Church may apologise for slave trade

Church may apologise for slave trade

By staff writers
17 Jan 2006

Related Links (UK visitors only)


Church of England


Bish. of Southwark


Daily Telegraph


John Sentamu

Church may apologise for slave trade

-17/01/06

The Church of England is likely to offer an apology for its part in the slave trade.

Although Christians such as Evangelical Anglican William Wilberforce led the campaign for its abolition other Evangelicals and Anglicans in the wider church opposed the ending of the transatlantic trade. Some played an active part in it.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Tom Butler, is leading a debate on the issue at the General Synod next month prior to the bicentenary of the end of the trade next year, reports the Daily Telegraph.

It comes after John Sentamu, the Church's first black archbishop, linked slavery with ongoing discrimination and racism.

But it also follows resistance from Tony Blair, who has consistently refused to apologise for Britain's part in the transatlantic slave trade despite calls from such figures as Jesse Jackson in the US.

Two Synod members are leading calls for the Church to acknowledge its complicity.

The Rev Simon Bessant, from the Blackburn diocese, will urge the Church to "confess its sin before God" by recognising its "active participation" in slavery and the damage done to those involved and their heirs.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, owned the Codrington plantation on Barbados. Slaves had the word "Society" branded on their chests with a red-hot iron.

Mr Bessant said that when owners were paid compensation for releasing their slaves, the Bishop of Exeter was among those who received hundreds of pounds.

"We were in it up to our eyeballs," Mr Bessant said. "I realise that an apology is a difficult issue because it was a long time ago. But the Church of England was part of the problem and we should acknowledge that.

"It does make a difference when people say sorry, even if it is centuries after the events."

The Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, from London diocese, will call on the Synod to offer "repentance and sorrow".

But another Synod member said: "I don't know what they hope to achieve. The people they should apologise to are long dead."

There is evidence that Christians in the first few centuries after Christ freed their slaves, and even bought them in order to give them their liberty.

However following the move of the church to alignment with government in the forth century under the Roman emporer Constantine, the church often endorsed or ordered slavery, urging only that slaves were treated humanely.

When the Bishop of Le Mans transferred a large estate to the Abbey of St. Vincent in 572, ten slaves went with it. In the early ninth century, the Abbey of St. Germain des PrÈs listed 25 of their 278 householders as slaves. Pope Gregory XI excommunicated the Florentines in the Fourteenth Century, and ordered them enslaved wherever taken. In 1488, King Ferdinand sent 100 Moorish slaves to Pope Innocent VIII who presented them as gifts to his cardinals and other court notables.

Renewed opposition to slavery was however evident within the church several centuries before the abolition of the transatlantic trade.

Anabaptists at the time of the Reformation urged the recognition of human equality, and an end to slavery, as did Christians at the time of the English civil war.

Their actions, along with the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment, is often credited with laying the foundations for the eventual abolition of the slave trade.

The Church of England is likely to offer an apology for its part in the slave trade.

Although Christians such as Evangelical Anglican William Wilberforce led the campaign for its abolition other Evangelicals and Anglicans in the wider church opposed the ending of the transatlantic trade. Some played an active part in it.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Tom Butler, is leading a debate on the issue at the General Synod next month prior to the bicentenary of the end of the trade next year, reports the Daily Telegraph.

It comes after John Sentamu, the Church's first black archbishop, linked slavery with ongoing discrimination and racism.

But it also follows resistance from Tony Blair, who has consistently refused to apologise for Britain's part in the transatlantic slave trade despite calls from such figures as Jesse Jackson in the US.

Two Synod members are leading calls for the Church to acknowledge its complicity.

The Rev Simon Bessant, from the Blackburn diocese, will urge the Church to "confess its sin before God" by recognising its "active participation" in slavery and the damage done to those involved and their heirs.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, owned the Codrington plantation on Barbados. Slaves had the word "Society" branded on their chests with a red-hot iron.

Mr Bessant said that when owners were paid compensation for releasing their slaves, the Bishop of Exeter was among those who received hundreds of pounds.

"We were in it up to our eyeballs," Mr Bessant said. "I realise that an apology is a difficult issue because it was a long time ago. But the Church of England was part of the problem and we should acknowledge that.

"It does make a difference when people say sorry, even if it is centuries after the events."

The Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, from London diocese, will call on the Synod to offer "repentance and sorrow".

But another Synod member said: "I don't know what they hope to achieve. The people they should apologise to are long dead."

There is evidence that Christians in the first few centuries after Christ freed their slaves, and even bought them in order to give them their liberty.

However following the move of the church to alignment with government in the forth century under the Roman emporer Constantine, the church often endorsed or ordered slavery, urging only that slaves were treated humanely.

When the Bishop of Le Mans transferred a large estate to the Abbey of St. Vincent in 572, ten slaves went with it. In the early ninth century, the Abbey of St. Germain des PrÈs listed 25 of their 278 householders as slaves. Pope Gregory XI excommunicated the Florentines in the Fourteenth Century, and ordered them enslaved wherever taken. In 1488, King Ferdinand sent 100 Moorish slaves to Pope Innocent VIII who presented them as gifts to his cardinals and other court notables.

Renewed opposition to slavery was however evident within the church several centuries before the abolition of the transatlantic trade.

Anabaptists at the time of the Reformation urged the recognition of human equality, and an end to slavery, as did Christians at the time of the English civil war.

Their actions, along with the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment, is often credited with laying the foundations for the eventual abolition of the slave trade.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.