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Advent is a season of waiting and of hoping. In the face of conflict, distrust, and division – in the wilderness – we are called to cry out for a different way. In consultation with several others, CMTer and former law enforcement officer Tobias Winright has prepared a statement of commitment to racial justice, which names the particularly difficult hope we might bring to illuminate darkness. We are happy to share the statement here on this blog. Many Catholic theologians, including myself and my co-editor, Jana Bennett, have already signed on to the statement. Please pray and act for truth and reconciliation this season…
Statement: Catholic Theologians for Police Reform and Racial Justice
The season of Advent is meant to be a time when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ, when God became human, born on the margins of society. To the poor shepherds, the angelic host proclaimed “peace, goodwill among people” (Luke 2:14), which refers to a shalom that is not merely the absence of conflict, but rather a just and lasting peace, wherein people are reconciled with one another, with God, and indeed with all creation. But this Advent, hope for a just peace must face the flagrant failures of a nation still bound by sin, our bondage to and complicity in racial injustice.
The killings of Black men, women and children – including but not limited to Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, 7 year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones and 12 year-old Tamir Rice – by White policemen, and the failures of the grand jury process to indict some of the police officers involved, brought to our attention not only problems in law enforcement today, but also deeper racial injustice in our nation, our communities, and even our churches.
As Eric Garner’s dying words “I can’t breathe” are chanted in the streets, and as people of faith, we hear the echo of Jesus’ breathing on his disciples, telling them, “Peace be with you.” His spirit-filled breath gives his disciples, then and now, the power and obligation to raise our voices about the imperative of a just peace in a fragmented and violent world.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” speaks searingly to our headline divisions today. The “cup of endurance runs over” again for African Americans and many others of good will. Our streets are filled with those exhausted by the need to explain yet again “why we can’t wait.”
King challenged “white moderate” Christians for being “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice;” and for preferring “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” This challenge to the White Christian community is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago. Such a negative peace calls to mind the warning by the prophet Ezekiel, “They led my people astray, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there was no peace” (13:10).
Pope Francis’s warning of the explosive consequences of exclusion and fearful seeking of “security” based on such a negative peace are similarly prophetic:
“Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear.” Evangelii Gaudium, 59
As Catholic theologians, we wish to go on the record in calling for a serious examination of both policing and racial injustice in the US. The time demands that we leave some mark that US Catholic theologians did not ignore what is happening in our midst – as the vast majority sadly did during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.