Saturday, February 25, 2023

Restitution and Restoration Is in Scripture (Session 2)

How does the ethic of restoration develop throughout Scripture? The following steps may prove helpful in study, reflection and action. Start with giving time to exploring the Scripture. Much of this material will be new. It is not exhaustive. As a wise teacher once said, "Everyone wants to want to study the Bible." The corollary could be "Everyone wants to want to do what the Bible teaches." 

Numbers 5:5-10
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites: When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed. The person shall make full restitution for the wrong, adding one-fifth to it, and giving it to the one who was wronged. If the injured party has no next-of-kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for the guilty party. Among all the sacred donations of the Israelites, every gift that they bring to the priest shall be his. The sacred donations of all are their own; whatever anyone gives to the priest shall be his.

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 neighbour in a matter of a deposit or a pledge, or by robbery, or if you have defrauded a neighbour, 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.

Ezekiel 33:15

If the wicked restore the pledge, give back what they have taken by robbery, and walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity—they shall surely live, they shall not die.

Amos 8:4b-6
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, ‘When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practise deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’

Luke 19.8
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.

Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Matthew 19:16-22

Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

James 5: 4-5

Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter.

Reflection on Scripture
These are only potential questions for group or individual study; they are suggested and not exhaustive. Let them invite more reflection.

1. In each text, what exactly was taken or stolen? What does the text set forth as restitution?
2. Which, if any, of the texts teach us to go beyond simple restitution (returning what was taken)?
3. Which passages address institutional theft? What specific practices are denounced?
3. In the Matthew 19 passage, what are the commandments that Jesus lists? Why do you think Jesus specifies certain commandments for the young man to obey? Which commandments do you think Jesus would name for us?
3. Do you think Christians are responsible for righting the wrongs of previous generations? Why? If not, why not?
4. What faithful actions do you think love of neighbor includes? Specifically, who is included as recipients of neighbor love in the above Scriptures?
5. Name one person you will now consider including in your neighbor love. Why?
6. As a result of thinking on the these Scriptures, name one action that you are willing and able to take? What are you willing and able to risk?

  • See the discussion of the lawyer and Jesus in Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan) in Kwon and Thompson, Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair, Brazos Press, 2021, pp. 170-171. Restitution is a well substantiated ethic and a defined practice throughout Scripture and Church history. Restorative love includes restitution, but goes beyond it. The Samaritan pays what will be due for the victim's recovery. 
  • Michael Eric Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop, St. Martin's Press, 2017. See especially Dyson's recommendations for White Church ministry, pp. 196-212. Sunday School questions are found on pp. 230-231. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Countering White Resistance in Churches and Groups (Session 1)

CAUSISTRY: the use of clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions;  sophistry. Similar: sophistry, specious reasoning, sophism, chicanery, quibbling, equivocation, fallaciousness, fudging. (1)
And what was Black animalization, demonization, and infantilization but a fundamental redefinition of neighbor- from image-bearer to non-person- that justified not only the enslavement of Africans but also the subjugation of their descendants in the Jim Crow era? And are we not tempted to do the same today? Carefully redefining neighbor so as to justify our refusals to love? Contorting our words and ways of thinking as  to create a new ethical category, the "non-neighbor"? (2)
One of the obstacles to honest reflection is defense of my innocence.  I deflect whatever puts me in a bad light. 

Entitlement is having been born second base due the benefits of race. The deception goes, " I deserve what I have because I have earned it" (and not because I have been born into privilege). Imagining there is a level playing field, the quere becomes, "Why isn't everyone else on second base? What's wrong with them?"

Entitlement and privilege are fruits of self-deception but play into larger institutions. White Supremacy is not a "weed in the garden of American democracy," but a native species, visible in the inequities of health care, mortality rate, education, income, criminal systems, employment, housing, and wealth.  I had tremendous educational advantages given to me based on lending practices instituted nationwide after W.W. II. (3)

In the church, I received employment opportunities that my Black colleagues in ministry did not. For its first almost 200 years, (1784- 1968), the now UMC segregated on the basis of race. Black congregations (and to a lesser extent, Indigenous and Hispanic congregations) were separated by color, not by region or geography. Today, gay or non-binary people can be baptized, but are officially kept from having weddings in "our churches" and prohibited from exploring a call to ministry or ordination. 

Examples of cleverness I've said myself- or heard from- white, Christian leaders:
  • I'm not a racist and surely not a White Supremacist. I have several black friends. 
  • What about reverse racism?
  • All lives matter. 
  • I can't repent of the sins of dead people. 
  • We don't solve a problem by throwing money at it. (Note the use of "it").
  • They like their churches and we like ours.
  • Isn't it an oversimplification to suggest reparations? Who will be paid and how much? Who will pay and how? 
  • I'm only one person. What can I do? 
  • We've come a long way. 
  • Haven't we done enough?
Here are some ideas to consider: 
  • I share and identify my relationship to racism, both personally and institutionally. Doing so can open the door to others in the group to reflect on theirs. 
  • Expect that there will be dissonant voices. The goal is reflection, not agreement or harmony. Stating this upfront is helpful and thinking is not always encouraged in church. Some of this can be done in small group work.
  • Caution: I can easily throw off attention or examination of my hidden bias and practices by jumping to Scripture. This is a frequent symptom of resistance. Too, spouting Scriptures is not a substitute for the work of personal or institutional change.
  • Truthful dialogue with the Scripture IS crucial but not here. The next session is an exploration of Scripture, restitution, and restoration.  
(1) Oxford Languages and Google.
(2) See the discussion of the lawyer and Jesus in Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan) in Kwon and Thompson, Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair, Brazos Press, 2021, pp. 170-171.
(3) I grew up in northeastern Ohio, where  residential areas were segregated by redlining. "It was in something called the Underwriting Manual of the Federal Housing Administration, which said that 'incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.' Meaning that loans to African-Americans could not be insured." Along with the nation wide policy came the long term consequences: "Today African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth. Most middle-class families in this country gain their wealth from the equity they have in their homes. So this enormous difference between a 60 percent income ratio and a 5 percent wealth ratio is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy implemented through the 20th century." Source: 

Oldies but Goodies