You can not, with any integrity or ability to persuade, say that you are pro life and then turn around in the next breath and deny the basic humanity and essential human dignity of whole groups of people.
Archbishop Paul Coakley, who is our archbishop in the diocese where I live, was one of the seven authors of the USCCB’s statement on the murder of George Floyd that made this clear.
That statement said in part:
Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life.
As we said eighteen months ago in our most recent pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, for people of color some interactions with police can be fraught with fear and even danger. People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives. Indifference is not an option. “As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.” (emphasis mine)
Then, in the latest issue of our diocesan newspaper, Archbishop Coakley said,
“We are broken hearted, sickened and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”
“Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy-going wrongs of indifference. We cannot turn a blind eye to the atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy and justice.” (emphasis mine)
Notice that he did not waste ink condemning the individuals who founded the Black Lives Matter movement for their politics. Neither did he go off in the weeds of condemning position papers of this movement for its stands on various unrelated issues.
He went right to the heart of the matter, which is a direct link between the basic universal and unequivocal right to be alive that every human being possesses simply because they are a human being, and the attack on this basic right that is inherent in racism. You can not, with any integrity or ability to persuade, say that you are pro life and then turn around in the next breath and deny the basic humanity and essential human dignity of whole groups of people.
Systematic attacks on the right to life of groups of people don’t begin with laws. Laws that allow this begin with rhetoric and philosophies which deny the worth and value of the people in question. They begin in social acceptance of denigrating speech, hazing, mockery and shunning.
Long before anyone passes a law, a whole society has to have voted with its actions and attitudes that such a law is based on their underlying beliefs. This “vote” is what we call today “systemic racism.”
Systemic racism is an ingrained attitude of heart that defines a group of people as the lesser other. It begins with the practice of defining people, simply because they are part of a group, in ways that are prejudicial against their worthiness, reliability, and overall human value. This ingrained social defining of whole groups of people as a lesser other leads inevitably to treating them in ways that deny them of their civil and human rights, if not in law, then in actual practice.
When any sin becomes systemic, it also becomes invisible to the people who are committing it. That’s why it’s possible for large numbers of self-proclaimed “Christian” people in this country to be so virulently racist that they will support taking children at the border from their parents, putting them in cages and then adopting them out; all without due process. It is why they will scrounge around, looking for faults and flaws in the victim to justify shooting a man seven times in the back, or kneeling on his neck until he is dead.
I’m going to write soon how this same systemic evil affects the treatment of women concerning rape, sexual assault and violence. But for this post, let’s stick with the systemic racism that afflicts black people.
Here in America we are seeing systemic racism play out in violence and hate that confounds anyone who is not full of it themselves. We are witnessing people who are aggressively “pro life” insofar as being “pro life” means opposing legal abortion, go to the wall to justify the wanton killing of unarmed black people on our streets and in their homes.
In our society, it is illegal to murder and maim people in cold blood. The law, as it is written, applies to everyone. But we have a large group of people in our society who don’t really see anything all that wrong with killing.
So long as the people who are being killed fall into categories of human that they see as lesser others, they are fine with it. If the people who are murdered are black and the murderer was acting in the name of some nebulous and ill-defined version of “law and order,” they will defend the killing and let the murderer go unpunished.
That is the essence of all the arguments against the basic right to life that anyone has ever made. Whether we’re talking about the unborn child or a black person, the presupposition is that their basic right to life is questionable and conditional, based on the judgement of someone else.
The simple truth is that any action which denies the humanity of other people is anti-life. Racism is a life issue because racism diminishes or denies the essential humanity of people who are made in the Likeness and Image of the living God.
Shooting someone seven times in the back is not self defense. Kneeling on someone’s neck after they have lapsed into unconsciousness is not self defense. Going out at night with a high-powered rifle and shooting down unarmed people who are protesting these evils is not self defense.
It doesn’t matter what the person saw on tv or heard in a political rally that got them riled up enough to pick up a rifle and go to the demonstration. It also doesn’t matter if they were 17 years old. What they did is not self defense. It is murder. If their parent drove them to the demonstration and knew they had a gun, that parent is an accessory to murder.
By the same token, it does not matter if the man who was shot in the back has a “history” of resisting the police. That doesn’t make him someone who can be gunned down in cold blood at any time. This shooting was attempted murder that left a man paralyzed for life.
The racism and the disregard for the sanctity of human life that underlies this brutal violence is underscored by the attempts of those who actually agree with the killing to justify it by blaming the victims and excusing the perpetrators. That 17-year-old is not an innocent child. He is a murderer who went there of his own volition, carrying a weapon that was designed to kill. His mother who drove him to the demonstration is an accessory to the killing.
I’m not melting down with sympathy for any of these killers, would-be killers and their many helpers and supporters. My sympathies are with their victims and the grieving families.
I have zero sympathy for the talking heads and politicians who are demagoguing this situation in order to swing this election toward the demagogue who has brought this mess down on this country in the first place. They are well-paid celebrity profiteers who make money by teaching hate. They know full well what harm they are doing and they do not care.
If our president wasn’t such a hard-core racist, he could have calmed the waters back when George Floyd was murdered. He could have done it by simply making presidential speeches, calling for hearings and taking an objective look at police training and the militarization of our local police forces.
Instead, he went off demagoguing and whipping things up in every way he could. He made wild accusations and hyped the whole thing into the frenzied mess it has become. Now, he is doubling down with his hate-filled rhetoric, almost as if he wants to cause more violence, in order to win re-election.
Sadly, there haven’t been many religious leaders like my archbishop who are willing to set aside the demagoguery of cable news talking heads and far right web sites and actually preach the Gospels. Most of the “star” religious leaders, including quite a few Catholic bishops, have added fuel to this fire by taking the side of the killers and racists.
But the truth is still the truth. And the truth is that killing people is wrong. Shooting people down or choking them to death is wrong. Allowing this to happen over and over again to one specific group of people is flat-out, old-time, racism at its ugliest.
There is no justification for this.
There is no moral reasoning that has any basis in the Gospels of Christ which either allows it or supports it.
It is wrong.
Excusing it is wrong.
Supporting it is wrong.