In 1979 The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote its third pastoral statement denouncing racism, Brothers and Sister To Us. It is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful statement on the social sin of racism written—an evil they call a “sin that divides the human family, [and] blots out the image of God among specific members of that family…”
What is so profound in this Catholic social teaching document is the political theology that civil rights are economic rights.
“In response to this mood, we wish to call attention to the persistent presence of racism and in particular to the relationship between racial and economic justice. Racism and economic oppression are distinct but interrelated forces which dehumanize our society. Movement toward authentic justice demands a simultaneous attack on both evils. Our economic structures are undergoing fundamental changes which threaten to intensify social inequalities in our nation. We are entering an era characterized by limited resources, restricted job markets and dwindling revenues. In this atmosphere, the poor and racial minorities are being asked to bear the heaviest burden of the new economic pressures.
This new economic crisis reveals an unresolved racism that permeates our society’s structures and resides in the hearts of many among the majority.”
The USCCB argued that racism isn’t simply a personal issue, but a societal one and we need to collectively respond to it by ensuring robust social infrastructure like social safety nets for Black and brown families and “decent working conditions, adequate income,housing, education, and health care for all.”
At this time in our nations history, we need another urgent theological reflection from the USCCB on the sin and fact of racism in our political discourse today.
Donald Trump and his campaign staffers have used the social sin or racism and ethnic prejudice, particularly against Mexican migrants, as a way to clinch the presidential nomination of the GOP and are now using it as a road to the White House. Trump and the GOP are galvanizing an authoritarian politics of white power and privilege.
We are witnessing the rise of a reactionary remnant of white, male, and relatively economically secure GOP voters whom want to displace democratic pluralism and replace it with racial nationalism. These racial nationalists want to “make America great again” by making America white again.
The conventional wisdom says that the rise of this voting bloc is nothing more than the “working class” protesting the effects of globalization.
This is the myth of the Trump supporter. On average, they are not poor, and many, if not a majority, are not part of the working class. Rather, the one attitude in which they share is racial resentment.
The American Catholic church at its highest level has failed to address racial nationalism in this election season. Worse, many outspoken bishops have abandoned moral discernment by claiming that both candidates—Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—are equally a bad choice. Clearly, this is not the case and to say so is to collapse into moral relativism.
As “faithful citizens,” we must challenge ourselves to morally discern and forthrightly challenge the crisis of racial nationalism in our democracy today because our pluralistic and inclusionary political experiment depends on it.
Q. How can we challenge racist rhetoric and movements that have overwhelmed our public policy debate? Do our politicians believe that civil rights are economic rights? How do candidates’ public policies weigh the consequences of racial disparities in our political-economy and how do plan to make the necessary adjustments?
(*This Catholic social teaching document was accessed at the USCCB website.)