Recently in the UK, the Archbishop of the Church of England, Right Honourable Justin Welby, declared a commitment to give £100 million pounds of Church of England money in an attempt to repair the damage to those who suffered as a result of the slave trade some 200+ years ago. This piece is not to discuss the matter specifically; there are plenty of commentaries both written and in video, if you search for them. However, this does raise the subject in general of reparations – a financial return for historic wrong-doing as perceived by some.
George Osborne, a former UK Chancellor and now a British Museum official, has offered a long-term loan of marbles that were once in the Parthenon in Greece but historically purchased by British Lord Elgin, to the Greeks once again.
This piece is about pondering: how far back does one go for reparations and is forgiveness enough?
Rather than post an opinion piece, I will draw attention to two scriptures which will raise the issue, if one is inclined to think about it.
In Genesis 47, the Egyptians during the great seven year famine, sold their land to the Pharaoh (v20) in order to receive food which he had stored. Thanks to the Hebrew Joseph, who understood Pharaoh’s dream warning of the famine, this right hand man to the Pharaoh saved and stored grain during the previous seven years of plenty so that it would be available in the famine. Fast forward to Exodus 1, and we see the descendants of Joseph, becoming enslaved by the then current Pharaoh (v13-14).
The pyramids were built by slave labour. Should reparations be made by the Egyptians now to the Jews?
Why do people seek reparation? And why do leaders or nations offer it? How much does revenge, greed or guilt play a part in these situations? We cannot undo history. How is the best way to move forward?
What is the better way? “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:12)
Taking responsibility for our wrongs is the right thing to do. Forgiveness is equally crucial to relationship and peace. Opening up history to change what cannot be changed is a human choice but is it fruitful? It seems rather to divide. Vicars and parishioners are cross with the archbishop as so many parishes have dilapidated churches and shrinking congregants, desperate for an injection of finance. The British public are divided over the issue of the Elgin marbles. It seems ‘cans of worms’ have been opened without the the authority figures recognising the consequences of their choices. Those being offered the reparations may or may not appreciate the gesture, rather instead becoming embittered all-the-more.
Whether descendants of slaves are offered reparations, or works of art are restored to their origins, such is the nature of man to try to “do the right thing” yet open historical wounds and debates which divide rather than repair relationship. We need to tread carefully when dealing with history, and consider our motive.
Motive is at the heart of every deed, be it right or wrong. Apology and forgiveness are the wisdom of GOD. I pray for more of that in society today.