White Christians need to get behind a growing movement pushing for reparations for African Americans because it is a biblical principle endorsed by Jesus, associate professor at Princeton Theological Seminary Keri Day recently contended.
Day, who teaches constructive theology and African-American religion at the Ivy League seminary, made the argument earlier this month in a lecture at the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan. She defended her argument using the story of Zaccheus the tax collector.
“When we turn to the Gospel, we see that Jesus is clear that reparations or restitution to those who have been exploited and rendered vulnerable is not optional but required. Consider Jesus’ encounter with Zaccheus in Luke 19,” Day said.
“Zaccheus is a tax collector who has participated in Roman imperial oppression against marginalized Jewish populations. Jesus sits with Zaccheus but is clear with Zaccheus on what his reparative response needed to be and that this reparative response as Zaccheus was tasked to do was not simply and only a political response but was more deeply a theological response,” she explained.
“In his encounter with Zaccheus, I want to suggest that Jesus sets forth a reparations ethic …. Zaccheus is expected to give back that which he has stolen so that he can be reconciled with others and God. Reconciliation cannot occur until he has given back what he has stolen.”
Day’s argument came on the 50th anniversary of iconic civil rights leader James Forman’s famous interruption at the church where he presented the Black Manifesto, which sent shockwaves across white America in 1969.
Forman and other blacks who had attended the National Black Development Conference that year, demanded $500,000,000 in reparations from white churches and Jewish synagogues for black Americans, arguing that they were complicit in upholding the system of slavery that exploited blacks. The demanded sum would have worked out to approximately $15 each for the approximately 30 million black American population.
“This is a low estimate fro (sic) we maintain there are probably more than 30,000,000 black people in this country. $15 a negger isn’t a large sum of money and we know that the churches and synagogues have a tremendous wealth and its membership, white America, has profited and still exploits black people,” the group argued.
“We are also not unaware that the exploitation of colored peoples around the world is aided and abetted by the white Christian churches and synagogues. This demand for $500,000,000 is not an idle resolution or empty words. Fifteen dollars for every black brother and sister in the United States is only a beginning of the reparations due us as people who have been exploited and degraded, brutalized, killed and persecuted,” the manifesto said.
Hilda Clark, a longtime Riverside Church member who was present during Forman’s interruption, recalled the tension that was created by his protest.
“I saw this young man, protest down the aisle and I wondered ‘what’s up with this.’ He mounted the stage began to speak and people began to get, I guess something between annoyed and perplexed. Riverside at the time was a fairly formal operation and this man was violating protocol for sure. And immediately a few people got up and left but I decided to sit and see what would happen,” Clark said.
“Later on I heard words like reparations. Not something I knew a lot about but I got the message. He then started talking money and masses of people got up and walked out and they were mostly white but there were a few black people who walked out also.”
While Forman’s group did not get the $500 million they demanded, a year later in 1970, The New York Times reported that many mainline churches committed approximately $127 million toward social programs for black Americans in response to church protests which had expanded beyond Riverside Church.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair