Category Archives: Racism

To Die to White Supremacy - End Racism

Be Alive In Christ To Die To White Supremacy

White Christians Need To Recognize the Ingrained Racism That Keeps Them From Seeing God in Everyone

Spirited Sisters

September 13, 2022

When confronted with racist or nativist violence or policies, many white Americans respond with the assertion “This is not who we are!” Others claim that calling out white supremacy is an indictment of the very foundation of the United States. And this second group is actually right, though not in the way they intend. White supremacy is indeed the foundation of our nation, and it continues to show up in the attitudes of people as well as the policies and structures on which our society is built.

NETWORK Lobby Hosted a Discussion on White Supremacy and American Christianity with Father Massengale, Dr. Jones, and Dr. Chatelain“White supremacy is the non-rational, instinctual, visceral conviction that this country – its public spaces, its political institutions, its cultural heritage – that these belong to white people in a way that they do not and should not belong to others,” says Father Bryan Massingale of Fordham University. NETWORK’s April 9 conversation with Father Massingale, Dr. Robert P. Jones, and Dr. Marcia Chatelain laid bare that this is precisely who we are – and especially who white American Christians are.

Faced with the stark data from Jones’ research as founder and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), that just sitting in the pews (in a white congregation) increases your chances of holding racist views, what are Christians – and especially white Christians – to do? According to Jones, “The biggest problem is that white people think they have nothing at stake in this conversation.”

In other words, racism harms all of us. As an organizer, I talk about self-interest regularly, because self-interest can be a fruitful place for people to work together for a shared good. And in this case, that shared good is economic opportunity and a basic standard of living. My grandparents got it as beneficiaries of the GI Bill. Their wealth paid for much of my college (with significant tax benefits that are not granted to those who have to take out student loans).

But as soon as public goods started to open up to people of color, elite white people rebelled and began convincing poor and middle-class white people to choose their racial interests over their class interests – to ensure that Black people didn’t get access to public goods – and in doing so, to prevent themselves from accessing those same public goods. We need a multi-racial coalition to overturn that and build an economy that works for everyone and not just the ultra-wealthy elite. We can’t do that if we continue as we have been.

But this coalition has hurdles to overcome as, in the words of Father Massingale, “The Gospel of white supremacy is the functional religion of many white Christians and many white Catholics.” Which is to say, “white identity is the primary source of their locus, their commitment, their loyalty.”

This kind of truth-telling is critical if we want to move to real racial reconciliation. Conversion requires knowing we are wrong and acting to make amends. As St. Paul tells the Romans, “We’ve been buried with Jesus.” To be buried with Jesus is to be buried with the brown-skinned Jew in occupied Palestine. But we must be buried with Christ if we have any hope of being “alive to Christ.” We must embrace the death of white supremacy and act to bring about the death of white supremacy so that we can be alive to Beloved Community.

Dr. Marcia Chatelain of Georgetown University asked us if we could imagine a church that was seriously willing to give up power “in order to show that another world is possible.” Father Massingale asked us if we could imagine Jesus in Black and Brown bodies.

Imagination is a spiritual practice, especially when we want to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist. But the kin-dom of God doesn’t yet exist in its entirety, so we must imagine it. We must create and use images of Christ in Black and Brown bodies. Because if we only see God as a white man, then our subconscious will continue to tell us that only white men should be able to rule here “on earth as it is in heaven.”

All of this calls us to act. So what will you do this week?

Name it here: _________________________________

Now go do it.

Emily TeKolste, SP, is a Sister of Providence and NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Coordinator. Her article originally appeared in the Third Quarter 2022 issue of Connection, NETWORK’s quarterly magazine – A Time to Build. Read the entire issue here.

Policing Bills Must Be Data-Driven Public Safety Solutions

The Time is Now for Data-Driven Public Safety Solutions

No More Unsafe Policing Bills. It’s Time For Data-Driven Public Safety Solutions

Min. Christian S. Watkins, Government Relations Advocate
August 30, 2022

We know what keeps us safe: environments where people of every color and background have fair wages, great schools, and affordable healthcare. When there are problems in our communities, they are addressed with proven solutions like social supports, investments in built design, increased educational opportunities, and housing equity. However, our country has mishandled public safety challenges with racist policies and practices that have made us all less safe and secure, like: hyper-militarized law enforcement of Black and Brown neighborhoods, overly aggressive — and sometimes deadly — policing tactics, mass incarceration, insufficient economic development, qualified immunity to shield bad police behavior, and tough-on-crime legislation.

