Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Racial Injustice

The beneficiaries of oppression and injustice have difficulty understanding its impact on its victims. These effects don’t just disappear when the injustice is removed.

In the 1980s, I was asked to attend a small conference at Moerewa about the links between the gospel and the Treaty of Waitangi. This was the covenant between the British governor and the Maori chiefs gathered at Waitangi that opened the way for the colonisation of New Zealand. Despite the promises made in the treaty, the Maori were quickly lost their land in a series of illegal political and military manoeuvres. My talk is here.

On the first morning of the conference, a young Maori Christian leader spent two hours recounting the history of Maori dealings with European colonists. For many of the Maori people listening, this was the first time they had heard a detailed account of the injustices that previous generations had experienced. As they listened, they all began to weep.

This experience was an eye-opener for me (When I talk about the experience I still feel like weeping). The reason that these people wept was that their hearts still carried the pain of the injustices their forefathers had experienced. They did not know what had happened, but they still carried the emotional scars from the injustices experienced by previous generations. As they listened, I saw the lights coming on for them. They got an understanding of the pain that they knew they still carried (despite their faith in Jesus).

When the injustices occurred, the people who lost their land felt terrible pain. Their children picked up that pain. Because their pain was real they passed the hurt on to their children. The history of the injustice was gradually lost, but the spiritual and emotional pain was passed on from generation to generation.

Hearing the history explained the pain, but it did not heal it. That would require repentance and restitution by the descendants of European colonists who benefited from the injustices. I hope that my talk contributed a little to making that happen.

When injustice and oppression occur, emotional and spiritual pain is passed on to subsequent generations. As time passes, the reason for the pain is forgotten, but it remains with the victims' descendants, crippling their lives. Those hurts need to be healed before they can live in true freedom.

I can see the same pattern in the United States. Many Christians assume that because slavery has been abolished and the Jim Crow laws have been repealed that blacks should just get on with becoming as prosperous as they are. They simply don’t understand the emotional and spiritual scars that slavery left behind, and how these are passed on from generation to generation. These need to be healed and the pattern broken. But that will not happen if the injustices are minimised and excused by its beneficiaries, because that just creates anger that deepens the scars.

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