The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Illinois and Wisconsin has been outstanding in its anti-racism work. I was pleased to be able to attend on April 7, a lecture by Jim Wallis at Eureka College (a Disciples institution) on the themes of Wallis’s recent book on racism, America’s Original Sin.
Wallis, who describes himself as an evangelical Christian, is the president and founder of a Christian organization called Sojourners, and is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, which focuses on Christianity and the need of Christians to be agents of change toward greater justice within society.
I belong to Illinois Christians Encountering Racism, the anti-racism team of the Illinois Conference of Churches, and it was through some team members that I learned about this event. I felt the absence of two team members, both Disciples, who happened to be doing anti-racism training in Nebraska. One of them, Martha Herrin, lives in Stewardson in our diocese.
As it turned out, it was one of those situations in which “being present” is subject to redefinition. Wallis was unable to fly from Washington to central Illinois, due to recent severe weather in various parts of the country. Wallis, therefore, came to us by way of teleconference technology — the sort of thing with which many of us are familiar thanks to our experience on Sunday, April 2, with the deanery gatherings held as a preparation for our Fourth Diocesan Synod.
Among the topics which Wallis touched upon: By around 2040, the United States will no longer be a majority “white” country. This fact helps us to concentrate on the question of what race is. We are liberated by recognizing that race is something which exists only in our minds. Race is a social construct which may be used in to impose standards of social superiority and inferiority. We see that even “whiteness” is subject to redefinition. If we want hearts to change, we must have hope. Wallis offered a definition of hope: “believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change.”
I have noted, in previous columns, that racism is a fascinating topic which many of us avoid because we are conflicted about whether we are “guilty,” and if so, guilty of what. The notion of racism as an “original sin” could well set us free to explore the universal distortion to which we are all subject. If we encounter and confront racism, we will find that our world opens up to us. We meet and appreciate people whom we might have overlooked. The history of our country becomes more accessible to us as we uncover the irrational forces which have led us to distort relationships between human beings.
I know that some readers receive their paper as early as Thursday. I am just in time, therefore, to offer a last-minute encouragement to take part in the services of the Easter Triduum. This is the most important celebration of our year of grace. We find ourselves immersed in the mystery of Jesus, in his service of washing his disciples’ feet and instituting the Holy Eucharist (Holy Thursday), in going to his death (Good Friday), and in his resurrection (Easter Vigil Mass, Holy Saturday night). Many new Catholics receive sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil. These precious days are our moment for grasping the essence of our faith: that God, who created us to share in his life, has pursued us so that we might be transformed by the love of Jesus.