Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
White supremacists marching with burning torches in hand. Neo-Nazis chanting, “You will not replace us!” A car slamming into a crowd of people, sending bodies flying into the air and killing a woman who was on the street to protest what she saw happening in her city.
This is what the sickening face of hate, and its consequences, looked like Aug. 11 and 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
I, like many of you, was shocked by what I saw on television and in the newspapers. It was another reminder of the sad reality that our nation continues to struggle with the blight of racism, bigotry and intolerance. How can people think this way? How can they seemingly have no moral qualms about espousing a worldview that treats some people as less than human? I heard one person ask: What are we teaching our kids?
As followers of Christ, we must be very clear about what we teach our children: Racism is evil. It’s a sin and it must be condemned. It divides rather than unites. It defies Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and it denies every person’s God-given human dignity.
The U.S. bishops said as much in their 1979 document “Brothers and Sisters to Us.” But nearly 40 years later, our society still needs to learn those lessons. The Scriptures tell us that God created humankind in his image. As Pope Francis reminds us: “Human dignity is the same for all human beings: when I trample on the dignity of another, I am trampling on my own.” As Christians, this respect for all people is what we must teach our children and what we must witness to others by the way we live our lives.
We must also acknowledge that racism and prejudice aren’t just problems in Charlottesville and other places around our nation. They are a problem here in central Minnesota, too, where they sometimes come to light in the way we treat and think about others who look different from us. I am thinking in particular of immigrants and refugees who come here to start new lives, just as many of our own ancestors once did. Today’s immigrants and refugees, like us, bear the face of Christ and must be treated with the respect that all children of God deserve.
So what can we do to address the problems of racism and intolerance that we saw on display on the streets of Charlottesville?
I am reminded of a presentation I heard this summer when I attended the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida. One of the speakers talked about focusing on our “circles of influence” — those areas in our lives where we have some control and where we can have a real impact. You and I can’t solve the problem of racism nationwide, but we can begin to change things closer to us.
We must be clear about our own rejection of racism and its warped view of the human person. And we cannot be silent. We must be brave enough to say something when a friend, family member or colleague makes a racist joke or comment. And we must be willing to take a public stand in our communities when people’s dignity is targeted or threatened. But we must always do it in the spirit of nonviolence practiced by leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose peaceful approach to confronting hate and injustice had real power to change hearts and minds.
If we do these things within our circle of influence, and other people around the country do the same, we will be taking an important step toward ending the kind of hate and prejudice we saw in Charlottesville.
I also want to take this opportunity to address the recent terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Spain. These, too, have their roots in a false and violent ideology that denies the God-given dignity of every human person. Please join me in praying for the victims as well as for the conversion of the hearts and minds of those who harbor such hate.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud