Yesterday Episcopal Churches acknowledged the tragic anniversary of the first arrival of African slaves in North America. Sometime in the last week of August, 1619, a ship with twenty slaves docked at Jamestown. On board were two slaves who eventually married and had a child, the first Black child to be born in what is now the United States. A few days later, he was baptized in the local Anglican Church.
The wounds caused by slavery run deep and remain painfully visible in the racial divisions besetting the United States today. African Americans continue to experience racism. White people continue to benefit from “white privilege,” even white people who are marginalized in other ways. All of us suffer as a result.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Apostle Paul reminds us that in Christ, there are no Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, men or women, for we are all one in Him (Galatians 3:28). Someday, God will make that vision a reality. In the meantime, we are all called to do our part.
That includes repentance. Many Anglicans offered theological defenses of slavery. Many Anglican Churches and dioceses profited from the slave trade. I suspect that part of the endowment of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts comes directly from such tainted sources.
But the problems are not only ancient history. As individuals, we cannot escape the systemic racism that surrounds us still today. It is part of the air we breathe. But we can at least acknowledge our complicity. We can hold to a vision of a better, more Christian future in which no one experiences unjust discrimination. And we can do our small part to dismantle the racism that surrounds us.
I give thanks for our Presiding Bishop, who is helping to make us aware of our Christian responsibility on this issue. And I pray that we can all take that responsibility seriously. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Fr. Harvey Hill
This blog is my occasional reflections on life, God, Christian faith, and the Church. I hope you find it helpful!