Archbishops of Canterbury & York go on march of repentance for slavery
Dipesh Gadher, Times Online, UK
THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York are to lead thousands of “pilgrims” carrying a giant cross through London to repent for the Church of England’s complicity in the slave trade.
Moments of quiet reflection will punctuate the procession as African drummers beat a sombre lament. The march will culminate in a symbolic “release from the past”, possibly in the form of a replica slave auction notice being torn up or shackles being removed from the cross.
The “walk of witness” on March 24 coincides with the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. It is the latest stage in the church’s repentance since February last year, when the General Synod voted to apologise for its involvement in slavery.
Displays of remorse have been spearheaded by politicians. Just two months ago Tony Blair expressed his “deep sorrow” for Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, although he stopped short of a full apology.
John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, is leading the national commemorations. Organisations including English Heritage and the National Trust have joined in, expressing regret that some of the properties they own were built with slave money.
According to draft plans, churches across Britain are being encouraged to bus up to 8,000 parishioners to London for the “act of public witness”.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who grew up in Uganda and has described how his forebears were among those enslaved, hope the event will signal the “beginning of a healing process”.
This weekend one of the march’s organisers denied the church was indulging in “hand-wringing” and compared the slave trade to the Holocaust.
“We are still living with the legacy of slavery,” said Rose Hudson-Wilkin, chairwoman of the church’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns. “Black people are saying, ‘Hey, we had our own Holocaust, too. We had millions killed and we want this acknowledged’.”
Critics, however, believe that laying all the blame for slavery on Europeans is misleading. Arabs traded slaves from a much earlier date, while African kings and merchants were responsible for capturing their kinsmen and selling them to traders in exchange for goods and firearms.
The march will take two separate routes through the capital, meeting at Kennington Park in south London for an open-air church service. Williams and Sentamu are expected to march alongside a group of black and white youths bearing the cross.
Before leaving Whitehall, the archbishops will take part in an act of reflection. They will then walk past the Houses of Parliament, pause for remembrance prayers at Victoria Tower Gardens, and proceed to Lambeth Bridge. From this point, the marchers will fall silent — except for the African drummers and a small group of singers.
The route across the Thames has been chosen to represent the Atlantic crossing made by more than 10m Africans sent to the Americas between the 15th and early 19th centuries.
The climax of the service is likely to be the symbolic “release from the past”, followed by a “song of freedom”. Worshippers will be asked to sign a petition calling on the government to take action against modern-day slavery, such as sex trafficking from eastern Europe.
Last year’s synod was told how the church’s missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts, owned the Codrington plantation in Barbados where slaves had the word “society” branded on their chests.
[Editor: I picked this up courtesy of Canon Harmon's blog, Titus 1:9. As I noted before, I disagree with Canon Harmon on probably almost everything, but he does post very good articles in his blog. As I also noted, I tend to disagree with many of the conservative posters on the blog on a great many issues.
Some posters expressed the opinion that the issue of slavery is so far in the past that our apologies are irrelevant; the people who actually perpetrated the atrocities are long dead. One said that the English had perpetrated atrocities on the Irish and the Welsh; shouldn't the English repent for those atrocities first, especially because they have not confronted them at all?
One poster said, "These pretentious displays have only one purpose - to proclaim publically “See, I would not have done as my forebears did.” It is pride dressed in the clothes of humility." Another agreed, and said that, "no parade, march, demonstration or political action will ever heal sin. No gathering of the indignant and strident will ever reconcile us to Christ and one another ... The world has heard enough stomping of feet, they need to hear the message of faith, hope and love found in the Gospel."
These posters miss the point. Indeed, because the actual perpetrators are long dead, these sort of events are not about foisting blame on individuals. This should be about corporate, not individual repentance. Can we work to ensure that indigenous peoples are not disenfranchised in their own land? Can we work to ensure that the descendants of slaves are not disenfranchised in the land that their ancestors were abducted to?
Unfortunately, the attitudes of these posters seem to show that individual repentance is still required. I find the responses that accuse the Archbishops of engaging in a prideful display of false repentance to be particularly offensive and disturbing. It's obvious that the West isn't paying enough attention to the problems of slavery and colonialism. The Archbishops are trying to call their country to account for the former problem. I think the false repentance is not on their part, but on the part of their country.
Those of you interested in the coversation can go here. http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/?p=17202]