Lenten Devotion: March 11

I Did Not Question

— By JoBeth Allen

I didn’t know this biblical history, recounted in Ezra 6:1-12. “Jerusalem receives reparations when the people return after exile: King Darius uses the royal treasury to fulfill the reparations even though he was not the king who forced them to abandon their homeland. It was not King Darius’ personal wrongdoing that caused him to offer reparations. Rather, it was his recognition that his nation had committed a sin against the people of Israel.” 

From Using the Bible to Debunk 10 Myths About Reparations by pastors Michael Woolf and Michael C.R. Nabors, senior pastors at historically white and historically Black churches in Evanston IL where the city passed a resolution to pay reparations to address “the historical wealth and opportunity gaps that African American/Black residents” faced, particularly when it came to housing discrimination.

It is so comfortable to say, like King Darius, “I did nothing wrong, but my country has a sinful past. And I do have this royal treasury. I am magnanimous!” 

JoBeth Allen poses with five generations of her family, including daughter Rachel, who was born in 1971.

I’d like to say I did nothing wrong, but that’s not true. I did not question my grandparents about the land their grandparents stole from the Creek and Seminole people in the so-called “Oklahoma Land Rush.” I did not acknowledge the racism built into the GI bill that provided my dad a college education. I espoused academic arguments against the many forms of tracking in schools but stood silently by when it benefitted my children in CCSD. I drew a generous salary and benefits, and now enjoy a secure retirement, from a university that stole the land and homes of Black families in Linnentown, the university that 40 years afterwards named buildings in honor of the first Black students they were forced to admit, the university that refuses to admit un(der)documented students who have lived in Georgia most of their lives. I belong to a denomination with a shameful history of discrimination that continues today. 

Now back to Darius. He might have been a little heavy handed in his zeal to repair the harm to the Israelites: “I also decree that if anyone disobeys this edict, a beam is to be pulled out of the house of the guilty party, and the guilty party will then be impaled upon it. The house will be turned into a trash heap.Ezra 6:11

Mother/Father/Creator God, give us the courage to examine our lives through the lens of unearned privilege, the wisdom to listen to those we have harmed, the strength to repent of the sins of racism, and the conviction to atone with generosity and humility. Do not impale us but empower us. Amen