Diocese of Maryland takes up reparations

By M. Dion Thompson
Posted May 17, 2016
Younger protesters from the Baltimore uprising share their experience and hope to the Diocese of Maryland convention. Delegates began the work of what reparations for the sin of racism and slavery to determine what that might look like. Photo: Diocese of Maryland

Young protesters from the Baltimore uprising share their experience and hope to the Diocese of Maryland convention. Delegates began the work of what reparations for the sin of racism and slavery to determine what that might look like. Photo: Diocese of Maryland

[Diocese of Maryland] At its recent convention, the Diocese of Maryland took the first of what could be many small steps to engage the issue of reparations and set aside money to help heal the centuries-old wounds of slavery.

Though the resolution that anchored the conversation, known as “Reparations Investment,” was referred to Diocesan Council for further review, its appearance marked a beginning for the diocese. The eight sponsoring white clergy wrote in their explanation that the measure gave the diocese a chance “to set an example for the church at large and other congregations whose endowed wealth is tied to the institution of slavery.”

The resolution (on page 20 here) called for the diocese to give “at least 10 percent of the assets of its unrestricted investment funds to the diocesan chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians.” The final dollar amount could reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, Missouri, noted in his addresses to the convention that the church and nation were in a “kairos” time ripe for discomforting yet potentially healing conversation.

“The nature of creation is change,” said Kinman. “The nature of Christ’s church is change and that can be uncomfortable.”

In the time since the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Kinman said he also has learned that “discomfort is a sacrament.” That shooting, those of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others, along with the death of Freddie Gray last year after his arrest by Baltimore police, have fueled protests and given birth to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, Missouri, addresses the Diocese of Maryland convention. Photo: Diocese of Maryland

The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, Missouri, addresses the Diocese of Maryland convention. Photo: Diocese of Maryland

Yet, discomfort around race is at such a high level that merely to say “Black Lives Matter” or put a sign with the slogan on church property can elicit angry responses and vandalism. A “Black Lives Matter” sign put up at St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church, Annapolis, Maryland, has been repeatedly torn down. Police have made an arrest in the most recent incident.

Kinman used the healing of Bartimaeus to describe the evolution of his thinking as well as that of many others in the St. Louis area. In the story (told in Mark 10:46-52) Bartimaeus cries out for help and release from his pain and misery, in much the same way the African-American community did after Brown’s death.

Rather than acknowledge the pain, the crowd tries to shut down Bartimaeus. Jesus responds by putting Bartimaeus in the center of things and letting him speak. This is what has happened in St. Louis, Baltimore, and other cities where communities have responded to the police killings of young black men, said Kinman. Those who had been pushed to the margins now stand at the center, giving voice to their anger and dictating the agenda.

“I heard these voices and I found myself becoming profoundly uncomfortable,” said Kinman, who had to confront his own notions of “white privilege” and how it influences his actions. “There was nothing tranquil about what was happening. “

The conversations and listening sessions that have resulted are attempts at destroying what Kinman called “the greatest heresy: The lie of us and them. It is the greatest barrier to God’s dream of the beloved community.”

During one panel discussion at the convention, Baltimore protesters and some members of the Slate Project, a post-denominational Christian community, encouraged everyone to see Christ in new ways and to sit with the discomfort these new relationships may bring.

This will require sincere and open conversations, a theme Maryland Assistant Bishop Chilton R. Knudsen noted in her sermon that opened the convention. The power of true and meaningful engagement across race, class and gender lines was embedded in the Pentecost story where, she said, the Holy Spirit gave us the power to speak to each other and be understood.

Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton underscored his call to confront the “unholy trinity” of poverty, racism and violence. “What would it be like if the Diocese of Maryland was known as a community of love?” he asked, challenging congregations and members to “encounter Christ and engage God in the world around us.”

— The Rev. M. Dion Thompson is a priest in the Diocese of Maryland.


