Racism is an immensely complex, emotional and often very personal issue. It is not easy for any person to grow up without prejudice; we all seem to have our own biases and stereotypes about others. Human beings tend to differentiate from the “other” for all kinds of reasons, often to make themselves feel superior. Racism is prejudice given unbridled reign, which turns into hatred and can lead to abuse, violence, even murder. If allowed to go unchecked by society, terrorism can ensue because racism or radical fanaticism of any ideology or religion can justify anything.
As Christians, we must combat this tendency to differentiate the “other.” Jesus calls us to see all people as our brothers and sisters, whose God-given human dignity entitles them to respect and charity. In Christ, there is no “other.” This truth is emphasized in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus challenges us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5: 43-44).
Christ’s words speak to us in the context of the current events in Charlottesville, Va., and the nation at large. These events highlight the continued need for conversion in our country with respect to racism in its many forms. It is apparent that where racism continues to plague us, we have not fully grasped Christ’s words, which serve as a strict condemnation for racist attitudes and behaviors. If we are called to treat our enemies as brothers and sisters, then certainly we are called to do the same with people who look different from us.
At the same time, Christ’s words also challenge us in our response to this issue. While we must condemn racism, we must also love and pray for those who perpetuate racist ideologies intentionally and unintentionally. While we must call people to conversion, we must also take steps to accompany, knowing that each person’s path to confronting their own biases is individual in nature.
In particular, we should be aware that making broad-based and generalized statements could lead parishioners to shut down. Moreover, addressing the need for conversion on this issue might be more easily received if addressed in the context of a broader need for conversion. These are not excuses for us to avoid challenging racist attitudes or behaviors, but pastoral approaches to help people grow closer to Christ.
As I said, this topic is complex; any response we have to it will be complex as well. Living the Gospel and inviting others to do so is a challenging task, but it’s a task we never take on alone. Let us remember, that we have a Savior who has already claimed a victory for us. Guided by his love, let us all consider how we might make his words more present in our own lives and walk with others to do the same.