‘Building a Civilization of Love’ offers a thoughtful Catholic response to racism

This is the cover of “Building a Civilization of Love: A Catholic Response to Racism” by Deacon Harold-Burke Sivers. (OSV News photo/Ignatius)

By Cecilia Cicone

“Building a Civilization of Love: A Catholic Response to Racism”
Harold Burke-Sivers, Ignatius Press (2023)
236 pages, $18.95

When protests broke out in late spring of 2020 following the death of George Floyd, many Catholics were faced with a reckoning: racism is intrinsically evil, and yet they felt woefully unprepared to come to the aid of brothers and sisters of color. In his latest book, “Building a Civilization of Love: A Catholic Response to Racism,” Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers methodically breaks apart the concept of racism in order to present a way that Catholics should respond to this fundamental injustice.

Sivers begins the book with helpful definitions of common terms like “racism,” “prejudice” and “systemic racism” before going on to explore what Scripture says about racism. Importantly, Deacon Sivers distinguishes between different types of slavery, including chattel slavery, in which individuals are owned forever and can be bought and sold, a kind of slavery that is never permitted in Scripture, unlike indentured servitude to pay off debts.

Next, he examines church history with the premise that the institutional church is not systemically racist because Christ the just judge is at her head. Instead, Deacon Sivers says, individuals in the church can be racist, perpetuating sins against people of color in the name of Jesus.

While a relatively short part of the book overall, this chapter on church history and racism provides an important opportunity to confront readers with the reality of injustice existing even within the church. Far from being exempt from sin, there were religious orders and Catholic laity who participated in chattel slavery in the United States. As Catholics, it is just as important to acknowledge this part of our history as it is to know the lives of the saints — it reminds us that no one is exempt from the possibility of perpetuating great evil, and so reliance on God is absolutely necessary.

The greatest gift of “Building a Civilization of Love,” however, are the chapters in which Deacon Sivers directly addresses three of the most controversial topics related to anti-racism movements: critical race theory, liberation theology and Black Lives Matter. He systematically walks through the core principles of each of these topics, testing them up against Gospel values to see what remains.

It would be a mistake to think that Deacon Sivers is presenting the only way to respond to racism, yet his courage in laying out one type of response to the evil of racism is much needed.

Discussions around racism can easily descend into political arguments with ad-hominem attacks. What Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers offers in these pages is another way, a third way, to engage in conversations about racism with logic rather than leading with emotion in order to better understand the impact of the concepts and organizations that claim to be inscrutable because they exist in order to correct an evil.

Rather than falling into the common trap of oversimplifying the issue, Deacon Sivers tackles it head on and with great care. The result is an easy to read resource for Catholics to better understand one of the hottest topics of our time.

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Cecilia Cicone is an author and communicator who works in diocesan ministry in Northwest Indiana.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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