Race, Faith, and Justice: An African Catholic’s Perspective

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In the summer of 2020, from the quiet setting of my home office, I watched as many cities fell into manufactured implosions at the hands of the mob and cancel-culture. Up until that point, the general theme of 2020, in the wake of COVID-19, was unity to “stop” or to “slow the spread.” And so, as I watched the riots in response to the unfortunate death of George Floyd spread from city to city, under the blessing of municipal authorities and progressive politicians in office, it became apparent (by the destruction of property, lives, and livelihood) that the moral and intellectual fabric of the nation was again under attack by the institutions whose duty it was to protect her. The song of unity, which we had been asked to sing “wear a mask; save lives,” was replaced by “Black Lives Matter.” 

To those who might deem this as an insensitive approach to the subject of race relations, I assure you it is not. My objective is not to be cavalier or dismissive, but to draw attention to the ever growing problem we have in this country—that of “mob” justice by “cancel culture;” neither of these serves the purpose of furthering true race relations. 

Yet, as we remained glued to the heartbreaking violence and destruction of many of America’s cities, we could not help but notice how the morass of the lynching French Revolutionist mob had found itself embedded in the United States. There was no middle voice of caution, just one of demands which ultimately sought conquest of positive law and historic institutions rather than positive policy changes where changes could be made to serve equity and justice. And so, to these loud voices, a good number of well-meaning Americans bowed their heads, in willful resignation to accept their fate at the hands of various crowds who sought to exact their idea of justice on passersby. Moses’ warning comes to mind: 

“Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil: neither shalt thou yield in judgment, to the opinion of the most part, to stray from the truth.” (Ex 23:2)

As a proud Catholic of African descent, and as a proud citizen of these United States, I could not have been more offended by these well-meaning Americans who have likely been indoctrinated by a Marxist public university school system and bombarded by constant media pressure to accept certain positions which in the long term are not helpful to ensuring dialogue on sensitive issues or growth toward long-term resolve. 

One of the more egregious acts which we were forced to witness was a black man approaching random white people in public and asking them to offer apologies, while on their knees, for the institutional racism of their ancestors. And as an added gesture of remorse, they were also asked to kiss his feet. All those approached, without pressure, and fell to their knees in compliance.

To be sure, all racism is evil, but how many times does the common man have to repeat this before the political and educational class accept it and move on from the narrative that fosters feelings of resentment, inequality, and injustice?

Speaking in plain English—as a black man—the political and educational class would have you believe that my life in 25 years of living in America has been relegated to second-class citizenship, and that majority of blacks have suffered loss of their civil liberties. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I have investigated these very same questions over the years, and found that in many cases, progressive policy changes which were purportedly put into place to protect minorities were in fact harming them. 

Naturally, there should be resentment from anyone who is adversely affected by these policies. A good example is President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” implementations, such as the “War on Poverty” (cf. The Not-So-Great-Society), which provides resources such as welfare handouts instead of long-term employment which promotes self-enrichment. 

After the initial riots of last summer—which targeted whites as inherently “racist”—came the attacks on Christianity, particularly Catholicism. Statues were torn down and defaced. If it was not clear already, it became clearer that the motivating factor behind the riots was the toppling of religion from the public square, particularly Catholicism, whose tenets have long been a thorn in the sides of an increasingly liberal ruling class. 

Screams were heard denouncing Christopher Columbus and St. Junípero Serra, the Apostle of California. With little regards to the historic evidence surrounding the good work done by these men to protect the rights of the indigenous people in their time while they promoted Christianity in the New World, rioters sought to bring their longstanding legacy to an end. Thankfully, this has failed for the time being, even as efforts to remove these men from history remain.

As an American of African descent, I take pride in the fact that God blessed my home continent with zealous Catholic missionaries who had the great work of converting idolatrous peoples to Christianity. Men and women with troubling moral practices and in abject ignorance of higher truths were brought the Light of the Gospel. 

Growing up in the Catholic school system in Nigeria, we cherished such hymns as “Faith of Our Fathers” and “Hail Glorious Saint Patrick.” These hymns, which we memorized, taught us of the expectations of our faith and the strength of the intercession of great saints. This increased in us that desire to sustain hope in the backdrop of 250 ethnolinguistic groups working out their differences with a corrupt government largely stealing from its people. 

Contrary to outsiders’ beliefs, Africans are not necessarily unified, and neither are individual countries within Africa. Most African countries were drawn up by European countries and amalgamated for either political or administrative costs reasons. However these countries came to be, they have largely chosen to respect the histories which gave them their present existence. You would hardly find Christians in Nigeria raving negatively at the “white man’s religion,” which they embrace. 

As a Catholic, looking closely at race relations in the United States means coming to terms with several realities. The first reality is that there is a human condition called concupiscence which motivates human beings into acts that are not for the purpose of seeking excellence. The second reality is that the only way to achieve excellence is to pursue true virtue, rendering our lives to that end. 

Without acknowledgement of these two aforementioned realities, we will always fall short in achieving true happiness, and we run the risk of ascribing the wrong diagnosis to our problems. This in turn results in outbursts targeting innocent property and lives and near toppling of peace in society, as we saw this past summer. 

After acknowledging the first two realities highlighted above, we must then depend on two important ideas to fix the problem. First, what should drive man in a society; is there a movement toward the ultimate Good? Secondly, in speaking of justice, to what end does justice serve? 

As Catholics, we are bound by law to practice the virtue of justice as a habit. Aquinas rightly defines justice as “a habit whereby man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will” (Summa Theologica II-II, q. 58, a.1). 

Since each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, we must consider that our actions toward our neighbor must serve the highest good, because we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves for the sake of God. If we do not love God, we cannot truly love our neighbor. And in Christ, we have the perfect example, because He showed us how to love our neighbor in the way He loved us. 

To seek to do justice means to approach our neighbor on the merits of his being as it is the image and likeness of God, as well as the merits of the case which he presents.

To this end, if I were able to carve in stone on the steps of every court on America words by which every one of us should remember and strive to live, it would be this:

“Thou shalt not do that which is unjust, nor judge unjustly. Respect not the person of the poor, nor honor the countenance of the mighty. But judge thy neighbor according to justice.” (Lev. 19-15)

These are words which every man and woman can be truly united behind. This unity does not offer anything pretentious or bloated. It recognizes the blindness of justice to anything except that which it pertains—justice.

[Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images]

James Onochie


James Onochie holds degrees in philosophy and theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

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