Washington (BWA)--How can anyone who has visited the Memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem ever forget that experience? This memorial was erected to commemorate the six million Jewish women, men and children who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. The powerful quote from Hasidic Judaism that is emblazoned on a tablet at the site is unforgettable: "Forgetting prolongs captivity. Remembering is the secret of reconciliation."
Many people do remember the 15 million Africans who were imported alive into the Americas after they had been dehumanized while incarcerated in Africa and during their "shipment" to the "New World." Five years ago, these people marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was during this observance that the Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering was held in Accra, Ghana. Not surprisingly, the Gathering featured a Service of Memory and Reconciliation at a former "slave castle."
The service was marked by both lament and apology. Of note was the formal apology given on behalf of the Union of Baptist Churches in the Netherlands. The General Secretary of the Union, Anne de Vries, stated, "On behalf of the Board and staff of the Dutch Baptist Union, I want to apologize because of the bitter history our country was involved in, trading African people as slaves." Inspired by the action of the Dutch, the BWA General Council meeting called for "freedom from all forms of racism and bigotry that debase our societies."
Later that year, the Baptist Union of Great Britain's Baptist Union Council unanimously agreed to apologize for the involvement of their forebears in the transatlantic slave trade. Representatives of the Union then travelled to Jamaica to deliver the confession in person. At the time, BWA General Secretary Neville Callam expressed his support for the action and stated, "As members of the body of Christ, we treasure the solidarity we have in Christ and we know how to respond when fellow Christians admit to wrongdoing, if even by their forebears."
As the international community remembers the victims of slavery and the trans-Atlantic Slave trade on March 25, would it not be a good thing for Christians to re-affirm their respect for the inalienable dignity of all human beings? Should we not also reject complicity as beneficiaries of the spoils resulting from trade in human beings? Would this not contribute to overcoming the sin of slavery as a contemporary reality?