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Start of a long journey: FaithInvest on CofE's £100m to address slavery links

FaithInvest very much welcomes the announcement from the Church of England that it will spend £100m, including setting up an impact fund, to 'address past wrongs', after its investment fund was found to have historic links to slavery.


But as FaithInvest CEO Martin Palmer told Pioneers Post, this can only be the start of a very long journey – not least because we know that individual churches in one major UK city involved in the slave trade are already looking at setting up similar funds.


If churches in Bristol are talking about a fund of potentially £50m (£25m from one church alone) then I really think the Church Commissioners' £100m is the beginning of a much longer journey. – Martin Palmer


Our shameful past


The Church of England's announcement followed a report that revealed that the predecessor of the Church Commissioners charity, which manages its estate and assets, had links to the transatlantic trade. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said: 'I am deeply sorry for these links. It is now time to take action to address our shameful past.'


Martin said the move is 'absolutely to be welcomed': 'It means that it is now possible to openly discuss this in the Anglican Communion and, given that most of the 70 million or 80 million Anglicans live below the poverty line and are in Africa, it does mean that we recognise our responsibilities.

'So it's a good start. But it's only the beginning of what needs to be a much longer journey.'


The Church of England has also found in their archives a letter from 1723 written by an enslaved man in Virginia, appealing as a Christian to Christians: 'Please help me, help me. Free me from this slavery.' – Martin Palmer

He points out that the initiative is long overdue. 'It has taken a very, very long time for the Church of England to acknowledge that it made money from slavery. It even made money from slavery when the British Government offered to compensate slave owners for each person freed. They didn't compensate enslaved people for having been made slaves, they compensated the slave owners!


African slaves being moved to the coast, 1786
Enslaved Africans being moved to the coast, ready for transportation, 1786

'They've also found in their archives a letter from 1723 written by an enslaved man in Virginia – because, let's remember, the Anglican Church was deeply involved in land ownership in the American Colonies and therefore in slavery. It's an incredible letter, appealing as a Christian to Christians: 'Please help me, help me. Free me from this slavery.'


'He never got a reply. And in a sense, we're now looking at, 300 years later, the Church of England’s reply, and Archbishop Welby has spoken very powerfully about how this is important.


'So the Church Commissioners have set aside £100 million to invest in projects in Africa as a form of compensation. There may be other elements of that that will emerge over time.


'It's a good start. Is it enough? No, absolutely not.'


Developing a Bristol fund


Martin is advising a group of major Bristol churches which are working on a programme to set up a similar fund to address Bristol's historic links with slavery. They are already talking about a potential fund of £50m – half the amount pledged by the Church of England.


Protestors throw the statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour in June 2020
Protestors throw the statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour in June 2020. Photograph: Twitter.com/fU0BToyLNI, @SamuelLiddell

'I'm a Bristolian. My family has lived in Bristol for 500 years. It was a revelation for me as a young person to realise how much my city was involved in the slave trade and the damage we'd done,' he says.


A great reckoning


'And a great reckoning has been taking place in Bristol for about the last 20 years as to how to deal with this. I cheered loudly when the statue of Colston was pulled down. He was a slave trader and from his money he made great philanthropy gifts. But they were not his to give. This was money, these were lives, he'd stolen from Africa.


‘Now one of the great churches in Bristol is leading a major new programme which is looking at the investments held by many of the big city churches. And this is putting serious funding into creating a fund that will invest in Africa. It is already looking at projects in Malawi and in Nigeria, possibly also in Tanzania.


'If churches in Bristol are talking about a fund of potentially £50m (£25m from one church alone) then I really think the Church Commissioners' £100m is the beginning of a much longer journey.'


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