Instead of taking responsibility for their failures, certain politicians want to divide and distract us by pointing the finger at the people and communities affected by the criminal legal system that they engineered to fracture our society. They draft bills with catchy, ‘get tough’ names, but negatively impact all of us — whether we are directly targeted or not. Two such bills, H.R.6448/S.3860 and H.R.6375/S.4287, are coming up for consideration this fall. NETWORK and our coalition partners strongly call for Members of Congress to vote against these proposed measures.

Policing Bill # Name and Sponsor Why They Are Harmful
H.R.6448/S 3860 Invest to Protect Act of 2022 (Sponsor Rep. Josh Gottheimer [D-NJ-5]) These bills would flood our streets with an additional 100,000 police officers, increase funding by $1B per year over five years, and increase the amount of surveillance and other relative equipment—further harming already marginalized communities.

Police bureaucracy would expand without concrete accountability measures. This further entrenches disrespect for our fundamental freedoms.

These bills would completely fail to adequately address the policies and practices at the root of community violence. Moreover, the holistic, evidence-based safety programs that have been proven (with research and data) to help our communities thrive, are not included.

H.R.6375/S 4287 COPS on the Beat Grant Program Reauthorization and Parity Act of 2022 (Sponsor Rep. Tom Rice [R-SC-7])


NETWORK is in coalition with a group of social justice and civil rights organizations that have issued a formal letter to House Leadership requesting that they not advance these bills. Read the letter here.

The most impacted people, of course, are those caught up in a criminal legal system primarily focused on harsh and inequitable punishment and lengthy incarceration (rather than rehabilitation and reintegration into society). But those of us on the outside looking in are harmed, too. We are conditioned to believe (consciously or subconsciously) that impacted people are the reason why their communities are unsafe. Bills like these, which racialize and vilify large swaths of people, often go unseen as a culprit in making life miserable.

In thinking this way, we not only fail to see how the laws are designed to impact a certain group of people; but we also devalue the diverse humanity and unique beauty that God bestows on all of Creation.

Law enforcement and elected officials use communities in distress as political pawns to appease and appeal to their voter bases. They signal that they are tough-on-crime by suppressing individual freedoms with policy that brings about outsized police interference. Isn’t this in conflict with the ideals of our Democratic Republic? I know that it is out of step with our sacred scriptures.

Advocate for Public Safety Strategies, Against Tough on Crime Legislation

All of us–Black or white, rich or poor, or republican or democrat–should live in safe and secure neighborhoods. People living in troubled neighborhoods that have obstacles to thriving lives because of racist economic policies and practices, should not be targeted for an outsized police presence. They don’t need more weapons. The deserve proven, safer, and life affirming strategies. Politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to promote tough-on-crime tactics to appease the electorate. What else can you do to help?

  • For decades, police have been allocated substantial funding without being held to concrete accountability measures. Let Congress know there can be no more bills like this.
  • Too often, citizens with mental health issues are incarcerated instead given proper medical treatment. Let Congress know this has to stop.
  • We’ve waged a war on drugs and have been tough on crime without results that keep people and communities free and safe. Let Congress know that policing bills must be rooted in public health and based on evidence-based investments – not on the rhetoric they think voters want to hear
  • Be an advocate for legislation that values the humanity of everyone in all of our communities, like these proposed in the House. NETWORK will let you know when it’s time to take action with a call or email to the House:
Evidence Proves Legislators Tough On Crime Police Measures Harm Our Communities and Don’t Keep Us Safe

Our country serves as the model of democracy around the globe, but sadly, our incarceration rate of 629 people per 100,000 means our country has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The U.S. rose to the top of this disturbing chart over the past four decades because of the proliferation of biased and ineffective tough-on-crime legislation. As the Sentencing Project reports, presently, there are two million people in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. Friends, think about this carefully: U.S. policing policy has driven the country to claim nearly 25% of the world’s total prison population but has failed to significantly reduce crime in our communities. What does this mean?

