British Baptists Apologise for Slave Trade

British Baptists Apologise for Slave Trade

Klaus Rösler - November 23, 2007

S w a n w i c k – British Baptists have apologised for their compliancy and involvement in slave trading more than 200 years ago. At the British Union’s Council sessions in Swanwick from 12 - 14 November, delegates unanimously passed a statement expressing remorse for their involvement in slave trading and for having profited from it. The topic was at the centre of the Swanwick sessions. The declaration states: “We offer our apology to God and to our brothers and sisters for all that has created and still perpetuates the hurt which originated from the horror of slavery.” The statement points out that injury also occurred because of “our reluctance to face up to the sin of the past, our unwillingness to listen to the pain of our black sisters and brothers, and our silence in the face of racism and injustice today”. According to the press release, the “historic statement” came into being “after many hours of worship, listening and careful conversation”.

Great Britain passed a law abolishing the slave trade in 1807, but it was not stopped in the British colonies until 1838. Because of the slave trade, millions of Africans were sold and shipped to the Americas.

The British Union’s General-Secretary, Jonathan Edwards (Didcot), expressed his delight regarding the declaration: “I believe this takes us a significant way forward.” He conceded that the statement had become unusually long: “It’s an account of how God led us not to a simple conclusion about an agonizing part of our history, but to a new way of relating to one another as a Gospel people. We desire to take full account of the people that we are today and the histories that have shaped us.”

Tony Peck (Prague and Bristol), General-Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, called it “truly remarkable” that the statement came into being. Many persons were unsure of “whether it was possible to apologise for something which happened over 200 years ago. But we listened carefully to one another and to some moving presentations on slavery and its enduring legacy in British life today.” Peck continued: “We reflected that the church of Christ exists across history. Just as we claim the good things about the past, so we can confess the times when we did not live up the values of God's Kingdom.” Peck himself had given momentum to the debate on a confession of guilt. He wrote a letter to the editor of the weekly “Baptist Times” after the Baptist World Alliance’s annual convention in Accra, Ghana last July had called for such a statement. Delegates from the USA and the Netherlands had offered confessions of guilt at the conference, but British Baptists refrained from doing so.

Baptist World Alliance General-Secretary Neville Callam (Falls Church near Washington) also praised the declaration: “I must confess a deep feeling of relief. By this single action, the British Union has taken a giant step in restoring the special place it once enjoyed in the affection of Baptists around the world.” The Jamaican, a descendant of African slaves, admitted disappointment regarding British refusal to offer an apology during the worship service of reconciliation in Accra. Now, world Baptists will again be “better able to partner with Baptist Christians to deal with the issues of prejudice and racism which are our collective charge today”.