Challenging The Church of Scotland on its Historic Links to Slavery

Rev Y Gooljary

I am concerned about the way that Scots were so involved in manufacturing industry in Scotland relating to slave plantations, recipients of the profits from goods from slave plantations, they are over represented in the population of Jamaica late 1700, in compensation claims after abolition, and in the UCL database Scot’s names are significant.

I am led to hypothesise that for 200 years prior to the Knight v Wedderburn case 1774, where slavery was found incompatible with Scot’s law, Scots were actually given permission under the law to completely integrate into the slavery economy, in goods, plantations, produce and servicing the plantations, for 200 years.

I then see that organisations like the Church of Scotland have little initiative to tackle racism and institutional racism as a result of the churches culture over this time. For example, 450 minsters split in 1840 and raised money from slave owners, their churches then returned to Church of Scotland in 1929.

Today the Church of Scotland has no statement challenging racism. Rather it relies on an English statement, relating to the English Presbytery. They do not see the need to formulate a stance challenging racism in the Scottish context relating to Scottish people.

I believe that the the intransigence of the Church of Scotland and its reluctance goes back to the history where slavery was acceptable in Scotland for two hundred years, Kirk members were the ones running the slavery economy with the full permission of the church of Scotland ,

The church of Scotland has set up a committee called EDI (Exclusion, Diversity and Inclusion) it reported to the Church of Scotland :

‘’ GA 2022 section 20.2 of General Trustees report

‘’The Church of Scotland has a strong record of speaking out on issues of justice yet it has little that equips it to look inward to ensure that it is attaining, through its theology, behaviour, culture and practices, the standards that it espouses for the world. There is therefore a need to establish a more consistent, strategic and programmatic approach to EDI, that is relevant and adaptable across local and national contexts. In this way the Church can aspire to support a diverse body of worshippers, employees, volunteers, ordained leaders and many others to flourish and be valued within its many local communities and the one community of God.’’

The trustees of the General assembly chose to simply note the report , no deliverances were made to progress any of this.

These to my mind represents resistance strategies, and this is borne from the long history of involvement in slavery by church members, the incorporation of legacy of slavery buildings into the church of Scotland , the prominence of benefactors who inherited from slave fortunes , which brings me to Cromarty.

Image credit: Mark Harkin, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Sutherland spent £1.39million in today’s money on the restoration of Dornoch Cathedral in 1835, inherited from her Father William Maxwell, who had married Mary who inherited slavery wealth via Mary father William Preston wealth from traded goods produced in plantations.

When approached Dornoch says it’s waiting for the General Assembly to do something about it. As we have seen this is futile as even when EDI has tried it has failed. Dornoch Cathedral is employing a resistance strategy to challenging racism. Its website and culture should instigate the CARE protocol :
C. Commemorate the suffering
A. Acknowledge with a plaque, installation or information on website
R. Research their own situation
E. Educate their own community and implement training in white privilege and challenging racism

The reason I am so concerned as a member of the clergy is to right the injustices of the past to inform the strategies of today and formulate new hope for the young people of tomorrow. I was from indentured labour heritage in Mauritius, migrated to colonial power GB and live in Scotland where I find my parish church is not engaged with the above. Things need to change in Scotland and the church if Scotland represents an institution which leads Scottish culture and hence should be at the forefront of change.

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