The senseless murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, startled many because they raised the ongoing issues of racial prejudice, gun violence, and how people from all walks of life become innocent victims of terror, hate, and discrimination.
How many tragedies and how many deaths will it take to open our hearts and minds to search for remedies that address these divisive issues?
Tragic events should be the beginning of a dialogue addressing the tensions that crowd our society. Unfortunately, civil authorities continue to disappoint by polarizing and politicizing tragic events to the point of gridlock. In reality, social problems are a moral responsibility for all, not just politicians. Hate, hostility, and violence continue to fray the fabric of our society. There is a long way to go in the quest for equality.
Almost on the same day as the tragedy of South Carolina, a new encyclical, Laudato Si’, by Pope Francis was released. Though focused on the environment, his message resonates to other social areas of our lives. He clearly challenges each of us to move away from living in the shadows of fear and apathy, and look closely at the inseparable bond between nature and humanity, inequalities of people, and the marginalization of the poor and the disenfranchised. His powerful message goes far beyond the climate.
Pope Francis' message is a wake-up call, rooted in the gospels, that focuses our attention not just on a world problem but ones that contaminate our own lives.
The pope is calling for each one of us to resist passivity, the contagion of apathy, and cynicism. This indifference lulls people back into a slumber where the conspiracy of silence prevails. Francis is imploring us to respond with action—action grounded on the rediscovery of our multiple God-given gifts and talents, and a determination to use them to build new cities and nations by reconnecting humankind.
Accepting personal responsibility and accountability for renewing the face of the earth is a baptismal call. Francis exhorts us to become challenged by the Gospel as a first step toward dialogue to establish freedom and peace for all.
The LGBT community is very much a part of this challenge. The recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality was a major victory that could not have happened without the unwavering, unified voices of many individuals.
Courage to celebrate diversity is clearly visible when watching members of PFLAG, as well as many churches and other religious denominations, march in Pride parades.
Religious folks, particularly Catholics, have ceased waiting for hierarchical approbation and taken creative stances to empower people with principle, compassion, and grace to bear witnesses for equality and justice.
Some politicians and celebrities have also made headlines by coming out and decalring support for social issues. But let us not forget the many others like the Matthew Shepards who have risked life, employment, and severed family relations for personal integrity and internal peace. There are countless others who have lost significant family relationships, and their lives, either by suicide, hate crimes, or enslavement to substances. There is still a long way to go in the quest for equality.
Pope Francis writes in his encyclical: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”
Surely the words of Francis reflect the admonition of the letter of St James, “faith without good works is dead”!
The ultimate goal of renewing the face of the earth, working towards solutions to social issues, and building a city of God may not be achieved in our lifetimes, but hopefully we can go to God convinced that, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “I have done all that is mine to do.”