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June 22, 2006

Forgiveness Lifts the Chains

A wonderful story of healing and forgiveness.

Sir John Hawkins was a buccaneering Elizabethan seaman and adventurer, who helped his cousin Sir Francis Drake beat the Spanish Armada. And he was also one of the pioneers of the slave trade, becoming the first person to buy slaves in west Africa and sell them to Spanish landowners in the Caribbean.

Now his descendent, Andrew Hawkins, a youth worker from Cornwall, has delivered an extraordinary personal but public apology for his ancestors' involvement in the trade, kneeling in chains in front of 25,000 Africans in a stadium in Banjul, the capital of the Gambia.
Mr Hawkins, 37, from Liskeard, said yesterday: "I apologised on behalf of my family. I apologised for the adults and children taken. I recognise that it's a small, simple act to say sorry - but it was a handful of people who started the slave trade and the ripples of their actions caused evil throughout the continent of Africa.
After he had spoken, the Vice-President of Gambia, Isatou Njie Saidy, came forward to accept the apology and symbolically remove the chains.

What a powerful image that would have been to witness.

For whites who's ancestors did not own slaves or came here after slavery was abolished, an apology can still be meaningful. When our church was partnering with a nearby black church for a number of events, one of the things we did was have a meeting on reconciliation. Asking forgiveness for those who came before us, chronologically if sometimes not genealogically, and giving that forgiveness by those who, in most cases, do come from bloodlines that include slaves, was a powerful time. It wasn't just a matter of getting a good feeling from doing the "right thing". More importantly it helped both sides to lay aside any buried resentment for the other, any hints of racism that we may not have known of or acknowledged. Again, many of the whites did not have slave-owners in their pasts--me included--but it was a time to acknowledge the hurt cause by, and express sorrow and regret for, the sins of our race. Some of the black participants acknowledged resentment they had had towards whites in the past, asked for forgiveness, and received it. The walls were crumbling.

How much more powerful to hear the confession and the request for forgiveness of a man who's ancestors began the African slave trade to the Europeans. And the symbolism of the Vice President of Gambia removing his chains; chains not just symbolic of the slaves' chains, but of the chains that bind us when we hold grudges and don't offer forgiveness, even when unasked for.

Some are asking that money be given to those here who are descendants of slaves as reparations for what was done to their ancestors. Well, that may help things temporarily, but money never really solves the long-term problem. Nothing will repair what ails our country or our wold more than a changing of the hearts.

Posted by Doug at June 22, 2006 02:27 PM

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» Should Christians apologize to African-Americans for slavery? from Mike's Noise
Read this thought-provoking post -- and especially the comments -- at Stones Cry Out and decide for yourself. We are 150 years removed from slavery in this nation, yet the black man still sees pain and hurt that the white [Read More]

Tracked on June 27, 2006 11:02 PM


Are you serious? about no?
Look, slavery is evil. Profoundly and deeply evil. But the most that any person owes another is exactly that - an acknowledgement that slavery was evil and wrong. Perhaps our nation, in theory an enduring entity, owes black people an apology for what happened to their ancestors - a non-pecuniary one apology - but no one person owes another an apology for actions for which they were in no way involved or responsible. To claim that they do is to give in the the culture of victimization that is so popular among the left. It's a very slippery slope, and you have started down it.

Posted by: Bob at June 22, 2006 08:54 PM


I'm a bit confused also. If the Holy Spirit was moving at your meeting, who am I to argue. However, I see a colorblind God in the Bible. The issue is our relationship to God as individuals, rich or poor, black or white or whatever. So too our relationships with one another should also be equal, without barriers to class, race, etc. Should those born to wealth apologise? "I'm sorry God made me this way (rich)." I think God wants them to use that wealth to advance the kingdom. I was born with some intelligence and work ethic. Should I apologise to others that are dumb and lazy? I will use my gifts to advance the kingdom and perhaps help the dumb and lasy. God made me with white skin. That was not my choice, it was God's. What are we saying? "I'm sorry God made me white." My skin color is part of God's perfect plan for my life. It is not a mistake.

