“Call To Action would like to dispense with implications and say it clearly: the hierarchical Catholic Church is a frequent force for white supremacy, as well as patriarchy, authoritarianism, hypocrisy, and reactionary conservatism. Sojourners and Jim Wallis in particular caved to the pressure of the bishops who lead this Church.
Many of us at Call To Action object to the decision of Sojourners Magazine and its editor-in-chief Jim Wallis to retract its August 2020 article “The Catholic Church Has a Visible White-Power Faction.” The article is by Eric Martin, a UCLA lecturer and Fordham theology PhD graduate. A copy of it via @NyashaJunior is here.
The article cites a vote by US bishops not to condemn swastikas, nooses, and confederate flags in their 2018 letter on racism (the letter nevertheless condemns violence towards police). Referencing this, the article discusses the letter’s “writers’ silence on three famously extreme symbols of racism.” The article quotes some bishops as arguing against condemning the confederate flag because “some still claim it as a sign of heritage.”
On the article’s former webpage, Sojourners editor Wallis now writes that he felt “required” to retract it due to its “factual accuracy, tone, and implication of the article as a whole.” Wallis claims that the article was inaccurate solely in its discussion of bishops’ choosing “silence.” Wallis claims this by noting that that the bishops’ letter does name nooses and swastikas as a “tragic indicator of rising racial and ethnic animus.”
Yet in America in 2020, it is more clear than ever that a noose or swastika is much more than an “indicator” of racial “animus”; nooses and swastikas (and confederate flags) are instances and enactments of racism, worthy of condemnation. To reference these symbols as “tragic” is hardly to condemn them. The bishops’ choice of language here only further evidences the “silence” the article describes.
Wallis’s real concern, his explanation makes clear, is not language and accuracy; Wallis writes that he “felt that the broader theme of the article would not be corrected by a simple factual correction.” Rather he is concerned about offending the Catholic bishops and other leaders exposed negatively in the article. Wallis continues: “I agree with large portions of this article especially where, and as it sought to call out, those who would seek to use Catholic theology and teaching to justify their white nationalist and white supremacist beliefs and actions. However, the article too closely linked the words, actions, and ideologies of individuals and groups to the leadership of the Catholic Church.”
Wallis goes on: “All institutions, including the Catholic Church, need to continually acknowledge and address their roles and responsibility as it relates to issues of racial justice.” In this, Wallis unwittingly echoes people who counter the specific call that “Black lives matter” with the white-washed call that “all lives matter.” For, his decision to revoke the article silences an explanation of the specific ways that the Catholic Church and its leaders have failed to address racial justice. Wallis insists on calling out Catholic leaders only as part of some “fuller and more comprehensive understanding of the work being done by leadership within the church.”
Yet if we avoid naming how leaders of one of America’s largest, oldest, and most powerful institutions declines condemning specific, extreme forms of racism… then we are another example of the silence we avoid naming. It is easy to only call out others; it is easy to only call out the other political party and the other activists and some other “side” of America’s ubiquitous racism. But in order to be fair not only to bishops but to all affected by racism, we must be willing to implicate our own -- our bishops and our fellow religious leaders, however moderate or liberal or well-intentioned or close to home many of them may be. We must not insist on massaging bad news with, per Wallis’s proposal, “a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of the work being done by leadership within the church” on racism.
Thus I call on Sojourners to restore the article, and for Sojourners to hold its own leader accountable for caving to Catholic bishops and leaders. I encourage you to email firstname.lastname@example.org to voice your opinion about the decision to retract it.
And for Call To Action’s part: We would like to dispense with implications and say it clearly: the hierarchical Catholic Church is a force for white supremacy, as well as patriarchy, authoritarianism, hypocrisy, and reactionary conservatism. As a Call To Action member, I meanwhile take more seriously than ever our own need to examine how white supremacy infects my own liberal organization. I thank our Anti-Racism Team, and invite you to join the team. In particular, follow it for discussions about the Catholic Church’s historical and ongoing complicity in white supremacy -- and to join together in action for racial justice.
And as Catholic leaders ourselves, let us commit once again to Call To Action’s mission to “educate, inspire and activate Catholics to act for justice and build inclusive communities through a lens of anti-racism and anti-oppression principles.”
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