Association of Black Seminarians at Princeton Seminary New Jersey 0

PTS Black Seminarians Call for 15% of Endowment as Reparations

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The Association of Black Seminarians

Response to the Princeton Theological Seminary Slavery Audit

Approved Unanimously, March 4, 2019

The Association of Black Seminarians at Princeton Theological Seminary commends the Administration under President Craig Barnes and its Board of Trustees under the leadership of Jeffrey O’Grady for authorizing and publishing its internal audit of the Seminary’s relationship to Slavery. The report is an ambitious and responsible effort to account for the Seminary’s history relative to that aspect of American history, ecclesially, theologically, and financially.

The Association of Black Seminarians, henceforth referred to as ABS, applauds the truth telling embodied in the report, as it traces the complex and mingled history of Princeton Theological Seminary, its faculty, students and alumni. There are individuals in that number who participated in and defended the enslavement of other human beings, yet others who resisted as did Elijah Lovejoy, who sacrificed his life in the cause of liberating his fellow human beings.

The ABS receives the confession articulated in the “Lessons, Implications, and Recommendations” section of the report (49-53), which calls the Seminary’s involvement with slavery sin. The ABS welcomes the repentance declared, not just of slavery, but of Whiteness (white supremacy, white superiority, and white normativity). The ABS affirms the call for ongoing confession and atonement, justice-making and reconciling, and the repudiation of the practice of drawing people together inside a “white Christian vision” (52).

Princeton Theological Seminary is uniquely positioned to lead the theological academy in addressing historic, structural, educational and theological racism. This institution has embarked on a process in keeping with Leviticus 26:40-42, following the pattern of Daniel’s prayer of confession (Daniel 9: 4-19). In the spirit of MOVING FORWARD (58, 59), the ABS encourages the Board of Trustees and the Administration to follow the instructions of Lev. 26: 41 fully, in which the covenant people of God are called to make amends for the iniquity of their ancestors. By enacting the following the seminary will take a major step towards becoming the Covenant Community to which it aspires.

The ABS calls for Princeton Theological Seminary to take responsibility for the wrongs documented in its report (58). Such responsibility entails restitution of the benefits received by this institution from the immoral extraction of wealth from the labor of enslaved Africans in the period of 1812-1861:

1. Appendix B of the report ascertains that slavery accounts for no less than 15% of the Seminary’s income and as much as 30-40% of the Seminary’s revenues during this period. It was during this time that the Seminary’s endowment was established. We argue that the 15-30 or 40% ratios apply to the current endowment of Princeton Theological Seminary. In other words, 15-40% of the Seminary’s endowed wealth was sourced in the labor of enslaved Africans in America and the economic activity derived from that stolen labor.

2. The ABS calls for no less than 15% of the current endowment to be allocated for redressing this historical injustice by January 1, 2020. The proceeds of these earmarked funds would be used annually to provide:

  • a. Full tuition, fees, room and board grants for all admitted African American students.
  • b. Ten full tuition, fees, room and board grants for admitted Liberian students, in light of this institution's documented complicity in the creation of that nation and its ongoing exploitation by American interests (15-27).
  • c. Ten full tuition, fees, room and board grants for admitted students from other West African countries from the Senegal to the Congo, the original lands of those enslaved.
  • d. Student loan forgiveness for all African American alumni (not just Presbyterians).
  • e. Tuition grants for all admitted Black ThM students.
  • f. An endowed Black Church Studies (BCS) program with:

i. A full-time tenured chair seated on the President’s Executive Committee.
ii. A full-time executive director to oversee the programming and fund-raising components of the program.
iii. A full-time executive assistant.
iv. A distinguished visiting scholar each academic year to teach courses on African American Christianity, or the Church in the African Diaspora.ii
v. A Theodore Sedgwick Wright Black Church Studies Center in the Library.
vi. A full-time curator for the BCS Center.
vii. Annual Lecture series (Geddes Hanson, Prathia Hall, MLK)
viii. Black Student Fellowships for Academic Development and Research (Attending academic conferences as well as specific research projects.)

3. Additionally, we call on Princeton Theological Seminary to:

a. Pursue partnerships with Historically Black Colleges, Universities and Seminaries with Presbyterian affiliations (Lincoln, Stillman, Johnson C. Smith).

b. Pursue partnerships with accredited West African Universities and Seminaries with Presbyterian affiliations (Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary: Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana and others).

c. Address the mixed legacy of those for whom major buildings are named by hyphenating those structure names with distinguished African American or pro-equality alumni (Theodore Sedgwick Wright, Francis Grimke, Elijah Lovejoy, Prathia Hall, Betsey Stockton, Renita Weems, and others).

d. Continue its efforts to increase African American faculty and administration.

e. Continue its efforts to decenter the curriculum from its Eurocentric bias.

By so doing, Princeton Theological Seminary would thereby adopt best practices from the theological academy while ameliorating the wound created by a previous generation’s sin. This act of restorative justice will move American theological education away from its imperialistic, Eurocentric impulses towards a holistic, globally responsible posture. For this institution to act on its imagination of a community on a path towards ethnic and racial healing would be an act of constructive practical theology. As a flagship of the PCUSA, the seminary would help the denomination occupy high moral ground as it wrestles with the need to diversify its outreach. Princeton Theological Seminary would take a major step on the path of becoming a reflection of the body of Christ in this nation and demonstrate global leadership in creating the beloved community–perhaps creating in this local expression the covenant community to which it aspires.

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