The Texas Episcopal Diocese says it will pay $13 million in reparations to descendants of slaves, one of several institutions that confess they once benefited from human bondage.
The Texas Diocese is based in Houston, one of the most diverse metros in the country. But the denomination is among the least racially diverse religious groups in the US. Slaves in 1839 built its first house of worship, Christ Episcopal Church in Matagorda, Texas.
The regional diocese, with $1.8 billion in assets, said it wants to atone for its past by channeling some of that money to various organizations supporting African Americans.
“It was an opportunity to do something positive in leadership, to show ways in which other funds can make a difference in an area where we find a lot of conflict—and where people want to see health and vitality around the race conversation,” said Andrew Doyle, bishop of the Texas Diocese, who is also chair for the diocese’ five foundations that oversee their investments.
The effort includes supporting scholarships at seminaries to support black leaders in the church, as well as funding for students at historically black colleges. It will also help fund community outreach through partnerships with the Equal Justice Initiative, the nonprofit responsible for building the lynching museum in Alabama.
“What we envisioned was a way to create a gift that would amplify any dollars the congregation would give,” Doyle said in a statement.
Some critics question the effectiveness of funds set aside in scholarships, versus a tax paid directly toward the descendants of slaves. And the idea that slavery reparations should be paid is controversial.
However, it’s a cause that’s recently gained traction at places like Georgetown University. Students at the school voted to tax themselves to create a fund for the descendants of the 272 slaves sold at an auction before the Civil War—a sum that was used to support the university at the time.
Last year, the Virginia Theological Seminary followed suit by setting aside $1.7 million for a reparations fund. In October, the Princeton Theological Seminary created a $27 million fund for reparations.