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Submitted by Imai Thomas Welch
7th article in a series

What is “BIPOC”? BIPOC is an acronym for “Black, Indigenous, and Other Peoples of Colour.”.It’s an umbrella term for all non-White peoples. Even if there are many different communities within the BIPOC umbrella, we share many of the same challenges and concerns about things like racism and diversity. In this series, I’m going to provide some information and trivia about BIPOC peoples. 

In recent years, some parts of the Church have been trying to repent and atone for racism. Repentance has several elements to it when you think about it. For example:

  • What are you repenting of, exactly?

  • What sort of restitution do you make?

  • What sort of amendment of life do you make?

  • Is what you’re doing to repent enough?

An ugly truth is that sometimes, repentance in the Church is done in ways that lack justice. When it comes to repentance and racism, for example, a person or religious organisation can say “I/We repent of racism”, but not have to do anything to show for it. They might even still act in racist ways or enable racist acts! Meanwhile, another person who makes an accidental misstep or error that is considered racist by others can find themselves getting cancelled. 

At another extreme, a person of colour who ends up doing something considered improper or unfair while challenging a racist act can face extreme retribution by those in power, or by other people in the community. They are often made to pay for their actions in ways the racist mentioned above never will. 

The examples I’ve listed happen in churches all the time, including in Vancouver. So, let’s ask some questions about the Church’s repenting of racism:

Has the Church apologised for or repented of racism?

Yes, at least in part. A number of church organisations have formally apologised for specific racist actions they have been involved in in the past. For example:

- 1993: The Anglican Church of Canada apologised for its role in residential schools. 

- 1998: The Anglican Church of Australia apologised for its role in the “Stolen Generations” of Aboriginal Australians. 

- 2008: The Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) apologised for its role in slavery and the slave trade.

- 2020: The General Synod of the Church of England apologised to persons of colour in the Church of England for the racism they have suffered in parishes after the Windrush Migration began in 1948. 

- 2023: The Episcopal Diocese of New York apologised for its role in slavery and the slave trade. 

Some individual parishes have also made formal apologies for their own racist actions. In addition, the Episcopal Church has developed a formal liturgy of repentance as part of its repentance journey. 

Has the Church provided restitution for those it harmed because of racism?

Yes, at least in part. Several church organisations are providing restitution based on specific past actions:

  • In 2022, the Diocese of Edmonton Synod agreed to devote part of church endowments and part of the proceeds of church building sales to “Indigenous-led community projects and healing initiatives”. 

  • The Anglican Church of Canada provided $25 million for compensation funds for survivors of residential schools. The cost of providing these funds resulted in the bankruptcy of the Diocese of Cariboo (now the Territory of the People). 

  • In 2023, the Church of England committed £100 million (approx. $122 million CAD) to “address past wrongs” related to its role in slavery, and pay for community projects benefiting peoples of colour. 

  • Virginia Theological Seminary, which rented slaves from slaveowners before the Civil War, is trying to trace the descendants of those slaves and pay direct compensation.

  • The Diocese of Virginia is creating a formal reparations fund. 

In addition, some church organisations are working to provide resources to deal with racism in the church. 

Has the Church done enough to repent of racism? 

That depends on who you talk to. There’s quite a vibrant debate on the matter, in both religious and secular circles. What do you think?