We probably all thought the year 2020 would be forever remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic alone; however, the focus was shifted on May 25, 2020, with the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, caught on video, by a police officer while three other officers stood nearby. Protests, followed by nights of looting, burning, and violence, ensued in cities across the nation. Cries of racism and police brutality have been met with impassioned reactions from all sides. How are we, as Christians, called to respond to the situation which has developed in our nation?
Today’s gospel message can help us to know where to begin when faced with issues such as racism and how to address it. We are all called to follow the ‘greatest commandment,’ which Jesus made clear when questioned by the one of the scribes. In response to the scribe’s request to know the “first of all the commandments,” Jesus responded:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)
In all our undertakings, Jesus declares, we are to love God and others. To be fruitful and productive, compassion and understanding must preface any attempts at dialogue and discussion about racism. Each side must humbly admit its mistakes and imperfections in order to work toward a peaceful resolution to differences and prejudices.
There are inadequacies on both sides of the race issue. White Americans must admit that there are vestiges of racism still present within our society. There is more that we can do to create opportunities and help break cycles of poverty and dysfunction which unfortunately exist in many African American communities. Loving others as Jesus instructs us to involves attentively listening to the grievances of these communities and working toward solutions to remedy the problems which exist within them. If each of us examines our own heart, we may find traces of prejudice and lack of charity and understanding toward our brothers and sisters of color that we have overlooked or not acknowledged.
There are problems on the side of the protesters as well. Certainly, racism exists in certain individuals and groups; however, the solution to the problem is not to react with violence or lawlessness, but with love and forgiveness. It is necessary to peacefully call attention to the problem, but to do so in a lawful and appropriate manner, respecting God’s laws and civil authority.
African-American conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens, in a recent YouTube video, expressed her passionate disappointment in the Black community for “demand[ing] support and justice for the people in our community that are up to no good.” While reiterating that the actions of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death are inexcusable and that they should face justice, Owens also rejected the attempt to elevate Floyd to a “martyr for black America,” citing his criminal record from the past and the evidence that he had not fully reformed at the time of his arrest. Owens urges African-Americans, instead, to work toward personal accountability and to improve the situation through peaceful means.
Beginning with humility, we can move toward loving one another and forgiving past transgressions. Loving God and loving neighbor can only sincerely occur when preceded and accompanied by faith and prayer. The path to a greater, more peaceful world begins in the heart of each individual. When we allow ourselves to be changed and transformed by God through prayer and the sacraments, then we can proceed to go out and change the world around us for the better.