Lift Every Voice: A Lenten Journey Toward Racial Justice

Racial injustice is a gospel issue.

LIFT EVERY VOICE is a Lent 2016 blog addressing America’s original sin of racism through the lens of Ignatian spirituality and the daily readings. From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, voices from throughout the Ignatian network will lament racial injustice in our communities and reflect on how the Gospel calls us to repent, pray, and act in solidarity with those affected by an enduring legacy of systemic and personal racial discrimination.

Joy is justice. Justice is life.

Pope Francis has declared 2016 a Holy Year of Mercy, and mercy, he says in his new book, is about “[going] outside and [looking] for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope.” That is what Jesus does in the Gospels: he goes forth and gives mercy.

Some Bible versions offer a slightly misleading translation of this week’s epistle reading. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, some translations state, “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creature.” But Paul is actually saying much more than this. More accurate is the New Revised Standard Version, which indicates that it is not simply the individual who is a new creature, but in fact, “there is a new creation!” Or, as the New English Bible puts it, “there is a new world.”

Here’s a quick quiz. Which of these people are you?

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes it very simple. It is all about love, love of God expressed in love of our neighbor, of the people we live with and meet in our home, in the grocery store, at work or on the street. And what is love? I understand it to be the decision, the choice, the willingness to give value in my decision making to what is important to the other person. So “to love your neighbor as yourself” tells me to make the needs of my neighbor just as important as my own needs. It doesn’t say anything about that person’s race or nation of origin or skin color or religious beliefs.

The Urban League of Cincinnati recently published “The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities.”[1] At 150 pages of careful statistical analysis, the report describes itself as a “bleak, possibly overwhelming snapshot of Cincinnati’s African American community and its economic and social challenges.” From health care and education to employment and incarceration, the picture of “Black Cincinnati” is bleak indeed, and not a little overwhelming to this white reader and citizen.

White America’s interpretation of today’s reading has rendered it a text of terror with destruction in its wake. The idea “that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deut. 4:1), provided scriptural warrant for Christians to claim the land that would become the United States. This presumably God-given blessing provided powerful symbolic justification for conquest, echoing throughout Christian reasoning to dispossess First Nations peoples and build America as a white Christian nation.

We can all agree that America is in need of race reconciliation. But how do we begin to heal from our past?

I believe it requires three important actions that we can take from today’s reading. First, by acknowledging the sins of our past and present. We fall short if we only acknowledge the history of racism in America. We must also acknowledge the current structures of racism including police brutality, violence against minorities, under-resourced schools, inadequate and hazardous access to natural resources, and disproportionate rates of unemployment. It is also crucial to recognize white privilege and acknowledge that one’s skin color has afforded opportunities or access that is withheld from others.

Last Sunday, on the way to mass at St. Sabina on the South Side of Chicago with some students, I reflected: What today would make the Spirit burn within us? the famous black preacher? the powerful music? a parishioner?

In segregated Atlanta in 1947, the future mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., sought his father’s advice about accepting the invitation to speak at the Community Chest drive kickoff in what was then known as the “Negro community.”

In James Weldon Johnson’s adaptation of the parable of the prodigal son, he states, “Fall down on your knees, and say in your heart: I will arise and go to my Father.” The father in the story of the prodigal son anxiously waits his son and then celebrates when he returns. It is easy to envision all of heaven in celebration.

Authors Include:

M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D.

M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D.

Theology Professor, Boston College

Dr. M. Shawn Copeland is Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College. She is a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), and a former Convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium (BCTS), an interdisciplinary learned association of Black Catholic scholars.

Professor Copeland is a prolific author, with more than 100 publications to her credit, including "Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race and Being and The Subversive Power of Love: The Vision of Henriette Delille." She is the recipient of five honorary degrees as well as the Yves Congar Award for Excellence in Theology from Barry University, Miami, Florida, and the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Black Religious Scholars Group of the American Academy of Religion.

Dr. Copeland’s research interests include: 1) shifts in theological understanding of the human person and accords particular attention to body, gender, and race; 2) the African American Catholic experience, and 3) political or praxis based theologies.

Fred Pestello, Ph.D.

Fred Pestello, Ph.D.

President, St. Louis University

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., is the 33rd president of Saint Louis University. The first permanent lay president in the University’s nearly 200-year history, Dr. Pestello officially began his tenure at SLU on July 1, 2014.

Dr. Pestello is Jesuit educated and has spent the entirety of his 30-year career in Catholic higher education. He has been noted for upholding Jesuit values throughout his career, including his commitment to dialogue and inclusion both during and after campus protests at SLU in 2014.

Prior to coming to SLU, Dr. Pestello was the president of Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. Dr. Pestello also spent nearly 25 years as a faculty member and provost at the University of Dayton.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Dr. Pestello has three degrees in sociology. He earned his bachelor‘s degree from the Jesuit institution John Carroll University in 1974, his master’s degree from the University of Akron in 1981, and his doctoral degree through a joint program of the University of Akron and Kent State University in 1985.

Maureen O’Connell, Ph.D.

Maureen O’Connell, Ph.D.

Assoc. Professor of Christian Ethics, LaSalle University

Maureen H. O’Connell is Chair of the Department of Religion at LaSalle University, where she is also an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics. She is the author of "Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in an Age of Globalization" (Orbis, 2009) and "If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice" (Liturgical Press, 2012). Her current research explores racial identity formation, racism, and racial justice in Catholic institutions of higher education.

Dr. O’Connell previously taught for eight years in the Theology Department at Fordham University. She currently serves on the board of the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies and is a member of St. Vincent De Paul parish in Germantown, PA. She is also a member of POWER (Philadelphians Organizing to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild), an interfaith federation of 90 faith communities working to make Philadelphia a city of “just love” through fair wages for workers, funding for public schools, immigration reform, and decarceration.

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Racial injustice is a gospel issue.Join the Ignatian Solidarity Network in reflecting on this reality during Lent."...

Posted by Ignatian Solidarity Network on Friday, January 15, 2016

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