“She shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever [she] does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore, the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”
Psalm 1:3-5 (NKJV)
Far, far away in a land called Matunda lived two trees. One tree was called Mengi and the other Uksoefu. Each was diligent in their attempts to please the Great Gardener. Every morning and every evening Mengi would stretch her roots deep into the soil searching for access to the river they called, “Maji Milele.” Every morning and every evening she would drink of Maji Milele’s waters and feel the nutrients flow through her roots as the liquid moistened the soil around her trunk. Ascending into her branches she could feel the muscles of her stems strenghthening and the crisp but soft nature of her leaves greening.
The Fruit of Jealousy
This made Ukosefu very bitter. The Great Gardener told her and Mengi to dip their roots in the Maji Milele every morning and every evening, but there was no joy in that for her. Ukosefu wanted to be different. She wanted to stand out. She decided that she would stretch her roots down further into the soil, rather than over into the river. Everyone knows that there’s water in the soil as well, and so she would get her’s from a source other than the river. Surely the Great Gardener would be pleased with her initiative and creativity.
As Ukosefu reached further down she only became more frustrated and bitter. Her leaves did not grow strong like Mengi’s. Rather than possessing a crisp and soft nature her leaves had a crunch and hard nature to them. She quickly became jealous of Mengi complaing, “The Great Gardener is showering Mengi with special treatment. There’s no way she could grow that quickly from simply drinking of the Maji Milele.” In her frustration she remained stubborn and refused to drink of the same water source as Mengi, regardless of the fact that the Great Gardener directed so.
The full moon passed and it was time for the Great Gardener to collect his harvest. The trunk of Mengi was so large and the span of her branches so wide that she could be seen from anywhere in Matunda. When The Great Gardener stepped close to Mengi her leaves were a bright green and next to every leaf was a large, ripe fruit yellow in color with blushes of pink on its cheeks. Smooth and without indentation the Great Gardener knew of her ripeness just by the smell of her fruit. The Great Gardner could smell the fruit of Mengi from miles away.
The same was not so for Ukosefu. Her leaves were brown, burnt in color, and there was no fruit anywhere on her branches. Her trunk was narrow and it seemed as though her branches had not grown since the planting season. The wind would blow and the fruit of Mengi would decorate Matunda as ornaments. But when the wind blew on Ukosefu her leaves crumbled. The wind would blow and the trunk of Mengi would stand firm, unmovable. But when the wind blew on the trunk of Ukosefu it would bend and sway in whatever direction the wind drove.
The Word of God is Life
Ukosefu desired to stand out, and she did just that. For in Matunda, she was the only tree that did not bear fruit in season. But she was also the only tree to not drink of the river Maji Milele. And it was because of her stubbornness that she would be the only tree of Matunda to whither and die. This saddened the Great Gardener, for he could not understand how a tree that was positioned so close to her source of life could whither and die. He could not understand how this tree of the river could die of thirst.
Many of us are like Ukosefu. We have easy access to the river of God’s word and yet we seek life and strength from every other source we can find. We plug into people, our jobs, our passions, everything but God through prayer and devotion. But what we have to accept is that nothing on this Earth can feed us, fill us, strengthen us, or grow us like spending time in prayer and Bible Study. It is only when we’re planted in the life giving waters of God’s word that we can bear the fruit of the Spirit. May we drink from the river of God’s Word and live.
When was the last time you sipped the words of Jesus Christ the living water? You have been placed in close proximity to the source that is your everlasting life. Don’t wither and die spiritually because you refuse to let Him flow through you to work in you.
Reparations: “What Would Jesus Do?”
June 19, 2019 is forever a historic day in African American history. Congressional members of the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony for H.R.40 – Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. Democratic Congressman John Conyers, Jr. first introduced the bill in January of 1989. Believing in the importance of repair and remuneration for the descendants of African American slaves, Conyers consistently reintroduced the bill every year until his retirement in 2017.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee officially took on the role of first sponsorship in March 2018. Her work successfully got the bill to its historic hearing on Juneteeth 2019. It is because of their combined efforts that in the 400th year since the first African slave was brought over and sold in this country, Congress heard testimony on the importance of establishing a committee to discuss proposals for reparations for slavery.
Witnesses included Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer of the Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations, activist and actor Danny Glover, economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton, and others. Their statements, since re-tweeted and leading the news on major outlets, stirred the room as they answered questions from the bi-partisan panel.
