3 Takeaways from Bishop Cheri's letter, "Let The Church Roll On."
On August 6, 2020, circulated was an email to several Black Catholic Leaders asking them to read Bishop Cheri's letter presented to the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, on August 4, 2020. The title of the message was, "Let the Church Roll On." After reading the text, I felt the need to express three takeaways that inspired me while hoping to inspire others to read the letter in its entirety. And secondly, this letter, placed on a lampstand, is truly a resource for Black Catholics to engage in questions and dialogue when responding to Black Lives Matter's issues in group discussion.
Takeaway number one: "The system keeps protecting itself."
Bishop Cheri commented that "The system keeps protecting itself." Before the comment just mentioned, Bishop Cheri reminded us that the Black Catholic Clergy Caucus in 1968 said that, "the Catholic Church in the United States, primarily a white racist institution, has addressed itself primarily to white society and is definitely a part of that society." Fifty-two years later, no change has come. This white racist institution continues to protect itself through white supremacy.
Unfortunately, white supremacy dates back to slave owners, both Catholic and Protestant ministers, who intentionally misinterpret scriptures to promote white domination. Slave owners used a prominent verse found in the Book of Philippians to support a doctrine that slaves must never seek equality with slave owners. The actual text said, "though [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped" (Ph. 2:6). Looking at several historical "Slave Catechisms" (see attached below), you will discover that the owners viewed themselves as God or above God. Subsequently, because of racism's systemic behavior of erroneous teachings and traumatic punishments and murderous acts against African Americans, Indigenous Americans, and other cultures, we tend to act out of generational fear to grasp equality. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." We must continue to articulate and formulate just laws to break this system. We need better explanations of scriptures that promote the truth; we are "all" created equally in God's eyes with different gifts. We need leaders to tell the truth and shame the Devil. We have the same spirit from God, the same red blood, but different skin tones.
Take away number two: "Stop saying, "all lives matter."
Bishop Cheri said, "Stop saying "all lives matter" – for you belittle the present reality of racial injustice." When I first heard this add on, my spirit was troubled. Blacks cannot seem to have their own; they always seem to encounter an invisible interpreter who tries to clarify a comment. They say, "That is not what that means." Why can I not say, "Black Lives Matter," and have people not get offended? If you saw me as a child of God, you would know, or at least trust that I believe that all people matter to me because God is love.
Here again, we find ourselves in a system designed to soften our stance in what we believe. Just think about it; if we define ourselves, we take away the power from the system. Remember Colin Kaepernick, the football player in 2016 who took a knee on the football field? He was attempting to bring awareness to the police brutality against Blacks. Kaepernick was trying to stop chokeholds and knees on one's neck. And when he made national news, the people in power made it seem like he was disrespecting the country's flag and blackballed him out of a job. Just like they changed the narrative then, somebody is trying to change the meaning now. "Black Lives Matter" is a summons to stop the criminal acts of police brutality against Black people. Don't cheapen the grace in the call; stop police brutality now. Celebrate the principle of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): "define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves." Black Lives Matter!
Take away number three: "Come out of that tree."
Oh, how I love this vital aspect of Bishop Cheri's letter, "Come out of that tree – your provincial offices, motherhouses and friaries – and come join us. Stand up, confess your complicity with systemic racism." Bishop Cheri issues a challenge to the Church leaders to "come out of that tree." His challenge reminded me of the Prophet Amos, "Woe to those who are complacent in Zion, secure on the mount of Samaria, Leaders of the first among nations, to whom the people of Israel turn" (Am. 6:1). Our Church leaders, well, "are they complacent?" Do they feel more "secure" behind a desk, or in a "tree?"
When looking at the Zacchaeus story, where is Jesus? Jesus is among the people. Pope Francis admonishes the clergy in March 2013, at the Chrism Mass, to be shepherds, with the "odor of the sheep." Jesus was with the people, smelling like sheep. And when Zacchaeus was in that tree, he had a conversion. He heard the call from the Shepherd and came down and relinquished his privileges. We need our leaders to listen to the Good Shepherd call, again and again, calling them to come down from that tree and walk together with all God's children to dismantle the injustices that cut short Black Americans' lives and others' cultures. We need our church leaders to move away from their security desks, but not just for a moment. Make this a behavior modification for a lifetime. Let the Church Roll On.
I could go on and on, but then I would be repeating the text for you. A copy of this letter is on Eat the Scroll Ministry's web page
Author: Evangelist Michael P. Howard, M.A.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail?"
A Pro-Slavery Catechism
Who was the first negro? Cain.
How did he become so? The Lord set a black mark upon him.
Did the Southern slave come from him? Yes.
How did they get through the flood? O, no! they didn’t come from him; they came from Ham.
How do you know that? Because Ham means black.
Upon whom did Noah pronounce a curse? Upon Ham.
Does the Bible say so? No, it says Canaan, but then it means Ham.
Does that curse make it right that the blacks should be enslaved? Yes.
Why? Because they should be.
Don’t the Bible say that Christ should be crucified? Yes.
Well, did that make it right? No; but the cases are not parallel.
From what country did the slave come? From Africa.
Did the descendants of Canaan people Africa? No; but that makes no difference.
Who were the happiest men that ever lived? The Patriarchs.
Why? Because they didn’t have to work.
Who was the first Patriarch? Abraham.
Why were not Methusaleh, Enoch, and Noah, Patriarchs? Because they didn’t hold slaves.
How do you know that Abraham’s servants were slaves? Because he whipped Hagar.
How do you know that? Because she ran away.
How do you know that it is right to flog slaves? Because God sent Hagar back.
When Abraham took three hundred and eighteen slaves, and pursued the kings, why did they not run away, as slaves now do? Either because Abraham had his hounds along, or because God had taught them better.
Were the Israelites allowed to hold slaves? Yes.
Whom might they hold? The heathen round about.
How long? Forever.
Whom else might hold them? Their children after them.
Who are those children? Southern slaveholders.
How does that appear? The Jews were cut off, and the Gentiles grafted in, in their place.
But are not the slaves Gentiles, too? Yes, but they are heathen
Who ere the heathen whom the Jews might hold? The Canaanites.
How does that make it right to hold negroes, then? O, because they come from Ham.
Have the negroes been sold as slaves in all ages of the world? Yes.
Were the Roman slaves negroes? Yes.
How do you know? Because it is impossible to make anybody else slaves but negroes.
Did Christ and his apostles approve of Roman slavery? Yes.
How do you know? They didn’t say anything against it. (No; but the Bible does; for it says, “the merciful man spareth his beast.”)
Was Paul a good man? Yes, he was a holy saint.
What did he do? He sent back a runaway slave.
What was his advice, and that of the other apostle, to the slave? To abide in their calling, and be obedient to their masters.