By Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB
The first Black President of South Africa Nelson Mandela who himself was a victim of racism made a proverbial statement that: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Love is an innate quality of human beings. We are made of love and we are made for love. This is in line with Jesus’ own words, “The Kingdom of God is within you,” and the Kingdom being “Love”. All human beings are in possession of God’s love; the divine love that enables us to love other fellow beings as God loves us. St. John puts this in a simpler way, “If someone says, he loves God and hates his brother, he is a liar and the love of God is not in him.” Racism is a worst form of hate that a human being can express to a fellow human being. It is built on prejudice, chauvinism and bigotry. The root cause of racism is self-pride and a feeling of superiority. We all perpetuate racism in one kind or another. It is a sin and as a sin it is a crime against humanity.
Often knowingly or unknowingly we make racial remarks, comments and exhibit habits that are built on our prejudice. European racism created slavery and colonialism, Asians racism created un-touchability of the lower castes, African racism created tribal wars, Americans racism created by oppressing black people, Australians created racism by killing aborigines and the list can be endless throughout the world. We are ready to build walls to maintain our superiority complexes. Though we take pride in talking about ‘Globalization and the globe becoming a small village,’ but our racial attitude and exhibited behaviour are not devoid of racism. New forms of racism and division among people keep growing every now and then.
With the current issues of migration of people and change of population trends in western countries bring new problems related to racism. Many new issues related to some shades of racism pop up in the world every now and them. People of the world today have interacted with others globally better than anytime in human history. But we have not really got rid of racist feeling among us. Our faith and religious affiliations, belief system, spirituality and not even the scientific advancement have not helped to eradicate racism in the world.
Why Racism Exists in the Church
First and foremost, failure to recognise the presence and bad effects of racism within the Church is a main reason for the existence of racism within the Church. The Church, not only in the past, even in our own times actively and passively participated in conflicts that resulted in death of many people. It is needless to give examples to this effect. Unless we courageously face these racist and tribalistic tendencies we will fail to make the Church take root in people and societies. John Paul II, in his speech to African intellectuals in Yaounde (August 13th, 1985), did not hesitate to deplore the fact that persons belonging to Christian nations had contributed to the black slave trade. Often, there are many reasons that are hidden in the minds and hearts of the Christians making it possible for racism to exist continuously in the Church. Perhaps as leaders of the Church and as lay Christians we have failed to understand and interpret the scriptures and other foundational documents of the Church that actually envisions the Church as multiracial and multicultural institution. It comes from the mandate of Christ himself who wanted all people to be saved and preached to.
It is unfortunate to see priests, religious, missionaries and other pastoral agents having deep seated racist feelings. They are often manifested in choice of leadership, exercise of authority, and execution of pastoral activities. These types of behaviour are hidden behind money, material resources, academic qualifications and hierarchical connectedness. These are over and over again manifested in day-to-day human interactions and prove to be anti-effect to Christian witness and pastoral effectiveness. The root cause of racism is perhaps our affiliation to the Church and our discipleship is just superficial. If we have understood the gospel of Christ in its core value with all the teaching on brotherhood, sisterhood, inclusiveness, hospitality and unity, surely, we will not allow racism to exist. Until we deepen our discipleship racism will continue to exist in the church at least in a hidden way. With the strong emphasis on love, forgiveness, tolerance and unity from the gospels, Christians need to develop skills in relationship, understanding, conflict resolutions and other skills in personnel and community management. As taught by Jesus, learning to love well is among our most important tasks as Christ’s-followers.
Learning to listen, “fight” cleanly, and speak clearly and honesty are foundational for being a healthy community – a community of believers. Lack of emotional maturity is another big cause of racism within the Church. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. Emotional immaturity is manifested through unawareness, defensiveness, undervaluation of other races and cultures, and overvaluation of one’s own affiliations. To engage in this level of warfare without addressing people’s immaturities is a sure recipe for failure and further wounding and division.
Racism: In Christian History and Prejudice
We can trace the racist ideologies and behaviour to biblical myth such as the killing of Abel by his brother Cain who were different in career paths, Abel being a farmer and Cain a pastoralist. The construction of the Tower of Babel is another illusion to the origin of racial differences and antagonism. Of course these stories exemplify the sin of division and rebellion against the loving plan of God for humanity. The Church calls it racism, a prejudice. Prejudice is something deep rooted thought in mind which is built through generations. As a long standing prejudice it also takes a long period to eradicate it. Historically, racial prejudice, in the strict sense of the word is, awareness of the biologically determined superiority of one’s own race or ethnic group with respect to others-developed above all from the practice of colonization and slavery at the dawn of the modern era. (CR. # 2).
Church’s Response to Racism
The Church’s document “THE CHURCH AND RACISM: TOWARD A MORE FRATERNAL SOCIETY” (CR) by Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace, 1997 is the most comprehensive pronouncement of the Church on this issue. In the later part of the article we shall discuss few salient aspects as seen in the document. Jesus’ Pre-Ascension command to his Apostles is: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Mt. 28:19). Taking this as a goal and vision, the Church began to reach out to the whole world and embraced people of all races, colour and nationality. In this project the Catholic Church is truly multi-cultural and multinational. It has tried its best to transcend all racial, cultural, and economic barriers.
The Church from the Apostolic times has always incorporated within herself people of all nations to be her members as well as leaders in hierarchy. St. Paul, the evangelizer and missionary par excellance, travelled throughout the Roman Empire and the civilized lands of his time to make members for Christ. Even when few apostles wanted the Christians of other nations and cultures to follow the traditions of Judaism, St. Paul argued that Christian baptism surpasses all other religious and cultural initiations of the past and now we become one body in Christ.
The Second Vatican Council of the 1960s is perhaps the most multicultural and multiracial church gathering of all times. At this council, the Church powerfully felt her unity in diversity and wanted to capitalize it for the building of a better Church and better world. In her documents 23, Gaudium et Spes, “Chruch in the Modern World” (#29) and Nostra Aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian religions” (#5), powerfully noted, “All men are endowed with a rational soul and are created in God’s image; they have the same nature and origin and, being redeemed by Christ, they enjoy the same divine calling and destiny; there is a basic equality between all men and it must be given ever greater recognition.” “Undoubtedly not all men are alike as regards physical capacity and intellectual and moral powers. But forms of social or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion, must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”
The Church’s document on Racism (CR) repeatedly affirms the principle of God’s creation that we are created in the image of God and hence all human beings share the same dignity as accorded by God. (CR. # 18. By overcoming the tendencies of racism and rising above the feeling of racial discrimination we honour God’s plan for the universe and vocation of every human being that is, being in the image of God, keeping solidarity with God and people and building and strengthening the Church that Christ founded.
Defeating racism is not just a Christian call, but is the task of every right thinking human person. The United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon puts its rightly, “Defeating racism, tribalism, intolerance and all forms of discrimination will liberate us all, victim and perpetrator alike.”
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