My ancestors have all been farmers, no slaves in the bunch. My grandfather came from Sweden with only the clothes he was wearing. He worked as a farm hand for $1/day. He saved up enough money to 'rent' some pregnant sows and started farming for himself. No slaves, nothing shameful. Just faith in the Lord and some good hard honest work. Why can't I be proud of that heritage, just as anyone else may be proud of thiers? Why do I have to be ashamed and apologise because of the color of skin God chose for me? It's a big planet, and people of every skin color have sinned and victimized others here. Where will it end?

If you sin against God, take it to Him. If you sin against another, take it to that person. Where in the Bible does it say, "if anyone of your skin color sins against anyone of a different skin color at any point in time, then ask everyone of the other skin color for forgiveness whenever you meet, because it is just as if you yourself have committed the sin and you are guilty and unclean until you do this."? MLK urged everyone to 'judge based on character, not the color of skin'. I'm holding on to that dream.

Posted by: bruce at June 23, 2006 10:15 AM

The thing is, the descendents of many white folk are still reaping benefits of all those years of slave labor, all the land stolen from the native peoples. Whether or not I or my ancestors owned slaves or took part in the subjegation of native peoples, I HAVE benefitted. I'm with Doug on this one.

One of my favorite movies is "The Mission," with DeNiro and Jeremy Irons. It is set in colonial South America in the 1700s.

There is a scene in it where a grieving former slave trader asks the priest for a penance that could relieve him of his guilt. The priest, who works in a mission, tells the slave trader he must carry all his weapons of war up this treacherous mountainside to the mission, and the slave trader does so.

The journey is a near-impossible struggle with all of his armor, swords and guns loaded on a pack on his back, but eventually the slave trader reaches the top and collapses in exhaustion. Suddenly, the team of priests and the slave trader are surrounded by the indians who recognize the trader as the man who has killed and captured their sons and daughters, friends and family.

One indian runs up to the prone trader and puts a knife to his neck. He looks up to the chief and his community and, after a tense moment, cuts the pack from the slave traders back and frees him of his burden.

"the sins of the fathers are visited on the children to the third and fourth generation."

Posted by: Dan Trabue at June 23, 2006 01:12 PM

Asking forgiveness for the sins of those whom I may have nothing to do with does not necessarily suggest that I'm ashamed of anything. But it is an acknowledgement of sins that were racially motivated by members of my race and, as Dan notes, give me somewhat of an historical advantage.

I agree that people should not be ashamed of their own lives if they've lived it honorably, but that does not preclude asking for forgiveness on behalf of others. Jesus never sinned and yet he took, not just the blame but the punishment for sins He had nothing to do with.

Yes, if you sin against another, take it to him or her and ask forgiveness. But I don't think that's the sole use for forgiveness. Being human, and having a tendency to place blame where blame doesn't belong, there are those times when taking on that burden and asking forgiveness for it can being the healing process. I think that's more important that ensuring proper accounting of blame.

Posted by: Doug Payton at June 23, 2006 07:42 PM

I think some points have been missed here. The act of apology is to break down any barriers while addressing the issue e.g. a descendant of a Nazi guard apologizing to the Jewish world. My ancestors owned slaves in Virginia, I didn't. But if an apology to a descendant of one of his slaves will heal and bridge a gap, I will do so.

Money? no. Reaping the benefits from former slave owners? Not me. Land stolen from natives? If we start unravelling all the land taken from all the conquered societies in all of world history, how far back do we trace the ownership and restoration process? If that's the case, the first order of business is that any and all white people in the western hemisphere must turn over all their possessions and leave. Don't be stupid while trying to appear profound.

I much prefer to dissolve walls with forgiveness and move forward.

BTW, geneticists have shown through DNA studies that there is only one race among humans which is humans varying in pigmentation and select geographical breeding charactaristics. We tend to put too much emphasis on appearances.

Posted by: Jane at June 24, 2006 11:49 AM

Yes, Jane. It is just skin pigment. There were no slaves in Iowa in 1925. Just farming with horses. I don't often disagree with Doug, but I do on this one. Apologising for my skin pigment is nuts, and will not address the real issues here. Until we strive for colorblindness, it is hopeless. MLK understood this, but no one is preaching it today. Next I'll have to apologise to my horse.

