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Reparations: Justice or Theft?

The idea of reparations has been gaining traction in the wider culture and was even advocated by some former presidential candidates. I have seen a growing number of evangelical leaders also call for reparations. The topic of reparations has entered the news again. Several people have asked for my opinion about this issue. 

The current idea of reparations is a bit nebulous. But the general idea is to take money from an entire group of people and redistribute it to another group of people — to take resources from the “oppressors” to give to the “oppressed.” There are various ways about how this would be implemented. Some are voluntary and some our compulsory, like a tax. But, what is this based on? Where is the connection? Is it all based on skin color? Do we all submit DNA tests to see who links back to the lineage of slaves (not all blacks in America were slaves or have a slave lineage) and who links back to slave masters? 

To gain clarity around the idea of reparations (or any concept, for that matter), I first want to understand what Scripture says. If we look at an issue from a cultural perspective without a biblical framework, we’re treading dangerous waters.

To help solidify a biblical case for reparations, I’ve seen some Christians point to Luke 19. Zacchaeus, a tax collector, gave half his possessions to the poor and declared to repay anyone he had cheated 4 times the amount. 

Zacchaeus' decision to give back to the poor sprang from his own conviction. Jesus didn't instruct him, nor gave him an amount to repay. It appears that upon meeting the Lord, Zacchaeus' heart was changed. As a Jewish man, he likely would have understood that God’s justice required him to give back what he’d stolen (Lev. 6:1-5). His decision to give back four times the original amount actually goes beyond what God’s justice required. Zacchaeus was expressing the depth of the conviction of his sin.

I’ve also seen a case made by appeals to Deut. 15:12-1