On September 12, 2020, the 236th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland passed Resolution 2020-06, committing to creating a $1,000,000 seed fund for reparations 189 – 31, with nine abstentions – an 82.5% approval.
The Rev. Dion Thompson of St. Anne’s, Annapolis, commented that “This is a bold, bold step… and this might be the first step in thinking of what we can do for the Native American community or other communities that are oppressed. We are trying to heal this nation.” The resolution reads as follows:
RESOLVED, that this 236th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland encourages and affirms the creation of a reparations fund by the Diocesan Council with an initial seed investment of $1,000,000 from diocesan resources to the work of reparations. The Diocese of Maryland Diocesan Council will ensure sound fiscal management and administration of the funds and its use in coordination with the committee appointed for such work; and be it further
RESOLVED, that this 236th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland urges all congregations and affiliated schools in the diocese to prayerfully consider committing a percentage of their endowments or other resources to this fund. Percentages would be determined by each congregation and affiliated school independently; and be it further
RESOLVED, that this 236th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland urges the Diocesan Council to intentionally foster opportunities to engage in racial, reconciliation, restitution and restoration arising from the Diocese of Maryland’s complicity in supporting the practice of chattel slavery and the legacy of immense harm caused by systemic and institutional racism which continues today.
After unanimously passing a resolution affirming the principle of reparations at its 235th diocesan convention in 2019 (by affirming Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton’s pastoral letter on reparations), the diocese is taking next steps to infuse money into programs in the black community that will help to repair the breach that is systemic racism in Maryland and in the United States, building up impoverished black communities. The wealth of the country was created on the backs of enslaved persons and the legacy of slavery, grief, suffering and abuse, continue today. “It is time for us to stop talking about repairing and do it,” commented the Rev. Christine McCloud, canon for mission, who spoke in favor of the resolution. “This is a time for us to live into our Baptismal covenant very deeply… This is a time for us recognize how society likes to use race and class against all of us.”
RESOLUTION ON RACIAL RECONCILIATION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY AT 235TH DIOCESAN CONVENTION
Those who spoke against the resolution did so not as much in opposition to the concept of reparations, but with questions as to how the money will be wisely and faithfully spent. The resolution calls for the formation of a committee that, in conjunction with diocesan council, will prayerfully discern how to be excellent stewards of this seed fund, which is expected to grow and reap benefits for generations.
Those who spoke in favor did so overwhelmingly from a stance of the importance of taking a collective (diocesan) stance for a systemic problem. “Is there some uncertainty in the policy and as to how it will be implemented? Yeah, there is,” said delegate Riley Roshong, Church on the Square, Baltimore, “but this is not uncommon in any policy… What is more important to recognize is that reparations are a systemic solution to what is a systemic problem, one which cannot be resolved by purely individual action.” Decades of individual choices have gotten us nowhere, Roshong commented “…but it’s time to take the corporate responsibility that can change systems in a way that no one individual can.”
Roshong remarked that the majority of opposition to reparation is that it is impractical. “This is not a new form of opposition to reparations. This has existed since the Reconstruction era and in Brown v Board of Education. People have always voiced opposition to reparation and that people of color need to wait for a more convenient time to acquire equity.” Roshong referenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “The greatest stumbling block to black liberation is not the White Citizens’ Councils or the Ku Klux Klaner but the white moderate that is more devoted to order than to justice, who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to positive peace, which is the presence of justice.”
Delegate Riley Roshong of Church on the Square, Baltimore, offers testimony on resolution 2020-06
“Passing the resolution is in recognition of our collective complicity and contributing to the impoverishment of black communities,” Bishop Sutton said in an emotional address to the convention following the vote. “I had nothing to do with enslaving persons,” he said. “I’m not guilty of that, but I have a responsibility. I didn’t have anything to do with the wiping out of the first peoples, Native Americans, but it’s left to me and my generation to do something about that. I had nothing to do with how many of our residents in Western Maryland were raked over by the coal companies. Is it not my problem, though? Because my brothers and sisters are hurting out there and I have a responsibility to help them, too. You have no idea what it means to me, as your bishop, what we did over a half hour ago.” I know we don’t all agree that this is the best vehicle to make amends. We all do agree, I’m quite sure, that we will do all we can to eradicate the sin of racism off the face of the earth and repair the damage that it has done to this nation, this state, and our communities for centuries. Thank you. Thank you.”