Despite what politicians and police tell you about the effectiveness of their tactics, decades of data has shown that ‘get tough’ policies have not made us safer. There is little correlation between high rates of ‘violent crime’ and incarceration rates and research from the Pew Charitable Trust dispels the theory that stiffer prison terms deter drug misuse, distribution, and other drug-law violations. I applaud Pews suggestion to policymakers: pursue research-based alternative strategies that work better and cost less. But, there’s more than the proper allocations of resources to consider.

Black lives hang precariously in danger because of the police. Among Black Americans, the rate of fatal police shootings between 2015 and August 2022 stood at 40 per million of the population, while for white Americans, the rate stood at 16 fatal police shootings per million of the population.

Dig Deeper: How did we get here?

Much of the carceral trauma inflicted on people and communities in modern times came after the passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (the crime bill). The legislation was passed with bipartisan support, in large part, to help Democrats appear tough-on-crime. Data leading up to the crime bill showed that people in urban areas needed employment opportunities and education, but Congress responded with jails and military grade weapons on our streets (How to Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi, 2019).

Even before the crime bill inflicted harm with racially biased policing and mandatory drug sentencing guidelines, state and federal authorities waged 13 years of ‘get tough’ policies across the country that emphasized the use of incarceration for more offenders for longer periodsbut did not reduce the crime rate. And before that time period, a trio of U.S. presidents squarely aimed unjust crime policy at Black and Brown people.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared that stronger law enforcement was needed to curb drug abuse. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on crime. Both policies sought to vilify the marginalized and addicted, not safeguard public welfare with policies that reflected mercy and justice as God calls for (Zechariah 7:9-10).

in 1971, President Richard Nixon’s used racial abuse as the basis of criminal legal system policy. This may have been suspected at the time, but it wasn’t until years later that his phony ‘War on Drugs’ was revealed as a political strategy designed to demonize political enemies.

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. (John Erlichmann, former Nixon domestic policy advisor, Harper Magazine).

Evidence Based Public Policy Legislation Is Vital to the Build Anew Agenda

NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda seeks a country where all people enjoy freedoms and thrive in God’s economy. Any bill that sprouts in the shadow of the 1994 Crime Bill violates our Spirited call for justice and equity.

We can’t be fooled into thinking that the same old policy is going to fix our policing and criminal legal system problems. NETWORK calls on Congress to stop the cycle of police funding bills that don’t work. Instead, advance policies rooted in public health and in evidence-based investments that will truly keep people safe. We know what keeps us safe. Together, we will make this a place where our rights are respected and where every one of us can live full and healthy lives, with no exceptions.

Links from this blog to read and share with your friends and family
Rochester Reparations Vigil | NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Register for the Rochester, NY In-Person Prayer Vigil for Repair and Redress

Racism has been a well-preserved traveler across generations in large part because of government behavior, like: blocked access to the wealth-building opportunities of homeownership, racial bias throughout the criminal legal system, and segregation from “good” schools. Our communities suffer because redress has been denied. We’re glad you can join us!

Want to learn more about New York’s NETWORK Advocates Team, who are volunteer justice-seekers rooted in the community, or about future reparations events and actions? Contact Catherine Gillette, Senior NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Organizer.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965--57 Years Later

Restoring the Promise of the Voting Rights Act — 57 Years Later

Restoring the Promise of the Voting Rights Act — 57 Years Later

Fifty-seven years ago, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a son of the South who recognized the grave wrong of denying African-Americans their right to vote. For the first time in U.S. history, Black Americans had the legal means to ensure compliance with the 15th Amendment of the Constitution and to challenge restrictive voting laws and practices designed to deny them access to the ballot. This was a victory brutally fought for in the Civil Rights Movement and a long time coming.

African Americans were hopeful that at last they could assume their place as full citizens of this country, participate equally in the political process, and exercise their right to vote without fear or harassment. But celebration was short-lived as the Voting Rights Act was met with almost immediate court challenges, mostly from Southern states, the same states where slavery had once thrived. Many people remained determined to deny the most basic right of citizenship to a large swath of their fellow citizens.

Sadly, this ‘tug of war’ for the full rights of citizenship for people of color has continued over time. In 1970, 1975, and 1982, Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act. In 2007, Congress amended it to include non-English speaking U.S. citizens, Indigenous people, and other excluded populations, and extended its enforcement provisions for 25 years. But many states, mostly in the South, continued to place obstacles in the way of non-white citizens’ exercise of their right to vote in order to dilute Black voters’ electoral power and their potential to threaten the political status quo.