“The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress, but it is also a question of citizenship,” Coates said. “In H.R. 40, this body has a chance to both make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement, and reject fair-weather patriotism, to say that this nation is both its credits and debits.”
Asking The Difficult Questions
Coates’ statement targeted the hard question: “why should the federal government be responsible for something that happened in the past?” Many wanted to know, “Why congress?” “Who receives reparations?” “Are there any evidences to the affects of slavery in the present?” But the question that truly grabbed me, came from Democratic Representative Sylvia Garcia.
Addressing Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton, Garcia asked, “what would Jesus do about reparations?” Many immediately groaned in frustration as they saw the question as a distraction from the pertinent economic issues that needed addressing. In fact, one woman yelled out, “separation of Church and State!”
The question came off as a ploy, or a distraction to stall important discussion regarding the historic and economic ramifications of the bill. Thus, to the delight of many in the room, Sutton deflected politely.
“Well, when it comes to those kinds of questions I like to remind people that I’m in sales, not management.”
While the question seemed out of place, the answer missed a great opportunity.
The Great Disappointment
Without compromising principles of church and state, without restricting the religious freedom of any of her hearers, Garcia sought some moral basis in the life of Christ. It was the perfect moment to talk about how Jesus walked this Earth doing nothing but repairing what sin has broken both physically and spiritually. Garcia gave him the perfect opportunity to show that reparations is not a partisan agenda, but a moral responsibility, one certainly found in a biblically based approach to restorative justice.
As the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, Sutton has been working for decades with the Diocese of Maryland on racial justice, reconciliation, and reparations. He wrote a letter to the Maryland Episcopalian Church at large, and on May 11, 2019 he led out in the vote on the historic “Resolution on Racial Reconciliation” at the 235th diocesan convention. The resolution calling “for Episcopalians to study and support the concept of reparations…passed unanimously.” In fact, the Maryland Episcopalian Church reports “the ‘All in favor of this resolution’ call resulted in a rousing voice vote of ‘Aye!’ Then came the ‘All opposed…’ vote. There was complete silence.”
In his letter Sutton quotes Isaiah 58:12 and II Corinthians 5:18-20. It is safe to assume these texts and others were included in his official statement as Congresswoman Garcia says, “Bishop…it really did warm my heart that you have some scripture notes here.” By stating such a compliment before asking the question “what would Jesus do about reparations?” it’s clear she wanted him to speak on some of these Scriptures.
The Biblical Case for Reparations
While Garcia asked specifically about Jesus, we first have to understand this notion within the Bible as a whole. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture makes a strong case for reparations. It does not explicitly use the term, but it consistently speaks to the holistic repair of people traumatized by sin and injustice, in all of its various forms.
In fact, we’re first introduced to the concept of reparations in the story of Jacob and Esau. Recorded in Genesis chapters 25-33, the Bible describes the story of twin brothers. Genesis 25 chronicles how Jacob takes advantage of Esau’s exhaustion and hunger and gets him to sell him his birthright. But as if that weren’t enough, two chapters later Jacob disguises himself as Esau in order to steal Esau’s blessing.
The Bible says Jacob put on Esau’s clothes, covered himself in sheep’s wool, and made the meal Isaac requested of Esau. Because Isaac was blind he could not recognize that the son in front of him was not Isaac. Perplexed Isaac said, “the voice is Jacob’s, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him” (Genesis 27:22-23). Esau became furious and so Jacob fled Esau’s wrath.
The Cost of Reconciliation
After being a part for 20 years, Jacob wanted to reconcile with Esau. But he didn’t merely offer an apology. Jacob sent Esau “two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys, and ten foals” (Gen. 32:15). Even though Esau tries to deny the gift, Jacob insists saying:
No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” So he urged him, and he took it.
In these verses, Jacob recognizes that his deception and manipulation of Esau was unjust. By giving Esau from the fruit of the blessings that he received through deceit and manipulation, Jacob paid Esau reparations. This is what reparations is about. It is about acknowledging the injustice and repairing and restoring the wounds and the voids that the injustice created.
God Commanded the Children of Israel to Pay Reparations
In fact, reparations is so important that God even commands the children of Israel to do it:
If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.
In these verses, God tells the children of Israel how to treat their slaves. He explicitly commands them not to hold a slave indefinitely, and that when released the slave should not “go away empty-handed.” Unlike Scripture, slaves in the U.S. were held indefinitely. In order to perpetuate this injustice it was written into the constitution that blacks were 3/5ths of a person. This systematically restricted blacks to the position of chattel slave.
