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Church of England: 'we are sorry for benefiting from slave trade'.

The Church of England has finally said sorry for benefiting from transatlantic slavery, 199 years after the trade in slaves was abolished in the British Empire, in 1807, reports Osei Boateng.

Slavery was made illegal in Britain in 1772, but it took 35 years for the colonial slave trade to be abolished in 1807 and another 26 years for it to be totally ended in the colonies in 1833.

At the beginning of its general synod in London on 8 February 2006, the Anglican Church finally came to terms with its shameful past by unanimously passing a motion acknowledging its complicity in sustaining and profiting hugely from transatlantic slavery. Yet, the Church stopped short of supporting a call for financial and other reparations to the descendants of the victims of slavery and their motherland, Africa.

In 1833 when the British Parliament voted for compensation for slave owners who were about to lose their slaves because of the abolition of colonial slavery in that year, the Church of England received compensation amounting to [pounds sterling]8,823.8s 9d, (about [pounds sterling]500,000 in today's money) for the loss of slaves on its Codrington plantation in Barbados. Interestingly, the slaves themselves who had been battered for years got no compensation.

The Bishop of Exeter at the time and his business partners got even more compensation for the loss of their slaves than the Church itself; the princely sum of nearly [pounds sterling]13,000 in the old currency.

But on 8 February, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of the Church, told the synod in London that the Church should admit its ancestral sins: "The Body of Christ," he said, "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 prayerful acknowledgment of the failure that is part of us, not just of some distant 'them'."

He continued: "To speak here of repentance and apology is not words alone, it is part of our witness to the gospel, to a world that needs to hear that the past must be faced and healed and cannot be ignored. By doing so, we are actually discharging our responsibility to preach good news, not simply to look backwards in awkwardness and embarrassment, but to speak of the freedom we are given to face ourselves, including the unacceptable regions of our history."


In uttering those words, the archbishop had an eye on similar apologies by the late Pope John Paul II for the historic sins of the Roman Catholic Church for its role in slavery, anti-semitism and the Inquisition.

Other speakers at the London synod acknowledged that the Anglican Church had actively justified slavery during the long campaign by William Wilberforce and others to urge parliament to abolish the despicable trade. Records show that Wilberforce and his friends brought bills before parliament for 20 successive years before the House of Commons finally gave in and passed legislation to abolish the trade.

The Bishop of Southwark in South London, the Rt Rev Tom Butler told the assembled "men and women of God": "The profits from the slave trade were part of the bedrock of our country's industrial development. No one who was involved in running the business, financing it or benefiting from its products can say they had clean hands. We know that bishops in the House of Lords with biblical authority voted against the abolition of the slave trade. We know that the Church owned sugar plantations on the Codrington estates."

British media reports said the American author, Adam Hochschild's recent book, Bury the Chains, "clearly influenced the debate at the synod. [The book] says the Church's missionary organisation, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, branded its slaves on the chest with the word SOCIETY to show who they belonged to".
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Author:Boateng, Osei
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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