A few weeks ago I was on a weeklong vacation that required me to turn off my cell phone and computer and just relax. While the time away was wonderful, I missed out on the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in which a protest between white supremacists and counter demonstrators became violent when one of the white supremacists drove his car through some of the demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others. Heather was 32 years of age. The demonstration was organized by white supremacists to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.
Racism is a word that makes most people very uncomfortable. Webster defines the word racism as follows: “A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
We’d like to think that we have come a long way in the 241 years since our nation declared its independence and in many ways we have. Yet time and again we are reminded that we still have so far to go to be the kind of country we all would like to be.
Like many realities in our democratic society, racism has become, among other things, a political topic; yet we as Christians and Catholics need to view racism through the prism of sin – a sin that strikes at the hearts of all who express racist beliefs. White Supremacism, Anti-Semitism, Neo-Nazism and Fascism are all inherently evil and racist. We as followers of Jesus Christ must be courageous in calling out this sin whenever we observe it – whether it be at work, at home, in the communities in which we live, or sadly, even our church.
The U.S. Bishops recently invited pastors to address the sin of racism with their parishioners and reminded us that almost 40 years ago a Pastoral Letter on Racism was authored by the US Bishops. One reflection stands out: “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”
In response to the violence in Charlottesville, the US Bishops further have said the following: The fundamental problem is this: too often we are apt to group people as either “us” or “them.” And when we see another as “one of them,” we tend to act out of fear – a fear of the unfamiliar and a fear that they will somehow harm us. This is the root from which racism too easily springs.
What answer is there to the sin of racism? Again, the US Bishops help us out by saying the following:
- The answer is Christ, who proclaimed the oneness of the human family.
- The answer is Christ, whose Church is a “house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7).
- The answer is Christ, who came to heal the divisions of sin and death.
- The answer is Christ, who commands us to do what is right and just (Is. 56:1).
- The answer is Christ, who prayed to his heavenly Father, “so that all may be one…” (John 17:21).
- The answer is Christ’s Kingdom where there are no divisions; where there is no separating us from them, and where there is no fear of harm from “them.”
In order to heal the sin of racism, like any other sin, conversion must take place. There is a corporate element to the sin of racism, however, that makes it more challenging. As a nation, we must confront racism whenever we see it. As a church, we must welcome those who are different than we are and be inclusive of all as children of God. Individually, we must humbly place ourselves in the loving hands of God and ask the Lord to convert our hearts if need be to heal the wound of racism.
As always, I have hope. Without it I would be destined for despair. I know it is within our power to heal the wounds of racism, but like most things, it must start closest to home and work from there. I’m realistic enough to know that a one page bulletin article will not heal all wounds, or even come close to addressing the complexities of the sin of racism, but I hope it inspires each of us to prayer – asking God to help us be messengers of his love, forgiveness and recognition that we are all made in his image and likeness. When I was a youngster, I remember a billboard that was created depicting two young boys holding hands – one African-American, the other white – along with the words, “No one is born racist.” How true! Let’s pray that there will come a day when no one feels the need to espouse racism to the young people of this world.
May God bless you always.