Once emancipated officially in 1865, African Americans were promised “40 acres and a mule”. This promise was rescinded. From this Scripture alone, we see that God would not be pleased with such dealings. This verse shows the God of the Old Testament believes in reparations. But what about the Jesus of the New Testament? Some believe the God of the Old Testament holds different values and principles than the Jesus of the New Testament.
“What Would Jesus Do About Reparations?”
According to Luke 4:16-21 Jesus began his ministry reading scripture in a synagogue in Nazareth. Standing behind the pulpit, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me; Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus declares that his ministry is to enact the restorative justice of jubilee as recorded in Deuteronomy. He declares that He has come to liberate the enslaved and to restore what oppression has stolen. This commitment to the restoration of humanity and their reconciliation to God all culminates in Christ’s death on the cross. Understanding that sin wounded the human race stripping us of a relationship with the Father, preventing us from operating at full potential, robbing us of any chance at eternal life, and inflicting us with mental, physical, and social enslavement, God knew that a debt had to be paid in order for eternal repair, restoration, and reconciliation. It was for the injustice of sin that God paid reparations in the form of His son Jesus.
Was it God’s fault? Did God personally inflict these injustices on humanity? No! But the beauty of God is that He took responsibility for something He didn’t do. He paid a debt He didn’t owe. All because responsibility was not as important to Him as restoration.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
When Jesus died on the cross he said, “I’m willing to pay the debt required. I’m willing to use my life as reparations for the reconciliation of Creation to God the Father.” So when you ask, “what would Jesus do about reparations?” The Bible says He gave His life.
Through the story of Jacob and Esau, the commands God gave the children of Israel, and ultimately the life and death of Jesus Christ, we see that reparations is about acknowledging that injustice exists and being willing to pay the costly price necessary to institute restorative justice and inspire true reconciliation.
It remains to be seen how reparations for African Americans in this country will work practically. All I know is that the guidance and resolution that we need on this can be found in the Word of God.
I leave you with the pointed words of Ellen White, a prophet, abolitionist, and activist in Seventh-day Adventism who spoke consistently on the importance of uplifting former slaves and their descendants:
“The law of God contained in the ten commandments reveals to man his duty to love God supremely and his neighbor as himself. The American nation owes a debt of love to the colored race, and God has ordained that they should make restitution for the wrong they have done them in the past. Those who have taken no active part in enforcing slavery upon the colored people are not relieved from the responsibility of making special efforts to remove, as far as possible, the sure result of their enslavement.”
Review & Herald, January 21, 1896.
What Does It Mean When God Doesn’t Intervene?
An age-old Bible story of abuse re-emerges in today’s context with full force and frankness. Will you follow up?
“’Here, let me bring out my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine now. Abuse them and do whatever you want to them. But don’t commit this outrageous thing against this man.’…the man seized his concubine and took her outside to them. They raped her and abused her all night until morning. At daybreak they let her go…When he entered his house, he picked up a knife, took hold of his concubine, cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and then sent her throughout the territory of Israel…Think it over, discuss it, and speak up!” Judges 19:24-25, 29, 30b
Grappling with God
Have you ever felt like God had an opportunity to show up for you and He didn’t? Have you ever felt like He had the opportunity to intervene and stop something bad from happening to you, but He didn’t? Well you aren’t alone. In Judges 19 we’re introduced to a woman from Bethlehem whose story causes us to ask that really hard question: what does it mean when God doesn’t intervene?
Many of us remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, but for those who are unfamiliar, Sodom and Gomorrah was a city that was known for its affinity for immorality. Homosexuality, drunkenness, and perversion was rampant throughout the city. The city had sunk so deep into degradation that God alerted Abraham that He was going to destroy it:
“And the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20-21).
So God sent angels disguised as men to check out the city and see if its destruction really was necessary. Lot, a resident of the city and Abraham’s nephew, encouraged the men not to stay in the square. He insisted that they stay with him instead.
It wasn’t too long after that men from the city got word there were visitors staying with Lot. Soon they surrounded the house demanding that Lot release the men so that they could have sex with them (Genesis 19:5). Lot pleaded with the men not to disgrace his guests. He even offered his two virgin daughters to the angry and aroused mob.
