Some churches embracing reparations in effort to make amends for ‘active role’ in slavery

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Some American churches have started setting aside money for slavery reparations after speaking up about various ways in which their churches profited from slavery in some capacity.

At the New York Diocese of the Episcopal Church, an ongoing reminder of the church’s connections to slavery in the distant past has occurred in the form of the “Year of Reparation,” announced two and a half years ago, and which has since been recurring each year, NBC News reported.

Episcopal Bishop of New York Andrew M.L. Dietsche spoke to a group of clergy at that time about slavery in New York, and said that the Episcopal Church had been a participant in the institution, and that “we must make, where we can, repair.”

As part of that effort, Episcopal churches across the state have undertaken activities such as placing up plaques declaring that part of their church’s wealth was gained through slave labor, staging plays that describe the role of attendees of the church in the slave trade, and handing over part of the church’s money to various reparations funds.

In 2006, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention adopted a resolution that asked member churches to examine themselves and study how they benefited from slavery. This has led to similar efforts to the one described in New York being undertaken in Texas, Maryland, Georgia, and Virginia.

Nor has the Episcopal Church been alone. The Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church also issued similar resolutions in 2004 and 2019 (respectively) with the intent of looking into those churches’ role in slavery in America and giving suggestions on how to start making reparations.

“Whether it was members of the clergy or the churches themselves owning enslaved people, or the churches receiving taxes from congregants in the form of tobacco farmed by enslaved people, the wealth of the churches was deeply intertwined with the slave trade,” NBC News reported. “Well into the 20th century, churches and their clergy also played an active role in advocating policies of segregation and redlining.”

Some churches and church-related organizations have gone farther, and the United Church of Christ and the National Council of Churches, alongside the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference have formed a political faith-based coalition to lobby for HR 40, a bill which would create a commission to explore ways in which the US should make reparations payments for slavery and its effects.

“We want to have grounded learning, both biblically and theologically, around why reparations are due. It is not just writing a check from churches,” said Reverend Velda Love, who is “Minister for Racial Justice” at the United Church of Christ.

Love and others from the various churches that have formed the coalition have begun conducting webinars and assembling pamphlets and other materials for dissemination to their congregations.

“Our faith requires us to do something. This is what God calls us to do, ” said Reverend Sekinah Hamlin, who is “Minister for Economic Justice” at the United Church of Christ.

Whether these churches will gain any traction with this message of bringing up the past remains to be seen, as does the fate of HR 40 and its premise of the US making reparations payments.


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