S & H Green Stamps were a thing when I was growing up. Mom and Dad collected them at the grocery store and the gas station, pasted them into books, then took the books to a “redemption center” to “redeem” them for merchandise like pots & pans, dishes, small appliances, etc. I have been thinking about redemption a lot in recent days.
Amid the storm und drang of debates about renaming military bases, schools, athletic teams, et al, I have wondered about the role of redemption in our assessment of historical figures. It has also been brought to mind by the so-called ‘cancel culture’ where a person’s life is evaluated on the basis of a single irresponsible comment, often made decades ago, that is considered to overwhelm all the subsequent good he/she may have done.
Consider one John Newton. He was the captain of slave ships and invested in the slave trade after leaving seafaring. But he had a conversion experience and eventually became an Anglican priest, as well as a hymn writer. His hymn “Amazing Grace” is arguably the most frequently sung English language hymn. Newton also worked with William Wilberforce to get Parliament to outlaw the slave trade.
The arguments being made by some would have us give greater credence to the horrific truth of Newton’s slave trading than to his subsequent redemption and his advocacy to eliminate slavery. I have wondered if some would argue for removing “Amazing Grace” from hymnals because of his sordid past. [I admit this may be reductio ad absurdum.] But I also wonder if there are similar stories of redemption that we are missing in our haste to condemn those who have done evil.
The Salvation Army operates “redemption centers” around the world, places where men and women experience the power of God to redeem them and make new creations of them. We revel in the witness of those who say with John Newton, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”
Praise God for those who keep these “redemption centers” in operation!