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Bishops Endorse Apology for Slavery Complicity


The House of Bishops has endorsed a resolution apologizing for its complicity in the institution of slavery and its silence over “Jim Crow” laws, segregation and racial discrimination.

By a unanimous vote, the House endorsed Resolution A123 Reconciliation: Slavery and Racial Reconciliation at its fourth legislative day on June 16.

Introduced to the House by the Social and Urban Affairs Committee, the resolution asked The Episcopal Church to “declare unequivocally” that slavery was a sin and to “acknowledge its history of participation in this sin.”

The resolution further expressed the Church’s “profound regret” for its institutional support of slavery, segregation and discrimination and asked the dioceses to document the “economic benefits The Episcopal Church derived from the institution on slavery.”

The day before the debate, the two Houses of Convention viewed a screening of “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North.” The documentary describes Northern involvement in the slave trade through the DeWolf family of Rhode Island: leaders in the slave trade and prominent members of the Episcopal Church. One member of the DeWolf family, the Rt Rev. James DeWolf Perry, served as the 18th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

After the screening, the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, president of the Episcopal Divinity School, stated the film “touched somewhere deeply in my own spirit and soul."

Confronting head on the sins of slavery, the film allowed an “embodiment of hope, the possibility of healing, of reparations or renewal and a hope that will not be denied," Bishop Charleston said.

After the resolution was introduced, and two friendly amendments submitted, the Rt. Rev. John Rabb, Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, rose in support of the resolution saying it was an “essential” step towards “true reconciliation and atonement among all people.”

The Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan, concurred, saying it gave a “clear sense of what it means to be sorry, to repent, and to set things right” and asked the House to support the resolution.

The Rev. Alfred C. Marble, retired Bishop of Mississippi, told the House of his work with a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in Greensboro, N.C., that was attempting to bring healing to a city divided by racism, and asked the House to support the resolution.

The resolution passed on a voice vote, with only a handful of objections.

Speaking at a press conference on June 17, the Rt. Rev. Gordon Scruton, Bishop of Western Massachusetts, said the “film about the slave trade” had had a “big impact."

“That simple film had a way of jolting my view of American history,” he said. “It rubbed my face in the reality that we in New England were right in the center of this.

“Should we have a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’? Should we have reparations? I don’t know,” Bishop Scruton said. But it asked questions about the Church’s complicity in the systematic inequalities and long standing injustices in society, he said.

Dr. Anita George, lay deputy from Mississippi, and co-chair of Executive Councils anti-racism committee lauded the bishops vote, saying it “starts a conversation” that needs to be held within American society and in The Episcopal Church.

Dr. George was proud of the Church’s work in this area, as it “is not just the descendents of slaves, but the whole Church looking at this.”

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