Comments (29)

  1. Scott Slater says:

    As one who was there, it was a difficult but important conversation to have. The Diocesan Council, to which the resolution was referred, had already begun discussing the resolution at its last meeting before convention. There is already some strong support for reparation investment in the membership of the council. I am grateful to be serving in the Diocese of Maryland.

  2. Bill Alcorn says:

    This is just wrong.. Forgiving the sins of our fathers is what I believe Christ would want. Passing the sins of our fathers on to future generations is not what He teaches. This is just wrong. The more you promote thuis the more it is remembered, the bigger it gets, the wound never heals, and hate grows. Conversation is not a healer, it is an opener. This is just wrong.

    1. Jim Steele says:

      I couldn’t disagree more. Every time I see a confederate flag or a monument to the confederacy, I am reminded of the evil committed by America against black people. Every time I see Mount Rushmore, I am reminded of the desecration of the sacred land an the near genocide of native American people. When politicians like Donald Trump speak of building walls, marginalizing people like Muslims and using the language of white nationalist, I am reminded of the fact that America too often embraces white supremacy rather than condemning it. We have much to do to heal this nation.

    2. walter woodson says:

      Bill Alcorn sums it up nicely. Dangerously divisive.

    3. heather neil says:

      This reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Forgiving is one thing but what about the injury that’s left behind? It’s so easy to ignore and walk on by when you’re not the one suffering. People are still reeling in pain from the effects of slavery, like it or not. Keeping this in the dark only prolongs the pain, causing sores to fester. Moreover, add the pressure of the systemic racism and oppression of this modern era and the damage becomes more serious. It’s amazing to me that there isn’t more hatred towards whites, but most of the violence and hatred seems to be directed inwardly, or towards the black community itself. Hurt people hurt people. This isn’t rocket science! These are human beings. Opening up and shining a light on the situation brings healing—as long as the resulting conversations and actions serve to right the wrongs, not just observe. I believe God is waiting for this generation to act.

      1. Kate Symons O'Bannon says:

        Well-said! I very much agree.

    4. Donald Heacock says:

      You are absolutely right. I have followed civil rights from Jim Crow tell today. Name your reasons. Thing are much worse . Here in my community in the deep south we have a black mayor, Chief of police,district att, many judges on it goes. Maryland enjoy your pain.

    5. Carl Cunningham Jr. says:

      Great discussion on the board. The discussion of “white privilege” is is a tough conversation for African Americans and Caucasians. Our history in the United States is like no other history in this country. I come from a family where the stories of slavery and Jim Crow are very prevalent and fresh. I am often amazed how a group of people can beat, hang, and seat to dismantle race of people mentally and physically from 1619 to 1970, and saw it as being the okay. I was born in 1973 and my grandparents 1911 and 1910. They often told me of their stories growing in in America. My grandfather often told me of the stories of his grandparents who grew up on Godwin Plantation in Greenville, Alabama. The slaves were not allowed to read or write on this plantation and they could not wear shoes. In my mind as a child I would often think, “These were some cruel people.” My grandmother’s, great grandfather, was a wealthy white landowner in St. Stephen’s, Alabama. She often tells of the story when her grandmother decided to leave her mother and her white father because she did not trust him after slavery. She did not know if the emancipation was true and feared that her father would subject her to a life of slavery once again. Ironically, her father was a wealthy landowner in the Episcopal Church, hence my family lineage to the Episcopal Church. This family (my white cousins) are still wealthy landowners today. Their wealth has tripled. I am glad this discussion is happening. I do not know the answers but I do know the dialogue is much needed. This is coming from a craddle, craddle, craddle, craddle Episcopalian.

