Posted on December 15, 2020

More US Churches Are Committing to Racism-Linked Reparations

David Crary, Associated Press, December 13, 2020

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas acknowledges that its first bishop in 1859 was a slaveholder. An Episcopal church in New York City erects a plaque noting the building’s creation in 1810 was made possible by wealth resulting from slavery.

And the Minnesota Council of Churches cites a host of injustices — from mid-19th century atrocities against Native Americans to police killings of Black people — in launching a first-of-its kind “truth and reparations” initiative engaging its 25 member denominations.

These efforts reflect a widespread surge of interest among many U.S. 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.

Some major denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, have not embraced reparations as official policy. The Episcopal Church has been the most active major denomination thus far, and others, including the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, are urging congregations to consider similar steps.

The Minnesota Council of Churches initiative was announced in October.


The initiative, envisioned as a 10-year undertaking, is distinctive in several ways. It engages a diverse collection of Christian denominations, including some that are predominantly Black; it will model some of its efforts on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that operated in South Africa after the end of apartheid; and it is based in Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd in May sparked global protests over racial injustice.


Another notable aspect of the Minnesota initiative is that it seeks to address social justice concerns of African Americans and Native Americans in a unified way,


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% 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.”

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. This will include scholarships for students attending seminaries or historically Black colleges and assistance for historic Black churches.

The Texas Diocese bishop, C. Andrew Doyle, noted that slavery played a key role in the diocese’s origins. Its first bishop, Alexander Gregg, was a slaveholder, and its first church, in the town of Matagorda, was built with slave labor.

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.


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. {snip}

While Dietsche and Doyle are white, the bishop of Maryland, Eugene Sutton, is the first Black cleric to hold that post. He periodically converses with white people who oppose reparations on the grounds that they are not personally guilty of slaveholding or racism, and should not be asked to pay for those wrongs.

“That is a false conception,” 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, envisioned as an initial investment in a long-term program, represents about 20% of the diocese’s operating budget.

“We wanted something that would actually not just be a drop in the bucket — it’s going to cost us,” he said. “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.”

Many of the United Methodist Church’s regional conferences are moving in a direction similar to the Episcopalians, considering various steps to benefit people of color. The bishop of the UMC’s Florida Conference, Kenneth Carter, has formed an anti-racism task force and says commitments to financial reparations are likely to follow.