Episcopals discuss slavery role

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 26, 2008

NATCHEZ — Mississippi’s first Episcopal bishop was a part of slavery.

That was the bitter truth the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi had to discuss Friday at their 181st annual council at Trinity Episcopal Church in Natchez.

Bishop William Mercer Green had a somewhat skewed view of the church’s role in converting slaves to the Episcopal faith, Professor of History from the University of Mississippi Charles Reagan Wilson said Friday.

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Wilson and church leaders gathered to fulfill a promise the church made to study their involvement with slavery.

Wilson said many of Green’s writings and speeches indicated that he was glad to educate slaves and bring them into the church believing that faith in Christ would ultimately save them from their savage ways.

Essentially Green and slave owners of the time felt they were saving the slaves from their own ignorance.

The scope of Green’s work with slaves, many in the Natchez area, is surrounded by questions.

His work almost blurs the line between hero and villain.

“It was not (slaves) choice what religion they were converted to,” Wilson said. “Their owners were in charge of them and decided what faith they would follow.”

Wilson also said that Green’s work lent an air of legitimacy to slavery.

“(Green) was implicated in a very bad system,” he said.

The church passed a resolution in 2006 calling for a study of the way things were.

Their literature calls for “every diocese to collect and document the complicity of the Episcopal Church in the institution of slavery and the economic benefits the Episcopal Church derived from the institution of slavery.”

The events’ moderator, Kathleen Jenkins Bond of Natchez, said slavery provided the catalyst for thousands of veiled stories, many of which will never be known.

Bond said Friday’s response to resolution was only the beginning to a long unfolding of the history of the church.

The Bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi, the Rev. Duncan M. Gray III, said the dialogue opens the door for more exploration in the church.

“We want to look at our past with its great glory and great tragedy and unfold the truth,” he said. “We want to find more detail and get a truer sense of our history.”

Gray said the next meeting on the resolution will be next year.

At that meeting Gray said the church will attempt to flesh out the details of the economic component of slavery in its relation to the church.