Despite these efforts, the political power of Black, Latinx, Native American, and AAPI voters across the country has grown over time. Increasingly, Black and Brown voters have diversified the ranks of elected officials, making their voices heard through the ballot box so powerfully that in 2008, we saw the election of Barack Obama, the first Black President in U.S. history. In 2021, we saw the election of the first Black and the first Jewish Senators from Georgia. While these were historic victories for our country, many white citizens found them a threat to their traditional idea of America.

Backlash against Voting Rights

A growing number of white voters now fear their historical monopoly on political power in this country will be forever eroded if Black, Latinx, Native American, and other excluded voters are able to freely exercise their constitutionally protected right to vote.
This fear was apparent when the Supreme Court, in its Shelby County v Holder decision, struck down the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The court’s ruling found that the formula to determine which jurisdictions were subject to pre-clearance requirements was unconstitutional because it is based on an old formula and assumed there was no longer a need for such enforcement. Contrary to the Court’s assumption, immediately after the ruling was handed down, states began to pass restrictive voting laws and increase ID requirements once again.

State legislatures gerrymandered district maps and made it harder to access the voting booth by closing polling places, especially in communities of color, limiting early voting, placing restrictions on mail-in voting, and by putting people in positions who will enforce these restrictions no matter the infringement on their citizens’ rights. Since the beginning of 2021, 18 states have passed 34 restrictive voting laws, which disproportionately affect voters of color.

Reclaiming Our Right to Vote

Today, as a country, we find ourselves facing the same situation the Voting Rights Act was designed to end. Once again, Black and Brown citizens have to fight to retain the fundamental right to vote their conscience and their preference in free and fair elections.
This is not just a problem for people of color. Unfounded restrictions on lawful access to the ballot, excessive and undue requirements for citizens to exercise their right to vote, and the undergirding white supremacist ideology that fuels them, are a problem for all of us. Voting is the pillar and hallmark of a functioning democracy and when citizens are unduly prevented from the free and fair exercise of that right, it weakens our democracy. That is why everyone must step up to reject these unconstitutional attacks on the right to vote.

Now Is the Time to Act

Right now, our democracy is on the verge of collapse in the face of an unrelenting assault on our rights by people who seek only their own, unrestricted power. Everyone needs to wake up to this threat to our democracy!
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was an important step in securing the rights of citizenship for all people. We cannot and must not let its legacy be lost. At this crucial time in our country’s history, we must come together to protect our right to vote from those who would withhold the full rights of democracy from some people based on race, ethnicity, or other arbitrary distinctions.

The Senate must join the House in passing H.R.4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And it’s our time to emulate the Civil Rights advocates of the 1960s and demand the rights of democracy for all. Most importantly, we must use our political power to elect policymakers who will safeguard the right to vote for all citizens.
Our vote is our voice and right now, we have to raise our collective voice and overcome these anti-democracy forces once and for all. If we fail, we might wake up to find that we no longer live in a pluralistic, democratic society, but an autocracy enforced by the political and financial power of a small group of people who fundamentally do not believe in democracy at all. The time is now to act.

NETWORK Lobby Government Relations Advocate Minister Christian S. Watkins Offers A Juneteenth Reflection

A Juneteenth Reflection

Can you imagine being free and emancipated from the brutally lethal system and culture of enslavement and not knowing it? This was the case for enslaved people in Texas who were not informed of their freedom until two years after Emancipation. On Monday, June 20, 2022, our nation celebrated Juneteenth, the commemoration of the announcement in Galveston, Texas (General Order No. 3 delivered on June 19, 1865). The Union Army marched from Galveston Island to the Negro Church on Broadway — since renamed Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church, liberating African Americans from enslavers, many of whom had migrated to Texas after the Civil War to escape Union control, Reconstruction mandates, and oppress Black people.

The delay of freedom ecause of racial bias in Texas is a shame. To be clear, over the past 157 years, our country has experienced moments of racial justice. It’s sad that as the United States carries the mantle as the world-wide beacon of democracy, and a place where all are free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, social progress and equality measures that weave Black people into the American Dream have been short-lived.

