- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

A U.S. church delegation at the U.N. conference against racism yesterday said financial reparations are due for slavery and colonialism, and Israel should withdraw from occupied Palestinian territory.

"It is urgent for us and our churches to acknowledge our complicity with and participation in the perpetuation of racism, slavery and colonialism," said the statement, read at the Durban, South Africa, gathering by Nobel Laureate and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"We further call upon our churches to address the issue of reparations as a way of redressing the wrongs done," the statement said, adding that the payments "are due the victims of racism, past and present."

The 10-point statement was backed by the National Council of Churches (NCC) and delegates from the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

"This is absurd. There is no blanket complicity by the churches in slavery or colonialism," said James Nuechterlein, a former professor of American studies at Lutheran-founded Valparaiso University in Indiana and editor of the journal First Things.

"The record was mixed, but most of the criticism came from Christian thinkers," he said. "The churches didn't make any money from slavery and colonialism. How could you possibly decide who is a victim today?"

The "ecumenical caucus" that issued the statement was one of many nongovernmental groups holding gatherings parallel to the governmental proceedings of the summit.

The United States withdrew from the conference Monday in protest against a draft resolution that accused Israel of "racist priorities" against Palestinians.

Though the delegation's statement lacked detail, it suggested that predominantly white churches of the West should make reparations to minorities.

It also called for "the end of Israeli colonialist occupation in the occupied Palestinian territories" and "establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state."

The caucus wants all forms of slavery declared "crimes against humanity," but did not say whether international courts should adjudicate such charges.

The statement decried mistreatment of women in caste systems, of immigrants, and indigenous minority groups.

"The definition of reparations is being debated, but fundamentally, this is about setting things right," said NCC Racial Justice Director Sammy Toineeta, a Lakota Indian.

Bishop Marshall H. Strickland I, secretary of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, agreed that reparations would be complex and possibly hurtful, but supports the concept.

"It should not be a windfall, welfare program," he said from his Baltimore home.

Before going to Durban, the NCC and its charity arm, Church World Service, pledged a "commitment to studying reparations for persons of African descent, indigenous persons and other vulnerable groups, for past misconduct and for contemporary effects of continuing harm."

Many of the U.S. liberal mainline Protestant denominations have raised the topic at assemblies, but none has taken a stand or proposed a mechanism for reparations.

Leaders in eight historic U.S. black denominations support the idea.

Church repentance for racism had swept through many denominations in the 1990s, including an assembly vote by the Southern Baptist Convention and a summit of black and white Pentecostal denominations.

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