Monday, July 20, 2020

Will There Be Racists in Heaven?




Will There Be Racists in Heaven?   
Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D.
Director of Mission and Ministry Cristo Rey Jesuit Hgh School, Baltimore MD

“If you hate black people now, and you get to heaven and meet black people there, you’re not going to want to stay.  And that will be your hell.” 
Whenever I’ve preached on racism, it almost always gets blowback. 
“Father, there’s no place for politics in the pulpit.”
“You’re condemning all white people.”
And what someone said and was then reported to me, “He’s just another N***** lover.”
I was born three months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.  In September of 1955, segregation was legal, lethal and largely unquestioned.  If you opposed racist policies and overt racists, you would not just get mocked on twitter; you would be murdered.  Yes, that’s exactly what happened to three young civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964.  Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner were shot, and then buried in an earthen dam.
Yes, there has been progress.  Yes, two thirds of African Americans are firmly ensconced in the middle class, and Oprah is richer than the Queen.  Yes, we elected an African American president.
But “Yes We Can” has swung back to “No we won’t.” 
Think Charlottesville 2017.  Remember the murder of Heather Heyer. 
Think the massacre in El Paso, August 2019.
And now add the names Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery.
What does the Catholic Church have to say about racism?
Back in 1998 when racial tensions were exacerbated in Philadelphia, PA, the Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Bevilacqua promulgated a pastoral letter entitled “Healing Racism through Faith and Hope.”[1]  Bevilacqua wrote, “Racism a moral disease and it is contagious.  No one is born a racist.  Carriers infect others in countless ways through words and attitudes, deeds and omissions.  Yet, one thing is certain - the disease of racism can and must be eradicated is.    In short, racism and Christian life are incompatible.” 
He makes clear that we cannot be united with God if we are not united with one another. “Jesus is clear that this is a matter of holiness and a matter of salvation.  Our attitudes and actions towards others enter the mystery of our communion with God.  Racism is a sin that weakens and diminishes this sacred union....”
Prophetically he teaches, “Racism has been condemned as a sin many times…  For the truth to have an impact on us, for it to really set us free, it must become our truth.  It must be operative within us.  It must penetrate and ignite our minds and hearts.”
Last August, after the massacre of 22 people in a Wal Mart, the Bishop of El Paso Texas issued “Night Will Be No More,” an even stronger condemnation of racism.[2]
Bishop Seitz asks how we are to comprehend the massacre, another shooting that leaves us “feeling dazed, wounded, fearful and helpless.”  He asks, “How should we think about racism and white supremacy?”
He raises to consciousness the mystery of evil and how it seeps into our minds and lives in our hearts.  “This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color. This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, paving the way to dehumanization.”
“In other words, racism.”
He charges that, “If we are honest, racism is really about advancing, shoring up, and failing to oppose a system of white privilege and advantage based on skin color. When this system begins to shape our public choices, structure our common life together and becomes a tool of class, this is rightly called institutionalized racism. Action to build this system of hate and inaction to oppose its dismantling are what we rightly call white supremacy.”
Bishop Seitz calls this the work of the father of lies (John 8:44) “incarnate in our everyday choices and lifestyles, and our laws and institutions.”
“God gave the earth to everyone, not just the privileged.   We must all work together “to ensure all our children have access to quality educational opportunities, eliminate inequality in the colonias, pass immigration reform, eradicate discrimination, guarantee universal access to health care, ensure the protection of all human life, end the scourge of gun violence, improve wages on both sides of the border, offer just and sustainable development opportunities, defend the environment and honor the dignity of every person.”
There is not an option to opt out.  “This work of undoing racism and building a just society is holy, for it ‘contributes to the building of the universal city of God….”
Here in the City of Baltimore, back in the 1960s, Cardinal Archbishop Shehan called for all Catholics to heed our obligation to promote racial equality.  He joined with other faith leaders calling for abolishing discrimination in rental housing and real estate.  For that, he received death threats.[3] 
I hope no one is contemplating violence against those who will build the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic school, a $24 million, 66,500 square foot complex in West Baltimore.[4]
Truth is truth.  Rev. Martin Luther King said, “We must all learn to live together like brothers, or we will perish like fools.”
In 2018, the United States Catholic Bishops forcefully stated that racism and racist attitudes and actions are destructive of human life.  All ways in which life is threatened contradict the love proclaimed by the Gospel.
“It is not a secret that these attacks on human life have severely affected people of color, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, targeted for abortion, have less access to healthcare, have the greatest numbers on death row, and are most likely to feel pressure to end their lives when facing serious illness.”
Our bishops teach that “racism is a life issue.”  They call us “to speak forcefully against and work toward ending racism.”[5]
To put it bluntly, to be Catholic is to be anti-racist.  In Christ, we are all brothers and sisters.  We are preparing ourselves for heaven by the way we live with and love one another now. 
There will be no racists in heaven.  Racists need not apply.
Jesuit Father Richard G. Malloy is the director of Mission Integration at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore, and author of Being on Fire and A Faith That Frees, both from Orbis Books.


[1]    Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua.  1998.  “Healing Racism Through Faith and Hope.”  (Philadelphia Archdiocese).
[2]   Bishop Mark Seitz.  August 2019.  “Night Will Be No More.”  https://www.hopeborder.org/nightwillbenomore (Diocese of El Paso, TX)
[3]  Antero Pietila.  2010.  Not in My Neighborhood.  (Chicago:  Ivan R. Dee, Pp. 190-191).
[5]   United States Catholic Bishops Conference.  Open Wide Our Hearts. The Enduring call to Love. A Pastoral Letter on Racism.  Washington, DC, 2018, p. 30.  http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/upload/open-wide-our-hearts.pdf

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