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Diocesan Resolution 2016_AC142_02: Responding to the Legacy of Slavery: What We Can Do

RESOLVED, That this 142nd  Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark recognize that the consequences of the centuries of slavery in the United States and its antecedent colonies continue in our own time, and acknowledge that continued lack of action falls short of our core response to the recognition of sin, confession, repentance, and amendment of life, and that this Convention recognize that the issues are complex and that so far we have not achieved a broad-based consensus on actions we might take collectively as a Diocese; and, be it further 

RESOLVED, That this 142nd Convention of the Diocese of Newark commend to the members of our several congregations that they individually consider offering financial support to organizations and institutions of their own choosing whose work seeks to repair the continuing damage, and redress the continuing costs, of the legacy of slavery in this nation, such as Philips Academy, Trinity and St. Philip’s Cathedral, St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation, and similar congregations and organizations with strong ties to the Diocese of Newark.

Submitted by: The Rev. Cn. John G. Hartnett, St. Elizabeth’s Church, Ridgewood

Supporting Information

While we are working out a formal Diocesan policy to address the costs of slavery, most notably evident in the continuing racism of our culture, we might begin to take specific individual action, each according to his or her own judgment.  Certainly others may speak with greater insight on this issue, but it seems that prominent among the consequences of American racism to people of color are the denial of access to highly developed educational resources; persistent messages, explicit and implicit, of diminished worth; and exclusion from those informal networks by which people, especially young people start or advance their careers—“the old boy network”.

Philips Academy has distinguished itself in confronting and to a large degree reversing each of those negative consequences.  Their work seems to offer the beginning of effective healing and restoration, one child at a time.  Our Cathedral, the symbolic center of our Diocese and something like a “city on a hill” for the Diocese of Newark has a long history of seeking racial justice, not least in sponsoring the founding of what was then St. Philip’s Academy.  Our community development corporations also share in the daily work of manifesting respect for the dignity of every human being and seeking justice and peace for all people.

The intent in listing specific organizations is to provide concrete illustrations, not to define an exclusive list.  Others may know of other organizations doing very similar work.  

Slavery began as an economic institution.  Economics will need to be part of rejecting, redressing, and repairing the damage it caused.  Many private schools and colleges and universities have in their endowments funds which had their origins in part in the unpaid labor of Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere against their will and kept in slavery for their entire lives.

While it may be that none of us owned slaves, and few of us are descended from families who did, a great many of us are the unknowing beneficiaries of businesses, industries, private fortunes, or endowments to which generations of slaves were forced to contribute.  To accept uncritically the benefits of that legacy is to participate after the fact in that deeply unchristian phase of our history.

Collective action is sometimes difficult; individual action need not be.  This resolution has no teeth, but the hope is that it might have mind and heart, and that those characteristics will make it more effective than any attempt at compulsion would ever be.

Resource Date: 
Jan 30, 2016