Church Teaching on Racism

Oct 1st, 2016

“Racism is a serious moral evil. It is a sin. This has been the clear message from the moral teaching of the Church. Both the Scriptures and contemporary Church teaching help us to understand why racism is such a serious violation of God’s will. 

In our national pastoral letter on racism we bishops noted how racism is a rejection of the most basic values of the Scriptures: 

God’s word proclaimed the oneness of the human family – from the first words of Genesis, to the ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ of the Book of Revelation. God’s word in Genesis announces that all men and women are created in God's image; not just some races and racial types, but all bear the imprint of the Creator and are enlivened by the breath of His one Spirit … 

[Racism] mocks the words of Jesus: ‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you.’ Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation. [6] 

Those words remind us how seriously racism violates God’s will for us. It contradicts the meaning of the Incarnation and threatens our salvation. With the Incarnation, Jesus entered human history to transcend and transform the divisions of human sinfulness. He calls us to a communion with one another, a unity that reflects the unity of God’s own being in the Holy Trinity. In his life Jesus modeled this unity and deep reverence for the dignity of each person he met. Whether it was the Samaritan woman, the tax collector, the leper, or the prostitute, Jesus treated all people with the reverence that is their due as children of God. 

If we are to follow the example of Jesus, then we must be keenly aware that every person is formed in the image and likeness of God. Every person must be treated with a deep reverence and respect. For we are all sons and daughters of the one God, in whose sacredness we share. God intends that we all live in harmony, that we practice a love that unites us and reflects our fundamental equality as human beings. 

Racism is a serious offense against God precisely because it violates the innate dignity of the human person. At its core racism is a failure to love our neighbor. Since we cannot claim to love God unless we love our neighbor, we can only be one with God if we reject racism and work aggressively to remove it from our personal lives, our church, and our society. 

Pope John Paul II, in an important teaching document entitled ‘Ecclesia in America,’ reminds us, 

Every offense against the dignity of the person is an offense against God himself, in whose image human beings are made. This dignity is common to all, without exception, since all have been created in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26). 

Jesus’ answer to the question ‘Who is my neighbor?’ (Lk 10:29) demands of each individual an attitude of respect for the dignity of others and of real concern for them, even if they are strangers ... (cf. Lk 10:30-37). [7] 

As the very name ‘Catholic’ implies, one of the primary characteristics of our Church is its universality. We are a church that is extremely diverse, representing races and ethnic groups from every part of the globe. We Catholics in North America sometimes forget that, on a worldwide scale, the majority of Catholics are people of color. These words of Pope John Paul II remind us of the universal nature of the Church: 

The Catholic Church, which embraces men and women ‘of every nation, race, people and tongue’ (Rev 7:9) is called to be, ‘in a world marked by ideological, ethnic, economic and cultural divisions,’ the ‘living sign of the unity of the human family.’” [8] 

~Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, In God’s Image: Pastoral Letter on Racism, September, 12, 2003 

Peace & Justice Committee