Racism: What is the Christian response?

People across the world were aghast and sickened at the brutal killing of George Floyd by police members in the United States, sparking protests not only in the USA but across the world. This ‘soul sickness’ is viral. We have been unable to quarantine it. Some commentators have observed that these protests have subsequently been manipulated to turn violent, to further political agendas.

To overcome racism, we need to see and love the image of God in every human being and see violence for what it is – an attack on all of us.

In his General Audience on 3 June 2020, Pope Francis said that: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form. At the same time, we have to recognize that violence is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost. Let us pray for reconciliation and peace.”

Violence results in loss, as the South African experience has repeatedly showed. We understand – too well – that ‘a riot is the language of the unheard’. Even St Thomas would say that anger is the appropriate response to injustice. What we are witnessing in the world today is the unheard claiming their voice.

In the National Catholic Reporter, Fr Bryan Massingale says, “I understand the desire to have peaceful or at least conflict-free relationships with family and friends. But as the Rev. Martin Luther King said so well, ‘There comes a time when silence is betrayal.’ Silence means consent. Or at least, complicity. Until white people call out white people, there will always be safe places for racial ugliness to brew and fester.”

“At its deepest level, racism is a soul sickness. It is a profound warping of the human spirit that enables human beings to create communities of callous indifference toward their darker sisters and brothers. Stripped to its core, white supremacy is a disturbing interior disease, a malformed consciousness that enables white people to not care for those who don’t look like them” continues Massingale.

Massingale suggests six steps to begin to deal with racism. Firstly, he says, “understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being threatened” by the unheard or the other. The second step is to “sit in the discomfort this hard truth brings.” Then “admit your ignorance and do something about it.” “Fourth, have the courage to confront your family and friends.” An unconditional commitment to eradicate every form of racism, is the fifth step. And, “Finally, pray.”

In our own country, we must all condemn racism and continue to do so unfailingly. Sadly, in SA, can we say we share the same outrage when it happens here, occasioned by similar violence and brutality? But prayers and conversion are not enough. We need structural change too!

Can we allow ourselves to hear the unheard voices, the cries of the poor and the cries of our world, screaming for justice? Can we accept the challenge to do something about the scourge of racism?

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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1 Comment
  • Chris Smith
    Posted at 18:50h, 06 Jun

    To overcome racism, we need to see and love the image of God in every human being and see violence for what it is – an attack on all of us.
    Until white people call out white people, there will always be safe places for racial ugliness to brew and fester.
    Why mention “white” people ?
    Why do we not stop at the first paragraph ? The problem is systemic, shown by the recent killing here on South Africa by members of the Army, but they have been absolved of the murder – maybe because there was no “colour-issue” involved between the parties – army personnel & Collins Khosa.
    This was yet another of many sad statements of the ethics of South Africans in general & the continued disregard for lives of ordinary people by our ANC government – farmers, their families & the general public.

    In South Africa, we have a brewing-pot in which segregation is flourishing under our laws that perpetuate the consciousness of “different” that is going to be passed from one generation to the next – a lens through which each person will see colour as the overarching criterion that makes people different & defines their acceptability – socially & professionally – just like it was under Apartheid.

    Cyril Ramaphosa has already made many utterances like the 25-year ANC strategy of boiling a frog alive, one degree at a time so that Whites would slowly be stripped of everything that they have without them being made aware of it : by this means, they would not fight back or rebel.
    Policies like BBBEE & RET – which are again in the news, with CR stating that COVID19 is an opportunity to push through RET. There is now ministerial talk of prosecuting businesses that do not meet some arbitrary body’s quota for BBBEE – that has greatly benefitted a select few at the expense of the majority. Some are even saying that it is better to ‘burn the house to get rid of the mice’, meaning that SA govt should rather destroy the Economy completely to rid itself of the White ownership ‘problem’.
    Of course, this will lead to mass starvation of all people in this sad land, which will lead to violence as both shortages & supplie(r)s are politicised.

    Surely, based on these lonely examples, one should take the broad view that ANYTHING that even recognises, let alone emphasizes, difference cannot be Godly ? For we, the lowly laity, our closest bond with God is when we become one with Him in Holy Communion & when we become one with Him & our suppose in Holy Matrimony.

    Please do not presume to have understanding of that where you appear not to & let’s focus here on Christian Charity on a personal level where each person treats his/her brother/sister as (s)he would like to be treated.
    Let us become one in the Spirit of the Lord.

    I welcome any engagement on this subject if you wish to share understanding so that we may be one in Christ.

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