Richard Doerflinger
Richard Doerflinger
A More Human Society
July 16, 2020 // A more human society

Two approaches to racism

Richard Doerflinger
Richard Doerflinger
A More Human Society

It is clear where the Catholic Church stands on racism. The U.S. bishops’ document for Catholic voters, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” has long condemned acts of racism as “violations of human dignity” that, like abortion and euthanasia, are “intrinsically evil” and should be rejected by any just society. They have condemned the killing of George Floyd and others by police officers and called for legal and social reform.

So the question arises: How should Catholics relate to Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter is a slogan against racial bias in law enforcement and other aspects of society, and a protest movement using that message. It is also a specific organization, the Black Lives Matter Global Network, founded in 2013 by three Black women who coined the slogan.

The organization’s website declares: “This is the revolution.” Fighting racism is not its only agenda.

It calls for “a national defunding of police,” placing at risk millions of Black Americans living in areas with high crime rates. It promotes “LGBTQIA+ and human rights.” To be sure, the Church advances everyone’s basic human rights, beginning with the right to life, and rejects discrimination against people with homosexual tendencies. But Black Lives Matter fosters “a queer-affirming network” aimed at “freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking.” This effectively dismisses the vision of man and woman in Scripture and any theology based on it.

The organization aims to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.” This ignores the evidence that male abandonment of women and children has undermined Black Americans’ well-being and advancement, creating generations of fatherless young men whose hopelessness and lack of a positive male role model increase temptations to crime.

Most troubling, Black Lives Matter elsewhere says it is “partner(ing)” with “reproductive justice” (pro-abortion) groups. Already Black women have the highest abortion rate of any ethnic group, making up 13% of women but undergoing 40% of the abortions. This is tragic for these women and a massive loss of life for their unborn children.

Ironically, in recent open letters, hundreds of present and former employees of the leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, complained of systemic racism at its largest affiliate in New York City, noting that Planned Parenthood “was founded by a racist, white woman,” Margaret Sanger.

Partnering with abortion groups seems strange for an organization trying to end “anti-Black racism” and create “a world free of anti-Blackness.”

I find a broader and deeper vision in the U.S. bishops’ recent pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.”

That document opposes not only “anti-Blackness” but all racial discrimination, addressing the plight of Hispanic and Native Americans as well. Its core conviction is that human beings “are all brothers and sisters, all equally made in the image of God” — and that a lasting justice must issue from love, not anger. That love should even include our neighbors with racist ideas, confronting them with an urgent plea for conversion of mind and heart.

The bishops see racism as a “life issue” alongside abortion, the death penalty and other threats to life that disproportionately harm people of color. They write that Catholics, including bishops, must take on their task with humility, seeking forgiveness for the times they themselves have been silent about, or even complicit in, racist attitudes and policies.

This vision differs from that of the Black Lives Matter organization. It seeks to unite rather than divide, aiming for reconciliation rather than an unending power struggle between groups defining themselves by race and ideology. Each of us must ask which approach best serves the dignity of the human person.

Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.

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