In fact, I believe that it is more accurate to assert that the Black experience in the United States is more closely aligned with great economic and social inequity, loss of life and liberty, and damage to the souls of Black people, than it has ever been tied to equity and equality. From overcoming treatment as three-fifths of a person as slaves, the denigrating effects of the post-antebellum era, the violence of the Jim Crow era, the fight for voting rights, and the ongoing struggle for equity in housing, education, wages, healthcare, etc., Black people face great harm. The racist policies and white supremacy that lingers in the laws, policies and decisions of those who hold dominant power has had tragic, and sometimes deadly, outcomes for Black people.

How can this harm be eased when the United States has yet to fully reckon with, and atone for, slavery — its original sin?

NETWORK Lobby, the Why We Can’t Wait coalition of our partners, other justice-seeking organizations, and civil rights advocates asked President Joe Biden to sign an executive order for reparations by Juneteenth 2022 — and begin the nationwide racial healing and repair.  He declined.

Juneteenth symbolizes the enduring Black American spirit and persistence to overcome injustice – despite the numerous delays and denials of equality. It’s time for the waiting to stop. Our President (and Congress, too) can and must do all they can to enact measures that address the long-lasting legacy of slavery. It was a grave mistake to avoid redress and reparations as slavery ended. The consequences of that inaction continue to cast a pall over our government, cultural institutions, criminal legal system, and our economic affairs.

It’s important to name that it is not too late to take action. The opportunity for Black Americans to freely, fairly and fully participate in our nation’s economy and democracy is still available. A reparations study is vital, but there are other measures our national leaders can take:

  • Enact key provisions of President Biden’s economic agenda and bipartisan legislation that have been obstructed must be enacted that would help eliminate deep-seated racial inequities in our economic and political systems.
  • Address the staggering racial wealth gap
  • Stabilize our democracy by fortifying voting rights against exclusion efforts and suppression tactics,
  • Create penalties for law enforcement agents who harm or kill Black lives without cause
  • End the disparity in policing and sentencing that has created biased mass incarceration rates by race
  • Stop allowing violence against immigrants.

As NETWORK advocates for the creation of a reparations commission, we continue supporting policies that will build our country anew by advancing racial justice and racial equity. We invite justice-seekers to advocate with us. Click here to find ways to take action.

The Dobbs Decision and NETWORK’s Continued Work for Racial and Economic Justice

The Dobbs Decision and NETWORK’s Continued Work for Racial and Economic Justice

The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will have deep ramifications in people’s lives, many of whom may not even realize it yet. Undoing nearly half a century of precedent and jurisprudence will undoubtedly have a disorienting and destabilizing impact on our laws, the provision of maternal health care, and our already fraught civil discourse. 

At NETWORK, we speak from five decades of women-led, person-centered advocacy and hundreds of encounters with women, families, and communities across the country that have been disinvested in, and marginalized by, our systems and structures. As a Catholic organization with 50 years of political ministry in a pluralistic democracy, we recognize the role and distinction of the moral and legal questions at issue here.   

This Supreme Court decision leaves NETWORK with the following questions from our perspective of pursuing justice and the common good through federal policy:  

  • Will state and federal legislatures now introduce and pass a groundswell of policies to offer a robust social safety net of resources for all women and families that allow everyone to thrive?  
  • Are religious leaders prepared to allocate resources through the largesse of their institutions and donors to ensure that any gaps in the social safety net are filled?  
  • Will this decision lead to an increase in maternal mortality for the people who are already the most lacking in access to resources in our society, especially women living in rural, low-income communities and women of color?   
  • Will state legislatures continue to pass invasive and punitive measures that create a culture of surveillance and criminalization of women, including those experiencing ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage?   
  • Will this decision create a chilling effect among medical providers, making them hesitant or unable to provide life-saving care to patients suffering conditions such as ectopic pregnancy or hemorrhaging after a miscarriage 

With polarization and extremist violence growing in our country, people of faith have a moral duty to work toward the common good across a spectrum of issues. Catholic teaching states that a focus on one moral priority cannot lead to “dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity” (“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” #29).   

For anyone who has made ending federal protections for abortion the singular focus of their political activity, we at NETWORK urge you to expand your focus to include the economic realities of women and families. Now is the time to listen to the experience of women, particularly women living in rural, low-income communities and women of color. 

Founded by Catholic Sisters and imbued with their charisms, NETWORK educates, organizes, and lobbies to create a society that promotes justice and the dignity of all. We invite all who share our passion for justice to work with us to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive future.  

