U.S. Churches See Surge Of Interest In Reparations For Slavery, Racism Among Religious Groups
The issue of reparations isn’t only a political topic. More U.S. churches are committing to reparations.
Churches across the country are addressing the fact that they benefited from the institution of slavery. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, for example, acknowledged that its first bishop in 1859 was a slaveholder. An Episcopal church In New York City erected a plaque noting that its building’s creation in 1810 was made possible by wealth resulting from slavery, Richmond Free Press reported.
In Minnesota, the Council of Churches in October launched a first-of-its kind “truth and reparations” initiative engaging its 25-member denominations.
“Minnesota has some of the highest racial disparities in the country—in health, wealth, housing, how police treat folks,” said the Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, the council’s CEO. “Those disparities all come from a deep history of racism.”
The Minnesota initiative aims to address social justice concerns of African-Americans and Native Americans together.
“For so long, these have been two separate camps. Indigenous people and African Americans felt they are competing against each other for the same limited resources,” said the Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, a Native American who is the church council’s director of racial justice.
Envisioned as a 10-year undertaking, the initiative engages a diverse collection of Christian denominations, including some that are predominantly Black. It will use the model of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created after the end of apartheid.
The Diocese of Texas has made the largest Episcopal pledge. In February, it announced it would allocate $13 million to long-term programs. This includes scholarships for students attending seminaries or historically Black colleges and assistance for historic Black churches.
The Diocese of New York, which serves part of New York City and seven counties to the north, unveiled a $1.1 million reparations initiative in November 2019.
New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche told PBS that the diocese played a “significant, and genuinely evil, part in American slavery” — including some churches’ use of slaves as parish servants. 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.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland voted in September to create a $1 million reparations fund, which will probably be used to finance programs supporting Black students, nursing home residents, small-business owners and others. The $1-million allocation represents about 20 percent of the diocese’s operating budget.
Many of the United Methodist Church’s regional conferences are following the lead of the Episcopalians when it comes to reparations. The bishop of the United Methodist Church Florida Conference, Kenneth Carter, has formed an anti-racism task force, with commitments to financial reparations most likely to follow.
However, there are some holdouts, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, that have not embraced reparations as official policy.
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In October 2020, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Black Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press that initiatives involving financial reparations should be made by individual institutions, not by the U.S. church as a whole. He pointed to the example of Catholic-affiliated Georgetown University, which in 2019 committed funds to benefit descendants of enslaved people sold in 1838 to pay off debt.
Some Black Catholics, however, are calling for substantive reparations by the church nationwide.