Posted by: bruce at June 24, 2006 07:11 PM

I agree with Doug as well. The Bible is full of (for lack of a better term) "sin displacement". I was born into a world that I did not screw up (I'm not talking environmentally - I'm talking about the Fall), and yet I am paying for the sins of my ancestors who did. Yes, I have sinned as well, but before I ever sinned I was paying for the sins of my ancestors.

Even a cursory reading of God's history with Israel shows that we inherit the sins and blessings of our ancestors. We are responsible for them both. Punishment for sins were frequently paid out to the entire family. God himself said that he would hold future generations accountable for the sins of the first generation. And it goes both ways, God offers blessings many generations forward for the faithful service of a single generation. It took decades before Israel (and later Judah) finally paid the price for their sins, all because of one man named David who was blessed by God.

I like what Jane said: if an apology will bridge a gap, why not bridge it? In the end, it is only pride that keeps us from doing this. "I don't have to apologize because I didn't do anything."

What if Jesus had said that about the cross?

Posted by: Adam Heine at June 26, 2006 12:13 AM


What you say is true. It think where we differ is in the concept's application to this situation. Is this a 'race-based' concept? Adam was everyone's ancestor, and we are all the descendants of long lines of sinners. What you are saying is that we have an extra responsibility for the sins of the people that lived before us that have the same skin pigmentation. I don't see that in the Word. Israel was not held responsible for the sins of other tribes with the same skin pigmentation. The concept applies between a people and God - not other peoples. Israel did not apologise to their rivals for thier sins, even when other peoples were involved. You have to be careful when looking at the OT and applying it today. Israel had slaves, both economically and raced-based, and God did not always have a problem with it. One must also look to NT themes here as well.

If you knew me and how I spend my life, I do not think you would feel that pride is a motivation of my comments.

I'm afraid the bridge built with such an apology will only be a temporary one. I guess it boils down to how you look at America. I want us to be one nation of Americans, united. I think it is OK for sub-groups to celebrate their heritage and contributions to the culture, as I'm proud of my Grandfather and Father. Highlighting our differences and focusing on past sins does not progress toward the goal of unification.

Posted by: bruce at June 26, 2006 09:59 AM

What a moving story, Doug. Thanks for bringing it to us. Andrew Hawkins didn't owe this apology to anyone, because he didn't participate in the slave trade personally. But what a wonderful act of contrition and family humility to ask for forgiveness on behalf of his forebearers. We can come up with a lot of reasons why we shouldn't recognize the complicity and damage caused by our family, our race, our nation, our kind. That takes nothing. But it takes great courage to humble oneself and express regret for the sins of our fathers. And what an opportunity for the Africans present to forgive.

I've been on that river in Gambia where thousands of slaves plucked from the area were lined in slave ships and sailed away forever from their homes to death on the seas or near-death as slaves.

To kneel by that river in Banjul and seek healing for descendants of perpetrators and victims alike is an amazing picture of goodness.

Posted by: Jim Jewell at June 28, 2006 02:53 PM

I'm sorry, but I can't believe that you are touting this like it is some great thing. This is the biggest load of politically-correct manure that I have read in a long time.

This is almost as stupid and just as pathetic as those anti-American Christian pacifists that were slaughtered by terrorists in Iraq or the Pope apologizing to Moslems for trying to defend Eastern Christendom from them in the Crusades.

How has Mr. Hawkins benefited from his ancestor's involvement in the slave trade? How many generations pass until one is absolved of their ancestor's misdeeds? Go far enough back and everyone's ancestors have oppressed everyone else's ancestors.

My ancestors owned slaves in the Old South and fought in the Indian Wars. The only apology that is forthcoming will be over my cold dead body.

I think you will find something other than the Holy Spirit pushing people to acts of idiocy like this. Rather, it is self-loathing and the renunciation for the achievements and heritage of 1500 years of Western Christendom.

Posted by: William Fisher at July 1, 2006 06:47 PM

Oh please, Mr. Fisher. It is not a renunciation of achievements. It is a renunication of slavery.

I don't know all of Mr. Hawkins motivations, but this act was one of humility. Quite biblical; sadly rare.

Posted by: Jim Jewell at July 1, 2006 09:59 PM