 Joan F. Neal is NETWORK’s deputy executive director and chief equity officer. Mary J. Novak is NETWORK’s executive director. Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU, is an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland and NETWORK’s chief of staff. 

NETWORK's reparation vigil featured Reverend Traci Blackmon

NETWORK’s Reparations Vigil in Cleveland Featured Revered Traci Blackmon

NETWORK’s Reparations Vigil in Cleveland Featured Reverend Traci Blackmon

Elissa Hackerson
June 17, 2022

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice hosted Repair and Redress: A Vigil for Reparations (In-Person) on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 at St. Aloysius – St. Agatha Parish in Cleveland, OH. People in the parish church and school community, sisters, the Cleveland NETWORK Advocates Team, justice-seekers, and NETWORK staff made a powerful stand for reparations for Black Americans and called for an H.R.40-style reparations commission by Juneteenth. NETWORK’s reparations vigil in Cleveland featured Reverend Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister, Justice and Local Church Ministries (United Church of Christ). The United Church of Christ shared a condensed video presentation of her remarks.

Rev. Blackmon’s stirring and powerful remarks spoke to the theological call to repair a society broken by the sin of chattel slavery and the racism that has followed in its wake and addressed society’s need to atone and provide redress.  Rev. Blackmon declared that it is time to end government charity for Black people (giving fish) and deliver justice (equitable access to the lake).

The reason we have not reckoned with racism in this country–decision makers have decided that God cannot be Black, that God cannot be Brown. That God indeed must be white and therefore we have created a fractured and disabled society.Rev. Traci D. Blackmon

A classically trained violinist from Venezuela added music to the vigil.

NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda calls for a society where we all share equally in God’s abundance. For this to happen, our country’s laws, policies, and norms must:

  • Dismantle Systemic Racism
  • Cultivate Inclusive Community
  • Root Our Economy in Solidarity
  • Transform Our Politics

As Rev. Blackmon stated so clearly in her vigil remarks, “Reparations is about the church and the people and the society moving from charity to justice. Moving from hand out to hand up. Moving from simply offering to give someone a fish to giving them access to the lake so they can fish for themselves.”

It's time to address, repent and repair for the original sin of slavery and the racist laws and policies that followed

Now Is the Time to Address, Repent, and Repair

Now Is the Time to Address, Repent, and Repair

On Juneteenth, we honor and observe those in Galveston, Texas who were the last to receive the news that all enslaved people were now free. As important as it is for Juneteenth to be a national holiday, this national commemoration must be paired with support for policies that name and address the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow that continue to this day. To ignore our country’s sin of legalized chattel slavery, to pretend that it did not exist, or that it is no longer relevant to modern life, is to be in complete denial. 

Joan Neal, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice Deputy Executive Director & Chief Chief Equity Officer, contributed open remarks for NETWORK’s recent HR 40 Webinar. Watch below.

Slavery happened. Black human beings were put in chains, in bondage, and in indentured servitude, for more than 200 years. It is a part of America’s history and we must start by telling the truth about it. Especially, people of faith, for whom honesty and truth-telling are values.  Scripture and our religious tradition tell us you cannot be truly free of sin unless you admit that you have sinned, make a firm determination to sin no more, and, make restitution for what was lost.  The sin is not forgiven until all parties are whole again.  As a country, as a people, we cannot move beyond this evil until and unless the country tells the truth about our history and takes responsibility for the wrong it has done to a group of its own citizens.   

The question of reparations for slavery has been on the table in this country for two centuries.  Even though the 13th Amendment ended legal slavery in the United States in 1865, the residual bondage of African-Americans has continued even to this day.  The ideology of white supremacy not only persisted, it found ways to morph chattel slavery into second-class citizenship through laws, structures, systems and cultural traditions at every level of our society.  Enough is enough! 

More than four hundred years of racist policies, laws and practices have deprived African-Americans of equal access to participation in the cultural, political, social and economic life of this country. And the Catholic Church not only condoned this evil, but participated in it. The global Catholic Church supported the Atlantic Slave Trade starting with the Doctrine of Discovery, which appears in the 1455 Papal Bull of Pope Nicholas V, authorizing the enslavement of African people in the pursuit of new territory for Portugal and Spain. In the United States, many religious orders including the Jesuits, as well as individual Bishops, dioceses and churches, embraced enslavement, Jim Crow laws, and other forms of discrimination and racism.   

