The Evil That Is Racism

The following are excerpts from a recent statement published by Donald Wuerl, Bishop of Pittsburg.

…AMONG CHRISTIANS the call to unity is greater because it is rooted in grace and, therefore, racism merits even stronger condemnation. Every one who is baptized into Christ Jesus is called to new life in the Lord. Baptism unites us with the Risen Lord and through him with every person who sacramentally has died and risen to new life in Christ. This unity, sacramental and real, brings us together on a level above and beyond the purely physical. It carries that oneness we all share through the natural reality of creation to a higher level—the realm of grace.

In Christ we live in the same Spirit, we share the same new life and are members of one spiritual body. The members of the Church are called to be witnesses to the unity of God's family and, therefore, to be a living testimony to the inclusiveness that is a graced sign of our oneness.

The call to a unity that transcends ethnic ties and racial divisions is a hard one for some people to accept. Too often we become comfortable in the enclave of our own familiar world and view others who are different from us, ethnically or because of the color of their skin, as a threat. Nonetheless, to be truly faithful to Christ we must respond to his teaching that we are one in him and, therefore, one with each other.

Intolerance and racism will not go away without a concerted effort on everyone's part. Regularly we must renew the commitment to drive it out of our hearts, our lives and our community. While we may devise all types of politically correct statements to proclaim racial equality, without a change in the basic attitude of the human heart we will never move to that level of oneness that accepts each other for who we are and the likeness we share as images of God.

In the bishops' statement on racism, Brothers and Sisters to Us, we read: “To the extent that racial bias affects our personal attitudes and judgments, to the extent that we allow another's race to influence our relationship and limit our openness, to the extent that we see yet close our hearts to our brothers and sisters in need—to that extent we are called to conversion and renewal in love and justice.”

In a personal way conversion means examining our attitudes and actions. This includes expressly rejecting racial stereotypes, slurs and jokes. We can also be an influence on coworkers, friends and family members by speaking out on the injustice of racism. Part of personal spiritual development includes a self-conscientious sensitivity to what we say and think. In a positive manner we can interact with one another in a way which reflects the teaching of Jesus: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you” (Mt 7, 12).

In an article entitled “Racism and Respect for Others,” I reflected in the Pittsburgh Catholic on the “proactive” stance that we must all adopt if we hope to overcome gradually but decisively the evil that is racism. “The Church must show its opposition to intolerance, whether religious, ethnic or racial, in her teaching and example. The inherent human dignity of every person is a theme that should be increasingly woven into the fabric of the Church's daily proclamation of the Gospel. In our schools, religious education programs, adult education efforts and every opportunity available to us, we must continue to weave that thread into the fabric of the life of the Church. We must educate people with God's truth and motivate them with God's love.”

Responding to Christ's love calls us to action. We need to move to the level of Christian solidarity. This term often spoken of by our Holy Father as a virtue touches the practical implications of what it means to recognize our unity with others. There is a sense in which solidarity is our commitment to oneness at work in the practical order.

The Sunday Eucharist offers a wealth of opportunities to reflect on this issue. The prayers of the faithful can promote social justice and urge the elimination of racism. Homilies can deal with the implications of the Christian faith for prejudice and racist behavior. Parish efforts at evangelization ought to reach out to people of every race, culture and nationality.

We need to be alert to and articulate in addressing racism wherever we meet it. In housing, citizens need to insist that the government enforce fair housing statues. In the workplace, recruitment, hiring, and promotion policies need to reflect true opportunity. In public education, we can support the teaching of tolerance and appreciation for each culture. In the public debate on the illnesses of our age, we ought also to insist on the place of religious faith. Without God and the sense of right and wrong that religious convictions engender, we will never adequately confront racism.

The elimination of racism may seem too great a task for any one of us or even for the whole Church. Yet we place our confidence in the Lord. In Christ, we are brothers and sisters to one another. With Christ, we have received the Spirit of justice, love and peace. Through Christ, we are called to envision the new city of God, not built by human hands, but by the love of God poured out in the Savior. On the journey to that “new heaven and new earth,” we make our way with faith in God's grace, with hope in our own determination, and above all with love for each other as children of God.