But they declined the girls and pressured Lot for the men. They pressed so strongly the Bible says, they “came near to break down the door” (Genesis 19:9). At that moment, the men who were really angels pulled Lot back into the house, shut the door, and struck the men outside with blindness so that they became tired trying to find the door (Genesis 19:10-11). That night the power of God stepped in and prevented the depravity of humanity from abusing and killing the men and Lot’s daughters.
In Judges 19 the story is the same, but the outcome is very different. A Levite was traveling with his concubine and servant and decided to rest in the city called Gibeah. It was an Israelite territory belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. They chose to stay in Gibeah because they believed they’d be safer among their own rather than in a foreign city with unbelievers (Judges 19:12).
When they entered the city an elderly man welcomed them to stay with him. As they were enjoying their visit with the old man, the men of Gibeah surrounded the house demanding the old man give them the Levite so that they could have sex with him (Judges 19:22).
The old man pleaded with the men, “I beg you, do not act so wickedly!…do not commit this outrage” (Judges 19:23). To assuage the crowd the old man even offered the mob his own virgin daughter along with the concubine.
When the Levite saw the old man wasn’t really persuading the crowd he seized his concubine and threw her out of the house for the mob. Judges 19:25 relates the grievous details: “they raped her and abused her all night until morning. At daybreak they let her go.”
When the Levite found his concubine on the ground in front of the door, unresponsive, he picked her up, put her on his donkey, and carried her home. There he cut her body into twelve pieces and sent each piece to the twelve tribes of Israel.
God, And God’s People
In my opinion this is one of the hardest stories in the Bible. The sexual abuse is extremely hard to stomach. Her dismemberment is immensely difficult to fathom. But for me, it’s God’s inactivity that is most difficult to understand. Why is it that God intervenes and protects Lot’s daughters from evil men in the world, but He doesn’t intervene to protect this concubine from evil men in the church?
Hanging on a cross I believe Jesus was faced with the same question. With a crown of thorns pressing into his skull, I see Christ hanging from splintered wood, struggling to breath, writhing in pain as His lacerated flesh pressed against the wood; His hands and feet pounding from the nails; His body chilled as it hung naked and exposed. I see my Jesus hanging there on a cross looking up to His Father wondering if He was going to intervene.
It’s such a hard truth to receive, but I believe the reason God didn’t intervene on behalf of the concubine, on behalf of Jesus, and sometimes on behalf of us is because God understands this extremely hard truth: broken bodies save nations.
Just like the broken body of Jesus Christ saves us from sin and grants us the gift of eternal life, I believe women and men whose bodies have been broken by sexual and physical violence can save our communities from the psychological, physical, and spiritual death that abuse brings. I believe our communities can experience emotional, physical, and spiritual life from the stories of women and men whose bodies have been broken from sexual and physical violence.
The Bible says the crime at Gibeah started a war against the Benjamites because instead of burying the concubine’s body the Levite displayed and distributed it. Survivors have the same power! They too can start wars against sexual and physical violence when they refuse to let their stories be buried, and instead allow their stories to be distributed.
The story of this unnamed concubine ends by saying, “Think it over, discuss it, and speak up!” I believe it’s time we think on the stories of survivors of sexual and physical abuse and allow their stories to ignite a righteous rage within us that activates us to war against such violence.
Brittany Cooper in her book Eloquent Rage says, “we should not have to rely on supernatural acts of God to keep women safe.” The story of the concubine along with Cooper’s statement provides a plausible answer to the question: what does it mean when God doesn’t intervene?
What if God doesn’t intervene in some cases of sexual and physical violence because God is waiting for the broken bodies of the abused to send us to war? What if God is looking upon the Earth waiting for humanity to enact justice? What if God doesn’t intervene in things that He believes humanity has the power and responsibility to handle on their own? What if while we’re waiting on God to intervene, God is waiting on us to intervene? What if God is waiting on us to be the justice we’re constantly waiting for Him to provide?
The Grace Greenleaf Effect
How TVs new drama lucked-up on the truth behind disruptive gospel
“Satan we’re gonna’ tear your kingdom down/You’ve been building your kingdom/ All over this land/Satan we’re gonna’ tear your kingdom down.”
Television’s new original series Greenleaf on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) marks the first scripted show depicting what some are calling “Megachurch Drama.” Greenleaf humanizes church leadership by providing a behind-the-scenes look into the struggles, desires, and flaws of bishops and pastors, assistants, choir directors, and even first ladies. Greenleaf centers on estranged daughter Grace “Gigi” Greenleaf’s return and her disruption of her family’s and church’s carefully managed image of perfection.