The Catholic Church gave slave ownership moral absolution and enthusiastic acceptance.  Moreover, centuries of racist violence, like what we saw in Charleston, South Carolina and Buffalo, New York, and oppression, like the many states where voter suppression laws are being passed to depress the Black vote, continue to be incompatible with and contradictory to the Christian call to love one another as we love ourselves and to live in right relationship.   

It is time to confess, to repent, and to repair. The harmful legacy of white supremacy and the enduring racial wealth gap must no longer deny Black people good health, educational and economic outcomes.   

How do faith teachings call us to respond?  What is our moral responsibility in the face of this history as well as the ongoing impact of the legacy of slavery?   

As Catholics and as followers of Christ, our faith calls us to be in solidarity with all who have been or are marginalized and to act for what is right and just. That means in this case, if you are white, to fearlessly tell the truth about white supremacy, racial injustice and lack of equity in our society in order to diminish the impact of historical and contemporary racism in today’s political, social and economic systems, frameworks and institutions. It means that you courageously face up to the original sin of this country, renounce it once and for all, and do all in your power to repair the damage that has been done to your neighbor. It means that you take responsibility for the sins of the past, repair the wrongs done in this day and time, and ensure that the sins of your ancestors are not visited upon your children, your neighbor’s children or their children’s children or anyone in the future.   

The prophet Micah told us what God expects of us– ‘to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with God.’  Now is the time for the United States to ‘do justice’ for African-Americans.  Individual reparations programs, like that of the Jesuits, are commendable but they are not enough.  We need a national reparation program that achieves a meaningful closing of the wealth gap between Black and white Americans, now estimated to be $11 trillion.   

That is why we, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, support establishing a federal commission to study reparations, either by passing H.R.40 through Congress, or through an executive order from the Biden-Harris administration. This will take the first step forward to do justice with mercy.  

Now is the time. Now is the time to take the step forward, to say no more evading responsibility, no more denying the truth of the past, no more refusing to repair the wrong.  Catholic teaching is clear: Our entire national community must move forward together toward reparatory justice so we can become that beloved community we envision.   

Now is the time to address, repent, and repair. This Juneteenth, 157 years after that momentous day in Galveston, may our reflections on the symbolic importance of this anniversary move us to action.  

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis Delivers Keynote Speech at H.R.40 Policy Update _share_credit Beatrice De Gea

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis Delivers Keynote Speech at H.R.40 Policy Update

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis Delivers Keynote Speech at H.R.40 Policy Update

Elissa Hackerson
June 8, 2022

On June 1, 2022, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice hosted a webinar to educate and mobilize advocates about an H.R.40-style federal reparations committee to study the impact of slavery — and the racist policies and laws that were created in its wake. NETWORK Staff was joined by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister for Public Theology and Transformation at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Rev. Lewis delivered a keynote speech that positioned reparations in a scriptural, theological framework for over 300 webinar attendees.

Rev. Lewis’s reflection zoomed in on human history with examples of humans capturing and conquering God’s people. And she challenged the ideology that some people deserve access to freedom and liberty more than others. She asserted that the ideology of whiteness has broken Black people, baptized the Holocaust, and broke Indigenous people. Reparations will bring healing, and we who have followed a Jewish rabbi into a world of faith seek repair.

Repairers of the Breach

Rev. Lewis began her remarks with scripture as a frame, choosing a beautiful call to the kind of worship, fasting and feast that God wants in Isaiah 58.  “A call to be different kinds of faithful people. A call to Israel then, and to us now, to fix what’s broken in the world…to heal the world. When we do this, God says our names will be changed. We will be called repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in.”

Why Reparations?

“Because we have participated, friends, in the breaking of the covenant with God. In the breaking of God’s design, in the dismantling of God’s hope and dream for us. And, I’m not talking about what happened in the Garden [of Eden] where Adam and Eve disobey and eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

Sacrifice Honors God’s Creation

Rev. Lewis goes on to share that from our Biblical origin story until today, our human desire to be like God, to make a world with God, has been corrupted along the way. White supremacists have imposed their worldview and ideology in a biased way, subduing God’s people.

We are to fast, worship, welcome the outsider, feed the hungry, clothe the naked…not hold onto ideology and a sense of supremacy. This connection to repair and connection to God is the healing and reparations required to “restore the created order” and realize that everyone has enough in “God’s economy.”