How 4 Christian Denominations Atoned for Racism in the Church

Various denominations have ties to slavery and segregation

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church. Dave Wilson/

Racism has infiltrated every sector in the United States—the armed forces, schools, housing and, yes, even the church. After the civil rights movement, a number of religious denominations began to racially integrate. In the 21st century, several Christian sects have apologized for their role in supporting slavery, segregation and other forms of racism in the church.

The Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church are just a few of the Christian denominations that have admitted to engaging in discriminatory practices and announced that they would instead strive to promote social justice. Here's how the church has attempted to atone for acts of racism.

Southern Baptists Split From Past

The Southern Baptist Convention arose after Baptists in the North and the South clashed on the issue of slavery in 1845. The Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the country and are known for not only backing slavery but also racial segregation. In June 1995, however, the Southern Baptists apologized for supporting racial injustice. At its yearly meeting in Atlanta, the Southern Baptists passed a resolution “to repudiate historic acts of evil, such as slavery, from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest.”

The group also specifically apologized to African Americans “for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime, and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.” In June 2012, the Southern Baptist Convention garnered headlines for making racial progress after electing a black pastor, Fred Luter Jr., its president.

Methodist Church Seeks Forgiveness For Racism

United Methodist Church officials have confessed to centuries of racism. Delegates to its general conference in 2000 apologized to black churches that fled from the church because of bigotry. “Racism has lived like a malignancy in the bone marrow of this church for years,” said Bishop William Boyd Grove. “It is high time to say we’re sorry.”

Blacks were among the first Methodists in the United States back in the 18th century, but the issue of slavery divided the church along regional and racial lines. Black Methodists ended up forming the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church because white Methodists excluded them. As recently as the 1960s, white Methodist churches in the South banned blacks from worshipping with them.

Episcopal Church Apologizes for Involvement in Slavery

At its 75th general convention in 2006, the Episcopal Church apologized for supporting the institution of slavery. The church issued a resolution declaring that the institution of slavery “is a sin and a fundamental betrayal of the humanity of all persons who were involved.” The church acknowledged that slavery was a sin in which it had partaken.

“The Episcopal Church lent the institution of slavery its support and justification based on Scripture, and after slavery was formally abolished, the Episcopal Church continued for at least a century to support de jure and de facto segregation and discrimination,” the church confessed in its resolution.

The church apologized for its history of racism and asked for forgiveness. Moreover, it directed its Committee on Anti-Racism to monitor the church’s ties to slavery and segregation and had its presiding bishop name a Day of Repentance to acknowledge its wrongdoing.

Catholic Officials Deem Racism Morally Wrong

Officials in the Catholic Church acknowledged that racism was morally questionable as far back as 1956, when other churches routinely practiced racial segregation. That year, New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel penned the pastoral “The Morality of Racial Segregation” in which he stated, “Racial segregation as such is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity-solidarity of the human race as conceived by God in the creation of Adam and Eve.”

He announced that the Catholic Church would cease to practice segregation in its schools. Decades after Rummel’s groundbreaking pastoral, Pope John Paul II begged God’s forgiveness for several sins the church condoned, including racism.