Church of England apologises for slave trade

The General Synod of the Church of England apologised last year for its role in the slave trade. The church, through the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, once owned the Codrington Plantation in Barbados, where slaves had the word “society” branded on their backs with a red-hot iron.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said: “The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is pray for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant ‘them’.”

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are to lead a procession through London today to mark the 200th anniversary of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade. They will join a group who have walked 250 miles from Hull (where abolitionist MP William Wilberforce held his Parliamentary seat) in yokes and chains. They will be “freed” by the Archbishop of the West Indies.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I saw Amazing Grace last week and enjoyed it quite a bit. Have you hda a chance to see it yet, Ronan?

  2. I don’t think it’s been released in Austria yet.

  3. MikeInWeHo says:

    Ronan, are you thinking that someday the Church will similarly apologize for its past discriminatory treatment of Blacks? Denying somebody access to the priesthood and the temple is hardly on a par with a branding iron (or is it, in the eternal scheme of things???!), but I thought perhaps that’s where you were going with this.

  4. Are the Anglicans connecting apologies like these with current methods of economic predation? Sometimes I worry that we’ll end up sanctimonious about how wonderfully we have apologized for slavery while we continue to wreak havoc on the lives of the poor in the interests of our own affluence.

  5. Amen to comment 4 from Sam MB. It’s great to close past chapters, but the current issues of health inequality and discrimination are so rampant. It seems an egregious oversight.

  6. Mike,
    Nope. Just thought it was newsworthy.

    I think as churches go, the CofE is pretty good at highlighting poverty issues.

  7. Interesting statement:

    “The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is pray for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant ‘them’.”

    So, I guess the modern LDS Church does need to come to grips with the troubling episodes in its history at some point. The current policy of ignoring it and hoping it goes away can’t work forever.

  8. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    #3: As far as I know, blacks were not prevented from attending the temple and receiving ordinances. They were kept from the priesthood but not the blessings of the gospel. If I’m working under a misapprehension, please tell me.

    #5: Actually my response to the Anglican thought behind their apology is to quote the Second Article of Faith: We believe Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgressions. It seems to me that holding the church (any church or other organization for that matter) accountable for the actions of its previous leaders goes against the belief stated in the Second Article of Faith. I’m not saying no organization should ever apologize for things in its past but there has to be some kind of limit… or do we still hold Italy responsible for the persecutions of the early Christians?

  9. I have to agree with Ronan (4)

    The CofE is probaly doing better in some respects than the LDS.

    I have long been concerned that

    we continue to wreak havoc on the lives of the poor in the interests of our own affluence

    in my own life, my banks investments, and in the church.

    The CofE now has an ethical investment policy which seeks to ensure it doesn’t invest in military, gambling or environmentally damaging companies, whilst at the same time ensuring it positively encourages the companies does invest with to be proactive in issues like HIV/AIDS.

    I wish the LDS church was a lot more transparent with what it does with my tithing. I do know, for instance (because of contacts in church offices) that it involves itself in day trading. The process of moving funds in and out of shares in short periods of time for short-term share price gains, often at the sacrifice of a companies long-term needs (in, say, research and development).

  10. PDoE: Actually, I think you’re wrong on both points, but especially your reference to AofF 2, which refers to whether we as a church subscribe to the doctrine of original sin. Applying it to a situation where the church (or any organization) advocates and then perpetuates racist doctrines and practices for years and then, when it finally changes its practices, fails or refuses to renounce its earlier doctrines or apologize for its past practices is just plain silly.

    I thought that this was where Ronan was going with this post as well, Mike (maybe he is just being coy about it). And as I think about it, I think the CofE is correct. You can’t pretend that, as caretakers of an oganization, you have no responsibility or accountability to your fellow man concerning the prior actions of past caretakers of the same organization. You are the only ones who can apologize for those actions and if the actions were wrong, you should apologize.

  11. MikeInWeHo says:

    re:8 I’m pretty sure Blacks were not allowed into the temple at all until 1978. They certainly could not receive their endowment.

    Ronan is a subtle provocateur. Who knows what his real intention was with this post….. : )

  12. It’s about time those damn Anglicans took responsibility for creating slavery, and for fighting all of those others who were trying to stamp it out. I just hope they have their checkbook out to pay for the harm they’ve done.

  13. Thank you, Ronan, for this post. I LOVE the quote
    “The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time…”
    As far as the LDS Church apologizing for restricting the priesthood–that would be up to the leaders. But in the internet age, when we lose many people (of various “races”) who come upon the ugly statements about race which proliferated in our history, more must be done. There is too much at stake. At some point, lest the sins of our forefathers continue, somebody will need to straight the record straight and repudiate teachings like the curse of Cain/Canaan, and the absurd idea that Blacks were “less valiant” than others in the pre-mortal life and so were “cursed” with Black skin.
    At last night’s YW Conference, Julie Beck told about a woman who couldn’t give up coffee and for that very little sin, led her family out of the Church. I thought of the faithful black pioneers like Jane James, Elijah and Mary Ann Abel, Sam and Amanda Chambers, Green and Martha Flake–and many more. Their descendants have also left the church. But it wasn’t a cup of coffee that took them out. It was US. Regardless of who else was practicing segregation (de facto or other), WE did not provide a welcome table. I personally want to help my ancestors erase that taint.

  14. Margaret,
    I too love that idea about the body of Christ. I also like your idea about the children helping the fathers to repent. Rowan Williams is good at this kind of stuff.

  15. MikeInWeHo says:

    Rowan Williams has quite a bit on his plate at the moment. If he can hold the global Church of England together over the next few years, we should all be truly impressed by his leadership.

  16. RE #8:
    Men need to hold the Melchizidek priesthood to be endowed and sealed in the temple. So no higher ordinances for them before 1978. I think that black women generally could not be endowed or be sealed to non-black men, but blacks could usually participate in baptisms for the dead. The policies on these latter ordinances changed a little over time and had some exceptions–you can find a little more history in Lester Bush’s Spring 1973 Dialogue article.

  17. RE #9:
    Interesting that you’ve heard the church day trades stocks. But I have to point out that a person’s day trading has no direct influence on the money a company has available for operations, or research & development, etc. The person is usually buying and selling from other investors, and is not buying or selling directly from the company.

    Short term trading CAN sometimes make a company’s stock price more volatile, which may affect the company’s ability to takeover or merge with other companies. Unscrupulous people can use short term trading to manipulate the price of a stock in some cases, and I would imagine the church does not do this . . .

    “Socially conscious” investing is a subjective goal, and it would be interesting to know what restrictions the church places on its investments and investment strategies. A BYU professor supposedly “in the know” said that the church does not invest in Coke or Pepsi, but I’m not sure whether that’s true.