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The Church of Reparations

By Mark D. Tooley
April 26, 2006

The Episcopal Church, at its upcoming General Convention in June, will consider whether to endorse reparations for 250 years of American slavery.

The two-million member Episcopal Church is the embodiment of the declining and aging Protestant denominations whose elites prioritize left-wing politics. And, like the other "mainline" denominations, it is largely white and upper-middle class. To compensate for their failure to attract racial minorities, Religious Left prelates often adopt radical race-related causes. It is the perfect issue for anti-American religious elites. Obsess over a social sin of past centuries that will portray the United States and Western Civilization in the most sinister light. Meanwhile, ignore or minimize the personal sins and spiritual needs of leftists. Mainline prelates feel "prophetic" and "relevant" when they adopt causes such as reparations for slavery.

Proposed Episcopal Church Resolution A124 would admit to the "the complicity of the Episcopal Church" in slavery and the church's "economic benefits" from it. It asks for a study as to how, "as a matter of justice," the church can "share those benefits with African American Episcopalians."

Another proposed Episcopal resolution offers a blanket apology for the church's complicity in slavery and suggests a "Day of Repentance and Reconciliation" service to be held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The proposed Episcopal resolutions come in the wake of the Church of England's having apologized earlier this year for complicity in the slave trade. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, according to the BBC, 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 prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant 'them.'"

The archbishop is lightyears ahead of his American counterparts; he offered a coherent theological argument. And the Church of England's statement offered an apology, centered on the church's direct involvement in slavery. Unlike the U.S. churches, it did not endorse reparations. Most of the U.S. mainline church elites have relied on a superficial sense of guilt about the distant past in order to justify the Religious Left's latest causes.

At least the Episcopal proposal seems to focus on church reparations to the descendants of slaves. Other mainline denominations have endorsed government reparations for slavery.

A policy statement of the 8 million member United Methodist Church specifically endorses U.S. House of Representatives bill 40 from Congressman by Michigan Democratic Congressman John Conyers, which advocates slavery reparations.

Conyers' H.R. 40 has been sitting on the table for 17 years. It would create a "Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans, which would acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery in the United States from 1619 to the present day." The commission would report to Congress on what further action is needed "with respect to slavery's effects on African American lives, economics, and politics."

According to the United Methodist official statement, "unabated narcotics trafficking and gang killings as a result of these economic realities can be traced to the broken promise that each slave would receive 'forty acres, fifty dollars, and a mule.'" The church's resolution also faults the current Supreme Court and the U.S. House of Representatives for their "attack on affirmative action." Besides supporting the Conyers' legislation, the church is developing a strategy "for interpreting and promoting the issue of economic reparations for African Americans."

The 3 million member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in a more organized fashion, maintains a website dedicated to supporting slavery reparations. Officially, the denomination supports the Conyers' bill and cites the need for recompense for other victims groups, including Native Americans, Alaskan Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans and Puerto Ricans. But the website admits that a 2003 poll of Presbyterians revealed that 85 percent of church members and 68 percent of pastors oppose federal government reparations for the descendants of slaves. Seven percent supported reparations for descendants of African slaves, while 4 percent supported reparations for the other victim groups.

In June, the Presbyterian General Assembly will hear reports from its Washington, D.C. and United Nations lobby offices on how the church's campaign for reparations is progressing. Almost needless to point out, the far-Left, one-million member United Church of Christ has also endorsed slavery reparations.

The Religious Left, on slavery reparations, as on most issues, misses the point. Slavery was endemic to every culture at some point. The universalization of the Jewish God through the Christian Church fueled to the slow but inexorable demise of slavery. Human equality before a sovereign and loving deity made slavery morally impossible.

But the Religious Left, for its own ideological reasons, inverts history. "Native" cultures everywhere were innocent. It was Christianity, through Western Civilization, that corrupted and persecuted. For that, the West, especially the United States, must now atone and provide recompense.

The Jewish and Christian Scriptures celebrate God's deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. The post-slavery black church in America also traditionally sees the Hand of Providence in its emancipation. The Religious Left would like to divert their attention to the federal government.

--Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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