Churches will pay MILLION ‘to black people in reparations for slavery’ to ‘reckon with evils of our past’

CHURCHES across the US will pay millions in "reparations for slavery" in a bid to "reckon with the evils of our past".

The Minnesota Council of Churches mentioned a host of injustices as it launched a "truth and reparations" initiative engaging its 25 member denominations.


The injustices mentioned range from mid-19th century atrocities against Native Americans to police killings of Black people.

The efforts reflect a widespread surge of interest among many US religious groups in the area of reparations, particularly among long-established Protestant churches that were active in the era of slavery.

Many are initiating or considering how to make amends through financial investments and long-term programs benefiting African Americans.

The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America are urging congregations to consider similar steps.

Some major denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, have not embraced reparations as official policy.

'CALL TO ACTION'

The Minnesota Council of Churches initiative was announced in October.

The council’s CEO, the Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, said: “Minnesota has some of the highest racial disparities in the country – in health, wealth, housing, how police treat folks.

“Those disparities all come from a deep history of racism.”

The initiative, envisioned as a 10-year undertaking, engages a diverse collection of Christian denominations, including some that are predominantly Black.

It is based in Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd in May sparked global protests over racial injustice.

DeYoung said: “This particular event, because it was right here where we live, was a call to action.

“The first thing that we did, of course, like everyone else, was get into the streets and march … but there are deep, historic issues that require more than marching.”

In the Episcopal Church, several dioceses — including Maryland, Texas, Long Island and New York — launched reparations programs in the past 13 months, while others are preparing to do so. 

The Diocese of Georgia is committing 3 per cent of its unrestricted endowment to help create a center for racial reconciliation.

“Each diocese will make its own decisions how to do this work,” said New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche.

“What is common across the whole church is the recognition that it’s time to address and reckon with the wrongs and evils of our past.”

DEEP HISTORY OF RACISM

The largest pledge thus far came from the Diocese of Texas, which announced in February that it would allocate $13 million to long-term programs benefiting African Americans.

The Diocese of New York, which serves part of New York City and seven counties to the north, was similarly blunt about its history while unveiling its $1.1 million reparations initiative in November 2019.

Dietsche said the diocese played a “significant, and genuinely evil, part in American slavery”.

He noted that in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, delegates at the diocese’s convention refused to approve a resolution condemning slavery.

“We have a great deal to answer for,” Dietsche said. “We are complicit.”

Specific recommendations for spending the $1.1 million will come later in 2021. 

St. James’ Episcopal Church, in a posh neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, dedicated a plaque a year ago.

Its inscription reads: “In solemn remembrance of the enslaved persons whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of St. James’ Church” – which happened in 1810.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland voted in September to create a $1 million reparations fund, likely to finance programs supporting Black students, nursing home residents, small-business owners and others.

While Dietsche and Doyle are white, the bishop of Maryland, Eugene Sutton, is the first Black cleric to hold that post.

Sutton said: “Reparations is simply, ‘What will this generation do to repair the damage caused by previous generations?’ … We may not all be guilty, but we all have a responsibility.”

Sutton said the $1 million allocation represents about 20 per cent of the diocese’s operating budget.

He added: “We wanted something that would actually not just be a drop in the bucket — it’s going to cost us.

“We’ve done that in recognition of the fact that this church, as well as many other churches and institutions, benefited from theft.

“We stole from the impoverished, from the African American community.”

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has not embraced the term “reparations” in its official policies.

The word never appears in a 2018 pastoral letter condemning “the ugly cancer” of racism, though the document encourages support for programs “that help repair the damages caused by racial discrimination.”

Shannen Dee Williams, a Black historian at Villanova University, has proposed several steps the church could take, including issuing formal apologies, investing in Catholic schools serving Black communities and requiring that the history of Black Catholics be taught in church schools.

He wrote in an email: “Black Catholic history reminds us that the Church was never an innocent bystander in the histories of colonialism, slavery or segregation.”

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