by Alessandra Harris
in America Magazine
Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released his address to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life being held in Madrid, Spain. In the address he stated that an elite leadership class has risen around the globe, one that has little interest in religion and no real attachments to the nations in which they live or to local traditions. Archbishop Gomez described the social justice movements as “pseudo-religions, and replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs.”
As a Black Catholic engaged in social and racial justice movements, I can’t help but see some irony in Archbishop Gomez’s statement. It is, in fact, my traditional Christian belief that spurs me to make connections between my faith and the Gospel call for justice. This conviction on the part of Black Catholics and other groups at the margin of the church has kept us in the Christian faith in spite of the church’s history of colonization, enslavement, abuse and racism. Catholic elites, including church leaders, wealthy donors and media conglomerates, may see no connection between social justice movements and the core convictions of our church; but are these movements straying from tradition, or are our leaders out of touch?
A 2020 Pew Research survey found that 75 percent of Black Americans (77 percent of Black Catholics) believe that opposing racism is essential to their faith. As Jamie T. Phelps wrote in Taking Down Our Harps, “African-American Christians, united by the bonds of a common oppression and a common hope, have traditionally found the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus a source of strength and hope in their struggle for liberation.”
Jesus’ own life is a model of sacrifice, of how to live for a more just and loving world. Unlike the European images of Jesus, the historical Jesus was an ethnic Jewish man born in Bethlehem of Judea, which is modern day Palestine. He lived under brutal Roman occupation. In his early years, his family lived as refugees in Africa. He began his public ministry by proclaiming the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and to set the oppressed free. Jesus lived his life challenging both Roman and Jewish laws, which oppressed the poor and marginalized. His life ended when he was executed by the Roman state. But believers know his story did not end there. Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and the Spirit of God is alive and calls upon each of us to continue the work…