In what is believed to be the first payment of its kind, Glasgow University is to pay £20m in reparations to atone for its historical links to the transatlantic slave trade. In what has described as a “bold, historic” move, it has signed an agreement with the University of the West Indies to fund a joint centre for development research. The University discovered last year it had benefited financially from Scottish slave traders in the 18th and 19th centuries by between £16.7m and £198m in today’s money. Graham Campbell, who became the city’s first councillor of African-Caribbean descent in 2017, welcomed the agreement. “Our mutual recognition of the appalling consequences of that past – an indictment of Scottish inhumanity over centuries towards enslaved Africans – are the justifications that are at the root of the modern-day racism that we fight now. This action is a necessary first step in the fight against institutionalised racism and discrimination in Scotland and the UK and for the international fight for reparative justice.” Read more here and here.
For the first time in more than a decade, a debate has taken place between lawmakers in Congress on the original sin of the United States – the enslavement of 4 million Africans and their descendants – and the question of what can be done to atone for it through reparations. There was fiery debate between those who argued reparations would damage the relationship between white and black Americans, and those who said it was imperative to achieve justice. Read more here and here.
At least the issue is being debated in the US. Here in the UK it would appear to be still a long way off.
This recent article in the Church Times looks at how a diocese in New York is reckoning with the legacy of slavery. Importantly, it goes on to comment on a "reluctance" on the part of the Church if England to talk about this issue here in the UK.
In the USA in 2006 all the Episcopal Church’s dioceses were called on to investigate and report back on the part they had played in slavery and its aftermath of discrimination and segregation. New York diocese created a Reparations Committee to collect and document its findings. These come as a shock for many: “We have a huge bit of our history which has been lost and forgotten — sometimes intentionally. Most people think of slavery as entirely a Southern matter, so they’ve been surprised to find the extent of slavery in New York State”, the Bishop of New York, the Rt Revd Andrew Dietsche. The Reparations Committee went on to propose a three-year programme of lamentation, repentance, and apology, and reparation in the diocese to explore the weight of human suffering caused by slavery and give an opportunity for black and white Christians to grieve together.
In one church’s weekly liturgy, the congregation acknowledges before God “the pervasive presence of racism in our country’s origins, in our institutions and politics, in our diocese and its churches, and in our hearts”, and goes on to repent of “the many ways — social, economic, and political — that white supremacy has accrued benfits to some of us at the expense of others.” Midway through a Year of Repentance and Apology Bishop Dietsche says it is too early to to know what reparations might mean for the New work diocese "but apology without cost to it or action would be empty,"
In the UK in 2006 the Church of England's General Synod issued an apology for slavery but, unlike the Episcopal Church, little more has been done, symptomatic of “a collective, deliberate amnesia about slavery in Britain” according to Dr Duncan Dormer, General Secretary of USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). Several universities have begun to look into their links with slavery and they, with the churches, are "well placed to take the lead in this discussion ... The universities have the advantage of discipline in searching for truth, and churches — in theory — start from the premise of priority of relationship. My concern with reparations more widely is that you can send money as if that is enough, but still continue oppressive patterns of relationship. the primary concern has to be relationship.” Read the full article here. (A recent USPG conference also addressed this issue. Read more here.)
The question MJR would ask is this. Is the CofE, are any of the churches, ready or willing to take up this challenge?
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