      1. Joe Prasad says:

        I am from India where I grew up in a caste based society; within the framework of same color, there is much discrimination that went on (and goes on) stemming from religious/social beliefs. I led a sheltered life, my friends came from different castes; I never experienced discrimination there that impacted me in any way. When I came to US and really experienced discrimination via “racism” and considerable hostility at times (from both Blacks and Whites), it was a new experience for me. Being a sensitive person, I felt it deeply. A few apologized but the damage was substantial. I have pondered over racism / casteism, read commentaries on such topics and realized that each one of us individually or collectively as a community have to go thru’ certain experiences for our own soul growth. What is wonderful in this day and age is that the society (US, India and other nations) has become sufficiently enlightened to have meaningful discussions and do something in terms of reparation. However, we should not let our guard down. Educated people can get “lost” like those who participated in the Spanish Inquisition, those who butchered Jews during WW II, etc. Let us not harbor ill-feelings nor allow guilt to run our lives.

    6. Frank Riggio-Preston says:

      I agree

  3. Dianne Crews says:

    Thank you for an accurate summary of the spirit of the convention. Now we go forward in love!

  4. Jim Steele says:

    This is brilliant. We need to discuss this and other cases of inhumanity and injustice by America. It’s never going to just go away. Bravo to the Episcopal church for continuing this conversation.

  5. The Rev. Dr. Linda M. Maloney says:

    I applaud the Diocese of Maryland for turning its shame and sorrow into an impulse to strive toward the kingdom in an exemplary way. Having just mentored an anti-racism course in the parish, I know how hard it is to break through the shell of good will to probe the hidden fears. It is indeed painful, especially for those who did not know they were wounded and now find themselves vulnerable to others’ pain. It is not a matter of laying blame on those who went before us; it is, rather, a case of climbing out of, and perhaps filling in, the hole they — even unwittingly — dug for all of us. It is Tikkun.

  6. Douglas M. Carpenter says:

    One of the great gifts the slaves gave to their white masters was to do the manual labor necessary on plantations thus freeing white young people to go away to top notch schools and universities. A good pay back is now to provide the gift of education to descendants of slaves. Much of this has certainly already been done through schools and universities. More could now be done and the systems through which we can do this are in place. Black labor made white higher education possible, and now those who have benefited from that education are often in a position to return the favor. – Doug Carpenter, Birmingham

    1. The Rev. Blaine R. Hammond says:

      Gifts are given voluntarily. There was nothing voluntary about what the slaves “gave.”

      1. Frank Riggio-Preston says:

        This is forcing every episcopalian to give to the fund without question. This is a case of individual conscience, not convention decision

  7. Natalie Black says:

    How much has been collected for the Native Americans?

  8. Dan Tootle says:

    As a lay delegate at the Convention, and as a descendant of a Maryland slave-owning family, I approached this proposed to the payment of reparations as an atonement for the damage done that persists to this day to the community of slave descendants with very mixed emotions. At the end of the discussions around the proposed resolution, I found myself disappointed that it had been referred to the Diocesan Council and not approved as presented to the Convention. This first came to Convention in 2006, some 10 years prior. To me, this meager first step in repairing the damage made to both slaves and slave-owners is long past due and should be taken now. The referral to Committee simply adds another year of unjustified delay.

  9. susan zimmerman says:

    …and discrimination against women for centuries? Forget the money, just step down…

    …I wonder what ‘minority’ will lead all the other minorities…isn’t that what this is all about…you the ‘top’ minority…do all the other minorities know, which minority in the Episcopal church is leading you? Think

  10. Ronald Davin says:

    What about reparations for the Irish for the way they were treated when they first arrived here ?
    Note, money may be sent directly to me, and I will declare absolution.
    Also; “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,”
    Slavery has been over for about 150 years, which should cover the 3 or 4 generations thing.

  11. F William Thewalt says:

    It may make some people feel good to provide financial reparations to a minority, but I question just how much good it will do. The U.S. has been showering money on minorities for years and all that has been done is to increase dependency on other’s largess.