As Response Pastor, Grace can’t help but break her promise to her mother not to sow discord. Instead, she works tirelessly to expose her uncle Mac as the pedophile and rapist he is, completely disturbing the family’s peace and business as usual, not to mention that of the church. And, it is in this disturbance that we find a discordant gospel, one that repels and one that heals all at the same time. The Grace Greenleaf Effect.
Stay to Play
Grace Greenleaf doesn’t leave to start her own church, center, or organization to help victims of sexual violence. No, Grace stays at Calvary Fellowship World Ministries to work for both the healing of the oppressed and transformation of the oppressor. It is in staying and forcing Calvary to acknowledge that it has both protected and perpetuated violence against its own church members, yea even family members, that Grace gets vindication for the victims. But her presence also creates an environment where her family and Calvary can practice repentance.
In staying and accepting the job as the Response Pastor, Grace positions herself to have enough influence to change church culture at Calvary. It’s not enough to call out injustice and create new communities that protect those who have been wronged.
The work of justice requires that we challenge the cultures and systems that inflict violence, but that we also help reshape the culture of existing communities that protect and support violence so that silence and complacency are a thing of the past. The Grace Greenleaf Effect then is a contemporary prophetic oration of Isaiah 59:4 where God tells the prophet Isaiah that “no one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth” and he considers such to be the reason why “we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us” (Isaiah 59:9).
Grace stays at Calvary to help her family and church repent for the sin of silence. Her staying promotes a change in Calvary’s culture so that they cease to be a community that protects and perpetuates violence, but they become a community that works for healing and vindication.
Grace preaches precisely on the importance of talking about things we typically “hate talking about in church.” Calling the congregation into a moment of silence Grace says, “let’s take our moment of silence this morning and when we’re done let us promise ourselves and all the abused around us, all those victims, that we will never be silent again. The silence ends today!”
By encouraging her family and congregation to be vocal about abuse and refrain from protecting false images of perfection, Grace socially and spiritually works to tear down Satan’s kingdom of false appearances, violence, and complacency in the oppression of others.
The Grace Greenleaf Effect then is to have a love for people that causes you to dismantle any structure or system that supports or protects violence against them. Grace Greenleaf disrupts the illusion of peace within her own family so that the victims of sexual and domestic violence that attend the church might have vindication.
During a time when many doubt the intentions of various Christian churches, questioning if they truly care about the social and physical ills that attack their bodies on a daily basis, it seems as though many churches need a Response Pastor like Grace Greenleaf. It seems as though churches need someone who believes that part of the necessary response to social and physical violence is to disturb the church’s silence surrounding such issues, and disrupt their performance of peace and perfection.
Critical Roles Played By the Flawed
But while Greenleaf articulates the importance of disturbing the church’s silence and complacency, it also reveals that the truth of the Gospel is not contingent upon self-proclaimed Christians. While we may be introduced to Christ through our interactions with other Christians, the Bible tells us that it is the job of these flawed beings to bring us to the only perfect Being – Jesus Christ.
David admonishes us in Psalm 118:8 that “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man,” and Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 2:5 “that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” So when you see leaders mimic Grace’s lack of self-control, or Pastor Jacob Greenleaf’s infidelity, or Mae Greenleaf’s anger and inability to forgive, yea, Mac’s sexual abuse and his lack of remorse, do not doubt in the validity of the Gospel. Instead, understand the very individuals called to deliver the Gospel are broken.
Just remember that the brokenness of humanity does not provide us a pass to be silent when they break others. Be vocal! Hold everyone accountable for the pain they’ve caused and challenge them to receive the power of Jesus Christ that they may be empowered to not hurt you or anyone else in that way again.
It is the job of the Christian to disrupt any culture, structure, or system that protects or perpetuates violence by ignoring the pain of people to maintain a false image of peace and perfection. Just as Pastor Grace Greenleaf embodies, we must work with our leadership to call out sin so that those who have been hurt can receive help and healing, but also so that those who have committed the sin of silence, yea inflicted the abuse, have the opportunity to repent and turn away.
Claudia M. Allen is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English at the University of Maryland specializing in 19th and 20th century African American literature. She earned her MA in English from Georgetown University and her BA in English with a minor in Leadership from Andrews University. Claudia is passionate about the language of race, theology, and social engagement and how these ideologies and philosophies intersect.