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From Columbus: Reparations resolutions begin moving through process

By Daphne Mack
[Episcopal News Service]  The Committee on Social and Urban Affairs, during its June 15 hearing, heard passionate testimony on four resolutions focused on slavery and reparations.

"We hope to embark on a new journey one that involves the Episcopal Church as an institution, confronting its institutional racism," said John Vanderstar, deputy from the Diocese of Washington, and a member of Executive Council. "I'm talking specifically about the church's participation in the ugly sin of racism."

Discussion was centered around four resolutions; A123 focusing on slavery and reconciliation; A124 studying the "complicity" of the church in the Institution of slavery and how "recompense" can be made; C005 from the Diocese of New York requesting the establishment of a commission to research the history of any complicity of the church and several dioceses in slavery and any necessary steps to make reparations; and C011 proposing a task force of the Executive Council to study, document and report on the enslavement of Africans and their descendants.

The committee was also asked to consider resolution A127 which would endorse of the concept of restorative justice as a "fresh means" of achieving "wholeness" in the church.

"I am in favor of a slavery atonement resolution in the Episcopal Church," said Katrina Browne, producer and director of the documentary "Traces of the
Trade: A Story from the Deep North." Her film, which is being screened at Convention, documents the journey Browne her family embarked upon as they retraced the route of the "Triangle Trade" in slaves, rum, sugar and other goods between Rhode Island, Ghana, Cuba and back to Rhode Island. Browne and other descendants of the Bristol, Rhode Island, DeWolf family, addressed complex issues of atonement and reconciliation during the journey.

Angela Shepherd, a deputy from the Diocese of Maryland, asked that the committee consider deleting part of resolution A124 which proposes a study of "how the Church can, as matter of justice, share those benefits with African American Episcopalians, and to report to General Convention 2009" because she said it stood "to exclude those of African descent who left the Episcopal Church as soon as they had the opportunity to do so."

Bishop Robert Ihloff of Maryland spoke of recognizing white privilege and said the four resolutions should be taken seriously so "we might really build something of the kingdom of God in this place." However, he said it will not happen until "white people, like myself, are willing to make some sacrifices" and "lay aside the privileges that are in our heritage as the sad result of slavery."

Speaking in opposition to all the resolutions, the Rev. Carolyn Jones, visitor from Northern Indiana, said reparations "encourage helplessness, victimization, and whining." She said reparations "grow from the world of entitlement." But, entitlement "creates second class citizens and second class members of the Episcopal Church."

Elizabeth Powers a visitor from North Dakota spoke in favor of all four resolutions but said "this (slavery) is not the first time that white privilege has impacted this country" and that "Native Americans should not be forgotten."

"The African slave trade was our holocaust," said Shelia Simms, a visitor from California. "To past these resolutions, would be a healing and I think it's time we do the right thing."