  12. Louis Stanley Schoen says:

    It’s not surprising that some who experience white privilege speak out against this proposal. It’s been pending for a long time (including in the Episcopal Church) but has never achieved the support needed from our dominant cultural group. The time for action has come – and passed – repeatedly. Let’s pray and speak encouragement to the Diocese of Maryland to set a new trend of action for justice, which would be most appropriately initiated by DFMS under the leadership of Presiding Bishop Curry!

  13. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    Interesting that this initiative is introduced about the time of Pentecost in which we are commanded by Jesus Christ to go into all the world and preach the gospel… I don’t see an evangelistic component to this initiative. There must’ve been thousands of malnourished, slaves, and abused people at that time. I urge the initiators to look on our fields white unto harvest. TEC is declining, suicide rates among young people are escalating way out of bounds (especially for young women) and drug use is at pandemic levels. Where is our hearts? Why are we given the Holy Spirit in baptism? How does this enable the local church to bring young people of all races into the church?

  14. The Rev. Anjel Scarborough says:

    As a clergyperson in the Diocese of Maryland who sat at a table at Convention where the ethnic make up was 50% white and 50% African American, I can share that all of us were concerned this resolution had serious problems. Let’s begin with the fact that the clergy who proposed this financial reparation were 100% white – no people of color at all. One of the founding clergy members of the Union of Black Episcopalians sat at our table and shared that the UBE had not even been approached about this resolution prior to Convention. So, we have a resolution about financial reparations given to the UBE but the UBE was not even consulted? And the submitters were all white? The consensus at our table was this resolution epitomized white privilege in how it was handled.

    The Rev. Mike Kinmon exhorted us to see discomfort as a sacrament and to engage in the hard word of family, solidarity and love across privilege lines. This resolution, as written, is pandering to a “quick fix”, “just write a check” mentality – in other words, cheap grace.

    At our Clergy Conference, Bishop Chilton Knudsen spoke eloquently of the work of making amends as a person in recovery. She said something I believe needs to be heard in our diocese. She told a story of her own work in making amends to someone she realized she had taken advantage of in her past. She also admitted she attempted to dictate the terms of the amends but the other person caught her up short by telling her she didn’t have the right to dictate the terms of the amends – only the aggrieved party has the right to do that!

    We need to listen well to this bit of wisdom from our bishop! It is not up to a group of white people to dictate the terms of the amends to the black community. It is up to us to be quiet, enter into holy relationships across the lines of privilege (and that includes ALL lines of privilege in our society), and listen deeply to the aggrieved as to how the repairing of these damaged relationships can happen.

    This is hard and long term work. There is no “quick fix.” This is also how our Diocese and Church need to address the many other ways in which the abuse of power in service of privilege has benefitted the Church. We have only focused on the narrow spectrum of slavery which built our Church and ignored the enslavement of indigenous Americans and the Irish (both of which happened in Maryland). Let’s enter into the harder work of paying it forward and dismantling the many forms of privilege which are operating right here and now.

  15. The Rev. Charles H. Morris, D. Min. says:

    Th Rev. A. Scarborough makes the most sense to me. This is a most difficult and complex matter. Indeed slavery was unspeakably terrible, and we should always hold it in mind about race relations. Other ethnic groups, though, have suffered a great deal from the power of the white privileged class throughout our American history–Chinese, First Americans, Japanese (recall the unforgivable internment camps), women, LGBT folks, deaf, blind, handicapped of various sorts, and other groups in this great country. ALL should be considered in order to bring about total justice and especially RECONCILIATION. The deepest and clearest biblical command is for reconciliation.” That is our principal ministry and purpose as the church. I think it may not ever be attained by splitting groups apart as “good” and “bad,” and just having simple “justice” as the only goal.

    My best friend through three years of seminary in Virginia was an African-American. I vividly and sadly remember one instance in which we could not go into a local drug store near campus and sit down for a soda, having just been in Washington, DC, where no such problem existed. I had suggested we go in there for a soda, and Henry just turned to me, smiled, and said, “Charlie, you know I can’t go in there and sit down at that soda fountain with you.” (Wow!!)

