C of E should consider reparations for slave trade says Archbishop of Canterbury

By staff writers
26 Mar 2007

The Church of England should consider paying reparations for its role in the slave trade, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

His comments came after acts of remembrance commemorating the bicentenary of the Act of Parliament which brought to an end Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade.

The statement follows a vote by the Church of England's General Synod last year, to apologise for the Church's part in the slave trade.

The Government however has always resisted offering an apology, for fear of opening itself to claims of reparations.

But Dr Rowan Williams said Anglicans needed to acknowledge that they belonged to an institution partly shaped "by terrible things that our forebears did".

He said the church had to "work at" the question of reparations, but added that the issue was complex and it was unclear who should receive such payments.

The church, which owned slaves on its Caribbean plantations, did not free them until 1833 - 26 years after the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire.

Britain's government paid the church significant compensation for the loss of its slave labour, and Dr Williams said passing on that reparation should now be considered.

The church's missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts, owned the Codrington plantation in Barbados, where slaves had the word society branded on their chests with red-hot irons.

Dr Williams told BBC Radio 4's Trade Roots programme organisations that received compensation in the 1830s were still "living off the historical legacy" of slavery.

However, he added: "While it sounds simple to say ... we should pass on the reparation that was received, exactly to whom?

"Exactly where does it go? And exactly how does it differ from the various ways in which we try to interact now with the effects of that in terms of aid and development and so forth?

"So I haven't got a quick solution to that. I think we need to be asking the question and working at it. That, I think, we're beginning to do."

His comments - a day after the 200th anniversary of the advent of UK legislation abolishing the slave trade - could be seen as a challenge to other institutions that profited from slave labour, such as banks, universities and galleries, to consider paying reparations suggests the BBC.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has offered an apology for the capital's role in the slave trade, and at the weekend the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu has called on Britain to make a formal apology.

Last week the leader of the World Council of Churches - which brings together Christians from many of the world's major denominations and traditions - asked Prime Minister Tony Blair to change his mind and make an apology for Britain's involvement in the slave trade.

Yesterday, the prime minister, Tony Blair, said the UK's role was a "matter of deep sorrow and regret". However, his statement fell short of demands from campaigners.

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.