Yesterday I moderated a program at Our Lady of Lourdes on Race and Justice, the inaugural program in Lourdes’ new Salt and Light Series. We had a panel of three speakers, each of whom spoke for about ten minutes, after which we had time for dialogue and question and answer. The three speakers were Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn, Nekima Levy-Pounds (my colleague at UST Law School and the newly elected President of the Minneapolis NAACP), and Tom Johnson former county attorney and former president of the Council of Crime and Justice. It was a moving and sobering event.
One of the things that was mentioned was the pastoral letter on racisim Archbishop Flynn released in 2003, In God’s Image. Archbishop Flynn talked about the circumstances of his issuing it and the reaction (positive and negative) he received, and Professor Levy-Pounds noted that she assignes the pastoral letter (along with Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail) to her students each semester.
When I went back to look at the pastoral letter again when I got home yesterday afternoon, I realized how that the words the former Archbishop used to introduce his letter are as timely and important today – perhaps more so – than they were when he wrote them in 20o3.
Here is the Preface to In God’s Image:
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the Hebrew Scriptures the prophet Micah gives us a simple but very challenging formula for holiness. He writes,
“… This is what Yahweh asks of you: Only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
This is the spirit that I hope all of you will bring to the discussion of racism and racial justice in our church and in our society. We cannot be a church that is true to the demands of the Gospel if we do not act justly, if we do not act to root out racism in the structures of our society and our church. And we cannot achieve personal holiness if we do not love tenderly, if we do not love and respect all human beings, regardless of their race, language, or ethnic heritage.
Only if we do these things can we expect to walk humbly with our God. For our God is a God of love and justice, a God who made all of us in His image. Racism is a denial of that fact. It is an offense against God. I realize that the subject of race can be a very difficult one for all of us. Yet I am convinced that we must address it with honesty and courage. For it remains a significant and sinful reality in our midst.
I am issuing this pastoral letter as an invitation to discussion and dialogue. I hope all of you will accept this invitation by taking part in discussions in your parish and community. By engaging in such a dialogue, we can all enhance our understanding of the role that race plays in our lives and we can join together in working to combat racism in all its forms.
Thank you for your commitment to the values of human dignity and racial justice.
God bless you,
Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn
You can read the pastoral letter in its entirety here, and I encourage you to do so.