“I am so proud of this Church for committing some of its financial resources for building up impoverished black communities. Is it going to hurt us? Yes, and it should,” remarked Bishop Sutton. “The past, my brothers and sisters, is gone. We remember it, we rightly lament it, we honor and cherish its memory, but then we must bury it. The past is past. The present moment is the only reality we’ve got right now. The past does not fit into this present….What is the present trying to say to us? The present moment is telling us that the church of Jesus Christ is on the move.”
The Rev. Stewart Lucas, former president of the Standing Committee and rector of Nativity and Holy Comforter, Baltimore, called for a minute of prayer before the call for a vote. Prayer is also called for in continued management of this fund. Thompson commented in his testimony, “I am impressed that we are asking all congregations to be prayerful consideration about their contributions to the fund. I have full confidence that the folks involved will be sure that the money will be well spent and that those programs would all be involved in lifting us all – the rising tide lifts all boats.”
The Rev. Grey Maggiano, rector of Memorial Episcopal Church, Bolton Hill and co-chair of the diocesan Truth and Reconciliation Committee, stated: “Last year this body passed a resolution unanimously to engage in this process of reparations and to repair and restore our relationships with each other and with the black community in Maryland. We have acknowledged that we have collectively profited from a painful history and we have actively contributed to perpetuating the legacy of slavery after the Civil War…”
“If we are called to be repairers of the breach we have to acknowledge that the breach is quite wide, indeed. Such an act of repentance should not be motivated by guilt. What we are looking at here is the reconciliation of the penitent, which is about mercy, grace, love and restoration.” Maggiano also gave a brief history of how we have participated in and helped widen the breach, stepping away from multiple opportunities to pass legislation in this diocese and The Episcopal Church.
Bishop Doll was run out of town by the diocese for standing for justice, Maggiano commented. “The gulf between our mostly white denomination and the black community has widened to a chasm. In his 1965 Convention address, Bishop Doll said that ‘We are told time and again that racism is not the church’s business, that this is an economic and social problem, but all life is God’s and nothing could have a more deeply theological basis than the relationship between groups of people – a very simple and obvious one, loving our neighbor as ourselves. That we have failed to do this is to our shame.’ Perhaps 55 years later it is time to follow Bishop Doll’s words,” Maggiano closed.
The Very Rev. Rob Boulter, dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Baltimore, said we have to let go of wealth and our privilege. “I want to say I’ve heard people’s comments here and at the earlier hearing that we had about the lack of specificity as to how this money would be used, but I think that gives this resolution more strength,” Boulter remarked, “that we have more flexibility built into it, that there’s going to be a process that follows after this and that the money that we are going to be designating for this purpose that we give it away. We as a Church have attained wealth because of chattel slavery and the reparation is in our giving it away. This is how we are changed and transformed, by letting it go and giving it away.”
Through the Bishop’s Annual Ministries Appeal, the Diocese of Maryland already offers programs that are acts of reparation. In addition to multiple reading camps, the diocesan Sutton Scholars® High School Enrichment Program is a program committed to the principles of reparations, including education, life skills and opportunity.
By affirming Bishop Sutton’s pastoral letter in 2019, the Diocese acknowledged some suggested some other programs on which funds could spent were a reparations fund to be started. They include:
- Improving existing housing assistance programs that help black Americans move towards purchasing homes.
- Developing mixed-use housing that helps create communities of various socio-economic groups and not just low-income housing that creates communities that become alienated and labeled.
- Investing in existing communities by bringing desperately needed services such as grocery stores that are affordable; urgent care centers; community centers for not only youth, but all ages; pharmacies; green spaces/community gardens.
- Developing and implementing meaningful job training programs that are partnered with corporations and local businesses for actual job placement. These programs must also include social services, such as case management and financial literacy programs, to increase opportunities for long-term employment and successful personal money management.
The Rev. Jim Hamilton, priest-in-charge at Church on the Square in Canton, Baltimore, remarked that the scope of this project reflects the difference in individual versus corporate action. “Like any evil that permeates our society, racial inequality has episodic, short-term impact and it has long-term, systemic impact. Like climate change – there are wildfires and other damaging episodic weather events, and then there’s incremental and pervasive global warming. We have too long ignored the systemic impact, only to be frustrated periodically by the brush fires of injustice that burn from season to season. It’s time to make a sea change.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES: RELIGION AND POLITICS