Episcopal seminary to set aside $1.7 million for slavery reparations fund

The Alexandria, Virginia campus of Virginia Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with The Episcopal Church.
The Alexandria, Virginia campus of Virginia Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with The Episcopal Church. | Facebook/Virginia Theological Seminary

An Episcopal seminary in Virginia has announced that its setting aside $1.7 million for an endowment fund aimed at paying reparations for slavery.

Virginia Theological Seminary, founded in 1823 and based in Alexandria, announced last Thursday that it was creating the fund largely in response to the institution having direct ties to slavery.

Money from the fund is expected to go to projects such as helping emerging congregations linked to the seminary, aiding African-American clergy, and helping to support work by historically African-American congregations.

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The Rev. Joseph Thompson, director of the seminary’s Office of Multicultural Ministries, which will oversee the fund, said the fund “has the potential to be transformative.”

“Though no amount of money could ever truly compensate for slavery, the commitment of these financial resources means that the institution’s attitude of repentance is being supported by actions of repentance that can have a significant impact both on the recipients of the funds, as well as on those at VTS,” Thompson said.

“It opens up a moment for us to reflect long and hard on what it will take for our society and institutions to redress slavery and its consequences with integrity and credibility.”

Thomas Craemer, a scholar of reparations and race relations at the University of Connecticut, told CNN in an interview on Monday that the seminary’s decision was unprecedented.

“What I would highlight is the fact that this is the first time that members of an organization associated with slavery (that is, representatives of the perpetrating side), have taken it on themselves to fund reparations to the direct descendants of the enslaved,” Craemer said.

Recently, there has been renewed debate in both political and religious circles over whether the modern descendants of slaves should receive reparations.

Keri Day of Princeton Theological Seminary recently argued that reparations were biblical, drawing from the example of Zacchaeus the tax collector as described in Luke 19.

“Zacchaeus is a tax collector who has participated in Roman imperial oppression against marginalized Jewish populations. Jesus sits with Zacchaeus but is clear with Zacchaeus on what his reparative response needed to be, and that this reparative response as Zacchaeus was tasked to do was not simply and only a political response but was more deeply a theological response,” Day said.

“In his encounter with Zacchaeus, I want to suggest that Jesus sets forth a reparations ethic. … Zacchaeus is expected to give back that which he has stolen so that he can be reconciled with others and God. Reconciliation cannot occur until he has given back what he has stolen.”

John Carpenter of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church in Yanceyville, North Carolina, denounced the idea as something that “creates ‘social Justice Contras.’”

“Calling for ‘reparations’ ignores the enormous sacrifice already given to end slavery and the (failed) attempt to re-organize the South (i.e. ‘reconstruction’), like the 300,000 lives lost,” Carpenter tweeted in March.

“I don’t know if those calling for reparations are intentionally ‘race baiting’ but I don’t see how they cannot see that their campaign is certain to inflame racial animosity. It’s irresponsible.”

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