Acknowledging the sin of historical racial segregation



In 1997, my bishop (the Most Rev. David B. Thompson), one Lutheran bishop (the Rev. Dr. David A. Donges), three Episcopal bishops, (the Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson, the Rt. Rev. Edward Salmon, and the Rt. Rev. William J. Skilton), and one United Methodist Bishop (the Rt. Rev. J. Lawrence McCleskey) signed and issued the following statement:

“Jointly we members of LARCUM are moving toward the millennium, the year 2000. We do this with firm and loving belief in our Savior Jesus Christ, thanking him for his coming, his saving, his promises. We dare to go to him with our failures, seeking his forgiveness and healing; we ask him now to help us in our struggles to overcome the sin of racism, that powerful prejudice which pits one race against the other to the damage of all. We go to each other, confessing guilt and seeking forgiveness.

“The millennium and this 1997 LARCUM dialogue present us with a unique opportunity, namely, to face up to the evil of racism totally united in the belief that God created us all in his own image and likeness, that he created us all equal and that we all have the same unalienable rights. No dogmas, no creeds, no Christian denominations divide us on these beliefs. Arm in arm, heart with heart, calling upon the Lord to assist us, we must, if we deserve to be called Christians, have this love for one another, embrace each other totally and in the firm belief in one Lord, one baptism, one human family, with equal liberty and justice for all. Amen.”

Recently I realized how important it is for white Christians in South Carolina to reflect upon how evil the legal racism we practiced for so long in the name of heritage really was. It was not just a nice gesture for those bishops on behalf of white Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Methodists to confess guilt and seek forgiveness, it was and still is necessary because the sin of racism not only still infects our society but is still being supported by many white Christians at least in their indifference to racial discrimination.

In February of 1961, Bishop Paul S. Hallinan, who had come to South Carolina from Ohio in 1958 as our bishop, wrote a pastoral letter stating that “with racial tension mounting, the church must speak out clearly. In justice to our people, we cannot abandon leadership to the extremists whose only creed is fear and hatred.”

He made his own the judgment of the Catholic bishops of the United States issued in 1958 that “the heart of the race questions is moral and religious. It concerns the rights of man and our attitude toward our fellow man.”

Bishop Hallinan clearly condemned racial segregation as practiced in our Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals and Catholic societies, but while saying that segregation in our schools would end, he did not have the courage to order it to end immediately. The reason for his lack of courage was not any sensitivity to the white Catholics who supported segregation as an acceptable way of life but his fears that some of them might physically harm the black children who would integrate the previously all-white schools. You see the “extremists” the bishop was worried about were those whose creed was fear and hatred like the all-white Legislature that voted to fly the Confederate battle flag over the state capitol the following year, that is 1962.

White Christians need to face up to the fact that the legal racial segregation that we practiced in the past was a sin, it is a part of our heritage we need to name as sin. Our failure to do so makes it impossible for us to acknowledge and seek an end to racism that exists today.

Written by Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy, pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City.