Hearing before the subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights, and civil liberties of the committee on the judiciary House of Representatives One Hundred Tenth Congress first session.

Position::P. 156-190 - Discussion
 
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TESTIMONY OF REVEREND M. THOMAS SHAW, III, SSJE, BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF MASSACHUSETTS

Reverend Shaw. Thank you very much, Chairman Conyers. It is a pleasure to be back in Washington. And I am particularly pleased to be here today to speak to the oversight hearing on the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. And I specifically ask that my full testimony be made part of the official record of this hearing.

Mr. Conyers. Without objection, so ordered.

Reverend Shaw. I should state at the outset that we as a church have asked God's forgiveness for our complicity in and injury done by the institution of slavery and its aftermath. I am ashamed to say that the Episcopal Church in the decades leading to the American Civil War did not formally address the problem of slavery. The post-Revolutionary War church wanted to avoid a schism within the church, which it was successful at doing, but avoiding that schism meant not addressing the issue of slavery in any official or collective way. With that painful background in our church, our 75th general convention meeting in 2006 looked to the upcoming bicentennial commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade as a time in which we could affirm or commitment to become a transformed anti-racism church and to work toward healing reconciliation and a restoration of the wholeness to the family of God.

We looked to what we could do as the Episcopal Church as individuals, as parishes and Dioceses and also what we could ask all of you, the Congress to do. Among other things, the Episcopal Church decided to apologize as a church for our complicity in and injury done by the institution of slavery and its aftermath. We repented of this sin and asked God's grace and forgiveness ever mindful that we did so far too late. We decided to call upon the Congress and the American people to support legislation initiating study of and dialogue about the history and legacy of slavery in the United States, and the proposals for monetary and nonmonetary reparations to the descendants to the victims of slavery.

We, therefore, as a church, fully support H.R. 40. We ask every Diocese in the Episcopal Church to collect and document detailed information in its community on A, the complicity of the Episcopal Church and the institution of slavery and in the subsequent history of segregation and discrimination; and B, the economic benefits the Episcopal Church derived from the institution of slavery.

A report on that work will be made to our 2009 general convention on how the church can be a repair of the breach, both materially and relationally, and achieve the spiritual healing and reconciliation that will lead us to a new life in Christ. We believe that work essential to determining the remedies that might be considered. Work is now underway in a number of our Diocese including Mississippi where research on slavery and its impact on building the city of Natchez is already disclosed that its oldest Episcopal Church was built by slaves.

The priest of St. Paul's Delray Beach in Southeast Florida is writing a history of the presence of and contributions of Blacks in the Episcopal Church in Florida. We are hopeful that what we learn will be helpful to the Commission that would be established under H.R. 40. We know that our exploration has just begun and that next year's release of the film, Traces of the Trade, will open the eyes of many to the legacy of slavery for both Black and White Americans and the role of the north and its perpetuation.

And finally, we have asked that a day of repentance--for a day of repentance, and that that day be a service of repentance at the Washington National Cathedral and each Diocese to hold a similar service. That event is scheduled for October 4, 2008. And we invite all of you to join us. The full text of each of these resolutions is included as an appendix to my testimony, as well as two pastoral letters in 1994 and 2006 from the House of Bishops on the sin of racism.

On December 30, 1799, the first Black priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States, Absalom Jones, and 70 fellow signatories petitioned the House of Representatives to protect those taken by slave traders. They concluded their petition with a prayer for the real happiness of every member of a community. Nine years later on January 1, 1808, Jones would celebrate the end of U.S. participation in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade with these words, the history of the world shows us that the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage is not the only instance in which it has pleased God to appear on behalf of oppressed and distressed nations as the delivery of the innocent and of those who call upon his name.

He is as an unchangeable in his nature and character as he is in his wisdom and power. The great and blessed event which we have this day met to celebrate is a striking proof that the God of heaven and earth is the same yesterday and today and forever. We continue as a church to pray for what Absalom Jones called the real happiness of every member of the community, knowing that the blessed event of January 1, 1808 was an important step, not the final step in the emancipation of slaves. We are committed to becoming a transformed anti-racist church and to work toward healing reconciliation and restoration of wholeness to the family of God. We believe the work we are doing to research our church's complicity in the institution of the slave trade will help us, the Episcopal Church, to be transformed. We also believe that H.R. 40 will aid the Nation in its own continued healing. We look forward to the opportunity to continue this important and necessary work together. Thank you.

Mr. Conyers. Thanks so much, Bishop Shaw.

[The prepared statement of Reverend Shaw follows:]

Prepared Statement of Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, III

Thank you, Chairman Conyers. My name is Tom Shaw. I am the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts and I am honored to be here with this distinguished panel. As you may know, I was an intern in Representative Amo Houghton's office in 2000, so I am particularly pleased to be back in Washington for this important oversight hearing on the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

I should state at the outset that we, as a church, have asked God's forgiveness for our complicity in and the injury done by the institution of slavery and its aftermath. Unlike the Quakers who were leaders in the abolitionist movement, too many Episcopalians did not raise their voices when God would have wished them to do so. Episcopalians were owners of slaves and of the ships that brought them to this land. Episcopalians lived in the north and in the south and, as a privileged church, we today recognize that our Church benefited materially from the slave trade.

The Episcopal Church in the decades leading to the American Civil War did not formally address the problem of slavery. The post-Revolutionary War church wanted to avoid a schism within the church, which it was successful at doing (unlike the divisions that had occurred to Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches during this period over the issue of slavery) but avoiding that schism meant not addressing the issue of slavery in any official or collective way. With that painful history as background, our 75th General Convention meeting in 2006 looked to the upcoming bicentennial commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade as a time in which we could affirm "our commitment to become a transformed, anti-racist church and to work toward healing, reconciliation, and a restoration of wholeness to the family of God."

As background I should explain that when our General Convention speaks it speaks for our whole church and only after careful discernment. The members of this committee would feel quite at home at our General Convention. It consists of a House of Deputies and a House of Bishops, and legislative committees that hold hearings such as this. Legislation must pass both Houses in the same form. So the voice of the General Convention is very much the voice of the Episcopal Church. And with that voice, we looked to what we could do as the Episcopal Church, as individuals, as parishes and dioceses--a diocese being a collection of churches in a single geographic area--and also what we could ask you, the Congress, to do. This is what the Episcopal Church decided:

* We apologized as a Church for our complicity in, and the injury done by, the institution of slavery and its aftermath." We repented of this sin and asked God's grace and forgiveness, ever mindful that we did so far too late.

* We recognized that slavery is a fundamental betrayal of the humanity of all persons and a 'sin that continues to plague our common life in the Church and our culture." Furthermore we expressed "our most profound regret that (a) The Episcopal Church lent the institution of slavery its support and justification based on Scripture, and (b) after slavery was formally abolished, The Episcopal Church continued for at least a century to support de jure and de facto segregation and discrimination."

* We called upon the "Congress and the American people to support legislation initiating study of and dialogue about the history and legacy of slavery in the United States and of proposals for monetary and non-monetary reparations to the descendants of the victims of slavery." We, therefore, fully support H.R. 40 which would establish a commission to examine those very issues and recommend appropriate remedies.

* We asked every Diocese "to collect and document ... detailed information in its community on (a) the complicity of The Episcopal Church in the institution of slavery and in the subsequent history of segregation and discrimination and (b) the economic benefits The Episcopal Church derived from the institution of slavery." A report on that work will be made to our 2009 General Convention on how the Church can be "the repairer of the breach" (Isaiah 58:12), both materially...

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