A new year breaks with fresh opportunities and possibilities for those who are prepared to imagine a future, transformed by the grace of God, which compels us to acknowledge and repent of our wrong and grants us the courage to act in hope for a lifestyle based on justice and peace.
Council for World Mission (CWM), a mission organisation that works with churches across six regions of the world to share in God’s liberating and transformative mission, is committed to be part of that transformed future.
Having identified its legacies through its predecessor organisations – London Missionary Society (LMS) and the Colonial Missionary Society – CWM is prepared to come forward and publicly acknowledge its part in the Transatlantic Trade in African people; to make reparation for the profits gained from its participation and complicity; and to commit itself to a lifestyle based on God’s justice and peace for all. At its Board meeting in November 2019, the Directors of CWM agreed to make a public apology for its part in the slave trade when it meets at its Assembly in June 2020 in Johannesburg. At that time, it will also announce its plans to release financial resources of a minimum of GBP10m as reparation for its legacies of slavery; and to work with its partners, primarily to enable investment in black communities and to engage in racial justice initiatives between 2020 and 2029.
The LMS began in 1795 when enslavement was still legal in the British Empire, and the slave trade resourced the capitalist expansion of the British Empire and the industrial revolution. The LMS received its resources from the emerging British middle classes, who were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism, which funded it. The LMS was deeply complicit in the British colonial project and its enslaving practices. The celebrated LMS missionary, David Livingstone’s famous encapsulation of the missionary endeavour – ‘Christianity, commerce and civilisation’ – can be seen at all levels of the life of LMS. For example, LMS used slave ships to transport missionaries, “to share the knowledge of the blessed God”; paraded black people as spectacles on deputation visits; produced materials for children and adults that served to indoctrinate Black and White people of the superior calling and nature of White people and the inferior and sub-human status and nature of Black people; and remained silent on abolition until the eve of emancipation.
CWM examined the legacies of slavery through a series of hearings between 2017-2018, led by Rev Dr Peter Cruchley, Mission Secretary for Mission and Development. These four hearings were vital to inspiring CWM to come to this point of commitment, marked by acts of repentance, apology and reparation. Cruchley comments: “The hearings and the subsequent report revealed our past and the mandate this places on us to affirm Black power and dignity, dismantle White Privilege, and create new forms mission and evangelism, where doing violence to others is rejected; and restorative justice, led by those exploited by colonialism and capitalism, becomes central to our engagement with God’s mission”.
Indeed, CWM must express its shame at this discovery of its past complicities in enslavement, colonisation and racism. It is also a time for us, who make up the CWM community, to acknowledge that we remain complicit in our attitudes and response to behaviours that continue marginalise, exploit and destroy life. As an organisation, we have spent the last ten years focusing on what it means to do mission in the context of empire. As we have critiqued and challenged the divisive, exploitative powers outside us, we have come face to face with these same vices within us. We are humbled and grateful that we have come to this place in our Christian discipleship journey where discovery, naming, repenting and acting for racial justice and peace define our understanding of participation in God’s mission. Accordingly, as CWM embarks on a new Strategy for 2020-2029, ‘Rising to life: Breaking out from Babylon’, racial justice will become central to our engagement. And our act of repentance and commitment to reparation offer hope-filled opportunities for CWM itself to break out from Babylon and rise to life.
This is a Kairos moment, demanding our commitment to racial justice and, particularly, to combat the global sin of Afrophobia. In the midst of the rise of xenophobia and racism in the world today, CWM is making a bold move to break the silence of its past; to tell the truth about its complicities with empire and power, then and now; and to highlight reparation as a vital step to racial and economic consciousness and justice today. We urge all – churches and faith communities, ecumenical bodies and people’s movements, corporations, institutions and governments – all of us who are implicated in the histories and economies of enslavement – to claim this moment and do the right. Let us be courageous in addressing the legacies of slavery – acknowledge our part and commit to reparation – so that we can be purged of the sin of racism, hate crimes and every form of exploitation; and be ready to participate in the transformed future we imagine.
Collin I. Cowan
1 January 2020
For further reading: Legacies of Slavery Core Group Report