis of individual responsibility. Why should taxpayers who never personally participated in slavery be forced to pay for reparations for people who never were slaves? As tragic and awful as slavery and Jim Crow were, it remains immoral to make someone pay for something they didn’t personally do.

This is an honorable position. I just want to complicate things somewhat by noting that Christianity offers us another lens for looking at the question. While individual responsibility is very important to Christianity — every one of us must make a free choice for Christ — it nonetheless presents a bigger perspective. Indeed, two of the key articles of faith fly in the face of individual responsibility; after all, in Christianity, all men are held guilty of the sin of one man, Adam, and all men are saved through the redemptive act of just one man, Jesus.

As Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, explains very well in this speech (starting at minute 26), biblical morality accounts not only for individual sin but also collective sin. Under Christianity, we do have some responsibility for the sins of our kin, just like God punished or rewarded the ancient Israelites collectively for their sins or faithfulness.

Individual responsibility is tremendously important, but collective responsibility is a deep human truth as well, as anyone who feels proud when their favorite sports team wins knows.

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SOURCE: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry  
The Week

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