    I served a black-and white congregation (MO–near Ferguson) for 24 years before I retired in ’96, had great relations with many friends there, and some experiences in places before where once I even pretty well had to move on, at a mission congregation (in W. TX) because I ate with black ministers in a public restaurant, in a ministerial alliance meeting–and I didn’t get backing from my bishop.

    Yet, I cannot agree with some of the views or tactics of the more radical “black lives matter” movement. I think they seem more interested in simple “justice” and not full reconciliation.

  16. Jim Cutshall says:

    Let’s see, didn’t President Johnson do this with the Great Society. Oh no, he made them dependent Democratic voters. A once proud people who became dependent.
    We elected Obama so we would feel better and it seems he made it worse, so what are we going to try next? He became the great divider instead of the uniter. Even he say he regrets that but he continues with the same tactics.

    Sounds like some have a self image problem that they want everyone else to pay for.

  17. Doug Desper says:

    The first African slave owner in America was Anthony Johnson in Virginia in the 17th century; who was himself a free black man. African tribes sold their own people into slavery. The blood of Americans during the Civil War cleansed our country of white responsibility….and black responsibility for slavery — a sin (ironically) that is still being practiced by people of color around the world. Those who were former slaves in the 19th century in America worked at improving their lives and sacrificed by relocating, laboring, saving, teaching, and denying themselves in order to be viewed as persons who are worthwhile and virtuous in their own right. No one in the U.S. today is a slave or a slave holder. The sacrifice of our ancestors has paid up the debts. The nation has invested untold trillions in 160 years to open doors for the descendants of slaves. The responsibility is now on them to sacrifice like their ancestors to improve their lives. It might mean relocating, family planning, deferred wealth, or other sacrifices, but the debt has been paid. The time has arrived to decide to have worth by their own personal responsibility and accomplishment long made available in this nation — and which is not available in many nations in Africa.

    1. Joe Prasad says:

      In early 2000s, an African friend, an immigrant from Nigeria mentioned that some African Kings became quite wealthy thru’ slave trading. (That’s when I realized that history learnt in high school was not quite OK.) This friend added that he was not aware of African Kings / descendants apologizing for their participation in the slave trade.

  18. Ellen Gifford says:

    I disagree with reparations. I am appalled that the Church has now gone into taking political positions with distribution of wealth and embracing the BLM movement. My BCP says that all people should be treated with dignity and respect. This perpetuation by liberal clergy who are very well paid with parishes struggling to pay their high salaries and full medical and full retirement benefits, while they tell us we should feel guilty for something that happened 140-some years ago. I wonder how many of these clergy are willing to give up half of their perquisites or salaries for reparations. Failures of this priest who tried desperately to install guilt and shame on this Convention Delegate was this. None of their arguments hold up. Neither Michael Brown nor Freddie Gray should be elevated as saints. Michael Brown had just robbed and assaulted a store owner and then assaulted him. For what? Cigars to fill his Marijuana Blunts with. (He certainly wasn’t stealing Bibles.) Then proceeded to assault a police officer. Freddie Gray sold drugs and had a weapon on him. He had been arrested over 30 times. All charges were dropped in both of these cases against the police officers. As long as the clergy of the Episcopal Church uses the False Narative of the martyrdom of criminals and being villipendious to any other groups it will not be Gods Truth but mans vanity.

    We paid for reparations as a society. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was over 20 trillion $. It obviously has provided a helping hand for those who wanted to take personal responsibility as individuals not collectivist.
    As long as anyone perceives themselves as a victim, that’s what they will continue to be. I was told years ago by an Episcopal Priest, that my works are justified by the blood of Christ. I don’t feel guilty for anything I had nothing to do with or did not approve of.

    I urge all who object to this process of racial extortion to go to your regional diocesan meetings on this subject and object to this.

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