Amid debate on future, Episcopal Church looks back
The Episcopal Church, at the centre of internal struggles likely to re-shape the worldwide Anglican Communion’s future, is taking time to look at the past. A new permanent on-line exhibit journeys through the history of racism in America, exploring a past the church shared with much of U.S. society from the days of slavery onward.
Bringing back painful memories is deliberate. The Episcopal News Service noted in announcing the exhibit that the church’s General Convention of 1991 urged Episcopalians to conduct “a wide-ranging examination of persistent institutional racism and patterns of forgetting that had overtaken the legacy of the post civil rights period in church and society.”
“The Episcopal Church treated African Americans as a problem: Culturally and socially separated and inferior but by baptism, full and equal members of the community. The Church tried to mend this breach by ministering to black Americans separately, consecrating bishops for ‘colored work,’ funding black colleges, establishing black congregations and operating a special office for ‘Negro work.’ In short, the Episcopal church fully embraced the American ‘separate but equal’ construct of race relations..,” the exhibit states.
But if some churches were also a silent partner in perpetuating racism, they also became the fulcrum for change, igniting fires for freedom in the black churches in the South during the 1960s. The new exhibit tells that story as well.