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September 26, 2008

The concept of reparations for slavery is important and timely. It’s important, obviously, because of the grave evil that slavery was and the impact it has had on America. It’s timely because, as my uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

“Reparation” means to repair; to make amends. The ultimate purpose and goal of reparation should be reconciliation. My concern is that any proposal for reparation be aimed toward reconciliation.

It is important that we have a historical context to the issue of slavery and understand that the battle against oppression and segregation was not white versus black, but right versus wrong. There are no separate races divided by skin color. It was not whites who did this to blacks, it was Southern racists who even took us into a war where 300,000 whites gave their lives to end slavery. A political party based on abolition was formed by whites to free the slaves. If we discuss reparations without discussing the history there will never be a healing because the root cause of slavery will not have been identified and redeemed.

Slavery is evil itself. Evil begets evil. In America, slavery and racism were followed by Jim Crow laws, segregation, lynchings and more racism. Subsequent solutions such as the crippling welfare system were bandages on wounds that still need to be healed. All of this oppression resulted from the foundational evil belief that certain human beings were not fully human. And this oppression did not just greatly harm the African American, it poisoned society as a whole.

Oppression is a double-edged sword. It enslaves the victim, but it also binds the oppressor. In order to maintain the system from which he benefits materially, the oppressor has to believe a lie. And to maintain his belief that he is somehow inherently superior, he has to fabricate more and more lies every time the truth of what he’s doing sears his conscience. The oppressed die physically, the oppressors die spiritually.

Today, America has problems; deep, deep problems. I wish the answer were as simple as giving people checks. A few months ago, many of us got rebate checks in the mail and I think we can all see how much good that did for the economy. My uncle Martin once spoke of a check marked insufficient funds. America is once again facing spiritual and moral bankruptcy, even in the face of the looming economic crisis.

But here, we’re talking about more than dollars and cents. We’re talking about healing.

My idea of reparations is that we have to start repairing our nation by returning to the fundamental truths stated in our Declaration of Independence – that all people are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that these include Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. These truths are still self evident. To honor them, we might want to consider returning prayer to our public squares and keeping “in God we trust” as our motto.

Slavery and racism violated these truths. Today, another form of evil continues to violate them and oppress blacks in particular -- abortion. Abortion, like slavery, is based on the lie that certain human beings aren’t entitled to basic human rights because they aren’t fully human.

Just as slavery led to a succession of more evils, abortion has led to the decimation of the African American community. Fully one-fourth of the black population of the United States has gone missing because abortion took their lives before they could enjoy liberty or pursue happiness.

Today, our goal here is reparation for the purpose of reconciliation. To make amends for past evil is vital; to stop current evil is imperative. Let us begin by recognizing that we – whatever our color, religion, or stage of life – are one people, one human race, and one nation. It’s when we have lost sight of this truth that suffering ensues. Yes, let us repair the wrongs of yesterday, but let us also end the wrongs of today.

Priests for Life
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