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The WCC Executive Committee Statement: Commemorating The 2019 Quad-Centennial of the Forced Transatlantic Voyage of Enslaved African Peoples from Angola to Jamestown, Virginia (USA)

The WCC has acknowledged that racism is a church-dividing issue and has underlined the importance of continuing the discussion on restorative justice to people of African descent and Indigenous Peoples. Racism and racial justice is the global theme for the year of 2019 in the common journey of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace (PJP).

27 May 2019

Statement on Commemorating

the 2019 Quad-Centennial of the Forced Transatlantic Voyage of

Enslaved African Peoples from Angola to Jamestown, Virginia (USA)

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!

My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:19-23 (NRSV)

 

The Historic Moment

On 23 December 2017 the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress of the United States of America passed in to law House Resolution 1242 entitled the “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act”. On 8 January 2018 the President of the United States of America signed the bill and it became law, establishing the 400 Years of African-American History Commission.

This law recognizes the historic moment of 1619 and the transatlantic slave trade between Angola and the USA, and the practice of chattel slavery that led to the policy of slavery in the United States. The policy and practice of enslaving African people laid the foundations for the systematic disenfranchisement and disempowering of people of African descent for 400 years in the United States and around the world.

A Legacy of Spiritual Resistance to Enslavement and Racism

The new Pan African devotional “Lament and Hope”, endorsed by the World Council of Churches, points out the following from the devotional writer Rev. Quardricos Bernard Driskell: “the history of African and African descended people did not begin on the ships of the transatlantic slave trade. Rather, African peoples were a rich people on the continent of Africa before this period. Enslaved African peoples took assets from their past and reinterpreted them in a new context.  One of these assets was their faith that reinterpreted Christianity and resulted in the establishment of Black Churches and spirituals theologically centered in a vision of freedom.  These churches and sacred art, which have inspired a vision and fight for freedom, kept them and their descendants fighting for just policies.”

These Black Churches were a part of the founding of the WCC in 1948, after their creation of the Fraternal Negro Council of Churches in the USA. They brought their theological priorities and ecclesial legacy that envisioned a more inclusive ecumenical vision of koinonia to the formation of the WCC and thereby contributed to the foundations of the WCC’s commitment to addressing racism. Indeed, the first global ecumenical forum on racism was convened in 1939 by Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mays, son of enslaved parentage, mentor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and later a WCC Central Committee member representing the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. following the WCC First Assembly in 1948.

The WCC has acknowledged that racism is a church-dividing issue and has underlined the importance of continuing the discussion on restorative justice to people of African descent and Indigenous Peoples. Racism and racial justice is the global theme for the year of 2019 in the common journey of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace (PJP).

 

The Executive Committee, meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, on 22-28 May 2019:

Celebrates the spiritual resistance of African Peoples throughout these 400 years;

Affirms the historic partnership the US churches and ecumenical organizations in the US share with WCC in addressing racism globally, and looks forward to deepening this partnership;

Joins the churches, ecumenical bodies and their networks in the USA in commemorating the Quad-Centennial, and expresses special appreciation for the relevant commemorative events of the churches at their national gatherings;

Affirms the timely relevance and significance of ecumenical work concerning:

- the UN Decade in Solidarity with People of African Descent;

- inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism to the United States in 2021, including the letter from the NCCCUSA and its partners to the US Secretary of State requesting this invitation be extended to the Special Rapporteur;

- the final drafting of the US report in preparation for the Universal Periodic Review of the USA (2020), which will also inform a proposed congressional briefing in June to strengthen the case for the Special Rapporteur’s visit;

- WCC-CCIA Training on Achieving Racial Justice through UN Human Rights Mechanisms, that took place in April 2019;

Invites all WCC member churches to find opportunities to commemorate this historic moment, to ask God’s forgiveness on behalf of our ancestors who were involved in the enslavement of African people, and to recommit to the struggle against racism and for racial and economic justice and reparations.