In the aftermath of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, our bishop issued a statement which declares: “Racism is a sin and the idea that one race is superior to another is sinful.”
The statement is born of core American principles and Catholic teaching.
When Thomas Jefferson penned “All men are created equal,” there were certain groups excluded, notably women and slaves. The founders of the republic struggled with slavery, and a chilling compromise preserved it in an unsteady newborn nation. There were slaves in New York and Pennsylvania as well as in Virginia and the Carolinas as the Constitution went into effect.
With time, too much time, we came through the Civil War and excised the slave trade and slavery from the United States of America. Catholic magisterial teaching had condemned that trade early on. That news did not get around. What persisted, along with slavery, was the prejudice that deemed some members of homo sapiens less than human. It took 100 years after the War Between the States for the Civil Rights Act to go into effect.
Acceptance of all persons as equal in human dignity, human rights, and eligibility for human goods is yet to come.
We hear hate speech and witness prejudicial actions and pronouncements on a daily basis. If we aren’t scapegoating African Americans, it is Asians or Mexicans or people of the Muslim faith.
Prejudice is a contagion that spreads.
A father of a neo-Nazi son has renounced his actions and given public notice that the son was not raised to hate. He charges other influences, readily available on the internet, as infectious culprits. Finding means to monitor sites that foment hate crimes may help but are hard to come by. A few days after the Charlottesville horror, a Klansman posted that he was glad Heather Heyer was killed.
Legal action and better example from political leaders can help equalize us.
However, the matter can only be addressed at its heart. That is the role of our Christian faith. No one can profess to believe in one God, the Creator of the universe and the Father of every human being, and justify prejudice.
No one can claim allegiance to the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and insist that the Caucasian race is endowed with natural superiority over other races.
No one can pray to the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life, and justify hatred of fellow human beings. Denying respect and reverence to any member of the human race opposes the Gospel.
Pope Francis has called us to be “missionary disciples,” which entails conversion. We can examine our consciences in line with a 1979 declaration of the U.S. bishops: “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family [and] blots out the image of God among specific members of that family.” What persons have we disinherited? Whom have we blotted out? And why did it take me until a white girl was killed to write this?
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.