The Church and Slavery: Jamaican Christians Start a Conversation with UK Churches About Reparations

Marcia Dixon writes about the delegation from the Church Reparation Action Forum, who visited churches in the UK to discuss racial injustice, restitution and reparations

One of the greatest travesties in history is the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Between the 16th-19th century, it’s estimated that 12 million captured Africans were transported from West Africa to the Americas (North America, South America and the Caribbean) and sold as slaves to work on plantations.

Films like 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained and classic TV series Roots depict some of the shame, cruelty and violence enslaved Africans experienced, and documentaries like After The Flood have highlighted the role of the Church in supporting the slave trade.

The wealth generated by the slave trade is said to have aided the economic development of Britain, Europe and America, as well as increased the personal funds of those directly involved. Profits from this trade in human flesh were invested into British industry, whilst banks and insurance companies that offered financial services to slave traders made cities like London very wealthy. There are some, like Nigerian historian Joseph Inikori, who believe the slave trade helped finance the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.

Slavery’s impact has been enormous and is a contributory factor to the racism, inequality, poverty and negative life outcomes that Black people in the Caribbean, the Americas, African and the Diaspora currently experience.

In recent decades there has been a call for Western nations, businesses and church denominations that benefited from slavery to make restitution to the descendants of slaves via reparations.

The Church Reparation Action Forum (CRAF), founded in 2019 by Christians in Jamaica, is one organisation making this call. CRAF representatives were in the UK recently to discuss the issues in a tour organised by Street Pastor’s founder Rev Les Isaac, theologian Professor Robert Beckford, Dr Jacky McLeod, and Bishop Tedroy Powell, leader of the Church of God of Prophecy.

Pastor Bruce Fletcher, CEO of Operation Save Jamaica and co-founder of the CRAF, said:

Our conversations about reparations in Jamaica were highlighted with the brutal murder of George Floyd in the US in 2020. It helped focus discussion on the racial injustice Black people throughout the world experienced and assisted with the demand for reparations.

He continued: “A number of reports have highlighted the financial contribution enslaved Africans made to the world economy during the Atlantic Slave Trade for which they received nothing. It’s now time for businesses and church denominations that benefited from the slave trade to make reparation to their descendants. It’s CRAF’s hope that, whilst in Britain, we will move the case for reparations forward, and that the Church will understand the part they have to play.”

Rev Dr Gordon Cowans, co-founder of CRAF, shared: 

It’s important to note that reparation is not just about making financial restitution. It entails Christians also seeking to redress the emotional and psychological harm enslavement caused within Black communities.

Speaking on Premier Radio, he also shared CRAF’s reasons for being in the UK: “The Transatlantic Slave Trade was a sin against humanity. What it has done is to destroy the relationship God intended between and among all human beings. Therefore, we are approaching the reparation question from a faith perspective. Our question is whether it is possible to repair the damage that has been done to the relationships between us. Once that is accomplished, whether it is possible for us to then consider financial reparation. To that end, we are meeting with the churches here to see whether we can find common ground.

Whilst here in the UK, the delegation met with representatives from various organisations, including the Quakers, Churches Together in England, the Evangelical Alliance, the Church of England, the New Testament Church of God, and the National Church Leaders Forum.

The delegation also took part in the Walk of Witness that preceded the 75th anniversary service at Southwark Cathedral in celebration of the Windrush Generation, which they also attended. They were guests of honour at a breakfast in Croydon, where they met church and civic leaders, and took part in a discussion about reparations in Birmingham.

Some churches have already started on the path of making reparations. Earlier this year, the Church of England announced it would create a fund of £100m to “address past wrongs” of slave links. And last year, during their annual meeting in Britain, the Quakers agreed to make reparations for harm caused by the Transatlantic Slave Trade. After meeting with the CRAF delegation, Siobhan Haier, deputy recording clerk for Quakers, stated: “It was humbling and hugely rewarding to meet with the delegation from Jamaica, members of whom have been thinking, working and researching in this area for years. We hope to keep building our relationship with this group, and with others across the world who share this vision.”

CRAF conversations with British churches about reparations seem promising. Only time will tell what fruit will arise from those conversations.

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