In June 2013, the Church Council issued a statement acknowledging its involvement in the inhumane practice of slavery. « As churches, we know our role in this tarnished past and we must recognize that theology has been abused to justify slavery, » the statement said. The council said it regretted not having had this insight earlier. A look back at history in early summer 2013.
« (Slavery) is a story about white Dutch people, the government and also the Church, » Council Chairman Klaas van de Kamp said in a televised debate on Friday. He said the church played an important role in the community at the time, but systematically chose to look the other way. « We have a beautiful gospel, but we have failed to implement it. Instead we chose to make money (through slavery), » Van de Kamp said. He said it’s time for the white Dutchman to recognize his role in the « black holocaust.
The council’s lengthy statement was presented to the Moravian Church Saturday at a ceremony in the northern Dutch town of Amersfoot. It was addressed to « churches and the descendants of those who were sold and put to work as slaves. « The statement points out that the descendants live in Surinam, Aruba, Curaçao, St. Martin, the Dutch Caribbean and the Netherlands (see READ BETWEEN LINES BELOW).
Reverend Rhoinde Mijnals-Doth of the Moravian Church praised the courage of the Council. « Better late than never. The Council of Churches has taken an important step towards reconciliation. We hope that other steps will follow, » she says.
The statement is indeed unprecedented for Holland, which so far has simply indicated its regret that slavery took place, which many consider an affront.
The Dutch traded slaves in their former colonies for more than three centuries, shipping about a million Africans from their continent to slave plantations in the « New World. Slavery was officially abolished on July 1, 1863, but the fact that the Netherlands did not actually free slaves from humanity and never offered an official apology to their descendants has always been a black mark.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs insinuated in the Dutch press last month that Minister Lodewijck Assen would probably again express his government’s « deepest regrets » about « this dark page in our history » when he speaks on July 1 in Amsterdam at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the abolition of slavery.
Earlier this year, a member of the second chamber, Harry van Bommel (SP) of the southeast Amsterdam City Council, City Council President Tjeerd Herrema and the National Platform for Slavery Past urged the Dutch government to issue an official apology for slavery. The historic occasion of the coronation of King Willem Alexander was suggested as an appropriate factor to consider for this to be done in 2013.
In an addendum to its statement, the Council of Churches explained that it did not call it a « confession of guilt » for fear of appearing to use banal words too easily. « In today’s society, the word « guilt » has become too commonplace, we say forgiveness and get back to the agenda. This is not the way it should appear here. Confessing one’s guilt requires a measure of pain and requires more than a fleeting moment of sympathy, » says the release.
The council said it was aware that talking now was too late. « Who can forgive what has been done to people who spent their days in slavery and are no longer here to talk? Unfortunately, we have not had that insight over time, but rather we have left an urgent and misguided need for profit and abuse of power to lead us. It was a form of injustice that still affects generations today because part of our community was built on the backs of others, » he said.
In Kamp, the council chairman said he hoped churches would take the temos to raise the subject of slavery and discrimination in their sermons on the last Sunday before the Emancipation commemorations on July 1.
READING BETWEEN THE LINES: I suggest that the message underlying the part of the declaration that delineates the territories in which the descendants of former slaves are located (in Surinam, Aruba, Curaçao, St. Martin, the Dutch Caribbean and the Netherlands) the Moravian Church suggests, in my opinion in good conscience, that the