- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

U.S. church groups whose delegates backed reparations for slavery at the ongoing U.N. racism conference in South Africa said yesterday that they sought further study of the issue and not an immediate transfer of money.
"Our General Assembly directed that a task force be created to study the issue of reparations and then report in 2004," said Jerry Van Marter, communications director for the Presbyterian Church (USA).
"The 'whereas' parts in our resolution are basically supportive" of reparations, he said, as expressed in an ecumenical statement read Wednesday by Archbishop Des-mond Tutu at the conference site in Durban, South Africa.
Archbishop Tutu's reading took place on the sidelines of the U.N. World Conference on Racism, where delegates from more than 160 nations continued to bicker yesterday over reparations and a separate effort by Arab diplomats to brand Israel as a "racist" nation.
Another denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), sent 40 delegates to Durban based on a General Synod resolution this summer that "supports reparations," said the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, head of justice issues for the denomination.
The UCC resolution in July said reparations are due for two centuries of "uncompensated labor" by slaves, but "can never be singularly reducible to monetary terms."
Meanwhile, representatives of U.S. churches yesterday defended their decision to sign a resolution on Sunday that accused Israel of "genocide."
The endorsement of a resolution — the closing statement from a parallel conference by private advocacy groups — came along with churches registering their objections to specific anti-Israeli language.
"We are here to give the space and recognition to the victims of racism," said Marila Schuller, a top official with the World Council of Churches (WCC), which includes 36 U.S.-based denominations.
"The life of people goes beyond the Middle East. The world is much larger. This document supports the Roma, Dalits, Sinti, people of African descent, the migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, internally displaced, and many others that we want to support," she said.
The WCC signed the resolution Sunday along with more than 80 organizations.
Both Wednesday's statement on reparations and Sunday's signing of the anti-Israeli resolution put U.S. churches in a potentially awkward position, given the likelihood that many individual churchgoers throughout the United States are likely to disagree.
The 10-point statement issued Wednesday urged churches "to acknowledge our complicity with and participation in" slavery and colonialism and asked them to "address the issue of reparations as a way of redressing the wrongs done."
"What we really called for is that our churches 'address' the issue of reparations," not that church funds be used as payments, said Kathleen Todd, an associate director of Church World Service (CWS), an ecumenical relief agency.
"One of the big sticking points is financial reparations," she said. "There is no word yet that commits churches to some kind of payment. There is only a commitment to study the issue."
CWS and the WCC sent a joint six-member delegation to Durban.
The reparations debate in Congress or by minority groups in the United States had typically meant a financial transfer. Church leaders said yesterday they are trying to broaden the idea of "reparations" to include the making of "social and structural" amends.
"Affirmative action is an example," Ms. Todd said.
Delegations from the United Methodist Church's division of church and society and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) also backed the reparations statement.
The United Methodist Church has not yet taken a stance on studying reparations, said Thomas McAnally, a church spokesman.
"We've got some [United Methodist] people over there, and they have called on us to consider this issue," he said. "Only the General Assembly can decide what to think and do about this."
The call for reparations, along with Sunday's 76-page declaration with its anti-Israeli passages, have been part of a cauldron of discord that continues to plague diplomats at the official U.N. conference.
The conference of private groups, also known as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), accused the Jewish state of racist crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The WCC signed the resolution Sunday along with more than 80 organizations on the sidelines of the racism conference.
A day later, delegations from the United States and Israel walked out of the main U.N. conference over continued Arab pressure to censure Israel as racist.
The NGO document proved so offensive that many groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which had participated in the NGO conference, repudiated it altogether.
Miss Schuller of the World Council said yesterday that her group's posting reservations over parts of the document was "sufficient" to distance its members from the more offensive language on the Middle East.
However, one WCC official said his organization was responsible for stripping out language denouncing anti-Semitism.
The official, who declined to be named, said it was necessary because the language "confused Jews and the state of Israel."
A dozen Jewish groups walked out of the conference after that language was discarded, saying that the declaration was hopelessly anti-Semitic and the drafting process could not be salvaged.
* Larry Witham reported from Washington, and Betsy Pisik reported from Durban, South Africa.


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