In last week’s column, I talked about how the leadership of our Church is responding to the racial unrest our nation is experiencing. This week, I’d like to talk about the Church’s broader response to the sin of racism. After all, the responses made by our leaders are based on the social teaching of the Church. They are rooted in the Christian belief of the dignity of every human life, and this belief has compelled the Bishops of the United States to speak out against the sin of racism long before the current wave of unrest began.
The U.S. Bishops recently (2018) published a document entitled Open Wide Our Hearts (http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/upload/open-wide-our-hearts.pdf) addressing the sin of racism. It’s just one of many things that they have written on the subject, but I think it encapsulates the Catholic perspective on racism very well. It is certainly prophetic, and parts of it look like they could have been written last week.
The Bishops caution against thinking that racism is “someone else’s problem”, but rather stress that a sin against one member of the Body of Christ damages the whole Body, and that each and every one of us (including the institutional Church) is in need of ongoing conversion.
With the positive changes that arose from the civil rights movement and related civil rights legislation, some may believe that racism is no longer a major affliction of our society— that it is only found in the hearts of individuals who can be dismissed as ignorant or unenlightened. But racism still profoundly affects our culture, and it has no place in the Christian heart.
Each of us should adopt the words of Pope Francis as our own: let no one “think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.” All of us are in need of personal, ongoing conversion. Our churches and our civic and social institutions are in need of ongoing reform. If racism is confronted by addressing its causes and the injustice it produces, then healing can occur.
While acknowledging the persistence of racism in our nation, the Bishops caution against caricaturing police officers.
[W]e reject harsh rhetoric that belittles and dehumanizes law enforcement personnel who labor to keep our communities safe. We also condemn violent attacks against police.
The Church’s condemnation of racism stems from our belief in the dignity of each and every human life, that all people of every race are created in the image and likeness of God. Our faith in Jesus Christ should enable us to see that what we hold in common with other people is far stronger than our differences.
When we begin to separate people in our thoughts for unjust reasons, when we start to see some people as “them” and others as “us,” we fail to love. Yet love is at the heart of the Christian life. … This command of love can never be simply “live and let others be.” The command of love requires us to make room for others in our hearts.
This belief calls us to individual conversion, but it also calls for a conversion of society as a whole, as structures of social sin have become deeply embedded in our culture.
Love compels each of us to resist racism courageously. It requires us to reach out generously to the victims of this evil, to assist the conversion needed in those who still harbor racism, and to begin to change policies and structures that allow racism to persist. Overcoming racism is a demand of justice, but because Christian love transcends justice, the end of racism will mean that our community will bear fruit beyond simply the fair treatment of all.
They also make the case that taking a stand against racism is a decidedly pro-life stance, since denying the dignity of one human life minimizes the dignity of all human life.
The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life. The Church in the United States has spoken out consistently and forcefully against abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty, and other forms of violence that threaten human life. It is not a secret that these attacks on human life have severely affected people of color, who are disproportionally affected by poverty, targeted for abortion, have less access to healthcare, have the greatest numbers on death row, and are most likely to feel pressure to end their lives when facing serious illness.
Again, these little excerpts are only the tip of the iceberg, and I hope you will all seek to study our teachings more deeply so that we can respond to the unrest in our world with the love of Christ. To read this document in its entirety, as well as to find an accompanying study guide and many other resources, visit http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm.