Three Bishops Speak Out Against Death Sentence in Case with Racist Juror

Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Bishop Frank Dewane, and Bishop Shelton Fabre write:

There is no toxin more pernicious than hatred based on racial stereotypes. Despite progress in overcoming the sin of racism in recent years, racism still exists in American society—causing pain and hurt, and even leading to death. As a case in point, Keith Tharpe sits on death row in Jackson, Georgia, convicted of a gruesome murder 28 years ago. While we cannot speak to the legal issues of this case, it is apparent that racism may have played a part in Tharpe’s death sentence. After the trial, one of the jurors displayed shocking racial prejudice in an affidavit, liberally using racial slurs as he “wondered if black people even have souls.”

Lower courts have been unwilling to reconsider the verdict, but the case is now before the United States Supreme Court, which could grant a writ of certiorari to consider the merits of Tharpe’s contention of racial bias. The failure to thoroughly consider the effect of racism in jury deliberations could lead to Tharpe’s execution. We therefore join with many others in asking the Supreme Court to consider this case and the effects of an admittedly racist juror….

Whenever personal prejudices surface in a trial, society relies on appellate courts and especially the Supreme Court to rectify these biases. We thus exhort the Supreme Court to take up Tharpe’s case and correct the clear, documented racism in the case by granting him a new sentencing hearing….

It’s not just the stain of racism that leads us to oppose Tharpe’s execution. The Catholic Church teaches that in the light of the Gospel, “the death penalty is inadmissible,” a teaching that has been reinforced most recently by Pope Francis. Indeed, the death penalty violates human dignity even if the convicted individual has committed a terrible crime….

The U.S. Supreme Court must intervene in his case to ensure that fairness is protected and justice is defended—before it’s too late. To do nothing would be tragic not only for Tharpe, but for our collective dignity.


US Bishops: We Unequivocally State That Racism is a Life Issue

In their new pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” the US Bishops write:

The injustice and harm racism causes are an attack on human life.  The Church in the  United States has spoken out consistently and forcefully against abortion, assisted suicide,  euthanasia, the death penalty, and other forms of violence that threaten human life.  It is not a  secret that these attacks on human life have severely  affected people of color , who are  disproportionally affected by poverty, targeted for abortion, have less access to healthcare,  have the greatest numbers on death row , and are most likely to feel  pressure  to end their lives  when facing serious illness . As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue. Accordingly, we will not cease to speak forcefully against and work toward ending racism.  Racism directly places brother and sister against each other, violating the dignity inherent in each person.  The Apostle James commands the Christian:  “show  no partiality as you  adhere  to the  faith  in  our  glorious  Lord  Jesus  Christ ” ( Jas  2:1) .


Cardinal Cupich: We Must Call Out Bigotry, Racism, Anti-Semitism

via America:

[Cupich] noted that as a church, we must call out the xenophobic rhetoric of political leaders. He said, “It is not just quenching this anger that is there. The church actually has the responsibility to name bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism and call out those who are elected officials when they attempt to exploit the fears of people that eventually erupt into outbursts of violence.”


Love Opens Our Eyes to Beauty

According to Jean Anouilh, “Things are beautiful if you love them.” Love opens our eyes to beauty. In our culture, consumerism, materialism, and superficiality have created an epidemic of insecurity and distorted notions of beauty and attractiveness. And racism is intertwined with these lenses that warp the perceptions of many.

I recently ran across a terrific speech by Lupita Nyong’o in which she spoke about being younger and feeling unbeautiful—being teased about the shade of her skin and praying to God to have lighter skin. Her mom provided her with the wisdom that beauty was not something that she could consume, but something she just had to be. And she came to identify beauty with compassion.

When famous black women like Lupita Nyong’o are held up as symbols of beauty, it can perhaps help to alleviate some of the insecurity that young women with dark skin might experience, but her own story points to the limits of this. And she herself recognizes this, which is why she counseled girls to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.” This focus on compassion and character is an important, valuable message.

But even beyond this, there is a need to move past the artificial divide between external and internal beauty. When we love someone and recognize their beauty, we see the whole person. To divide them and focus on their internal or external nature is to depersonalize them, to strip them of their fundamental unity, their integral nature.

The reason Lupita Nyong’o’s mom could recognize her beauty was not because she looked at her internal beauty rather than her external appearance. It was because her mom had the ability to see her as she truly was, as one whole person. Love does not blind us to real beauty; it opens our eyes to it. The people who completely love the way their loved ones look are the ones who are right, not the ones with distorted vision. They become capable of seeing the beauty of this human person who has been made in the image of God—closer to seeing this person the way the God of Love sees each of us.

The way we see our loved ones should teach us about the worth and preciousness and beauty of each person. It should motivate us to dispense with notions of beauty and attractiveness that are inevitably dehumanizing, rooted in prejudice, and deeply harmful to others.

But if love cannot motivate us to do that, perhaps the desire to eradicate racism can. Even if the colorism and racism of aesthetic preferences that so many consciously and unconsciously accept feels uncontrollable or inevitable, it is not. There is a responsibility to dig deep into oneself and root out that bigotry, even if the majority of people casually accept it, and to view people as they are, as unique whole persons who are made in the image of God.

When I see little black girls express shame or disdain for their hair or the darkness of their skin, whether on the playground or in viral videos, this wounds me. I am physically sickened by the racism that generates deep insecurities and self-hatred. And my heart aches, not just because of the hurt experienced by these little girls and the pain their loved ones must experience when a precious child of God is blind to their own beauty, but also because of how casually our culture accepts this.

It’s time to start caring. It’s time to eradicate this bigotry. It is time to treat all human beings as whole persons.

One of the great champions of this type of personalism—of seeing and valuing people as they are—was Fred Rogers, the subject of the recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor. And in one of his most famous and beloved songs, Mr. Rogers expressed what it’s like to truly see someone and appreciate them:

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.

A loving parent knows what it is like to love every part of a person, just as Mr. Rogers describes in the song.  A truly loving spouse does too. Once we see that we are perfectly capable of seeing people as whole persons, we can turn our backs on a culture of objectification. When we recognize that love opens our eyes to beauty, we can set aside those prejudices that we call preferences, and more and more people will feel comfortable recognizing their own worth and beauty.


Pope Warns Against Rising Racism, Intolerance, and Hatred

via Vatican News:

Pope Francis warned that attitudes that many thought were a thing of the past – such as racism – are on the rise again and can lead to intolerant and discriminating behavior and policies and he urged politicians to avoid exploiting fear against those seeking refuge and better lives in our countries.

He was addressing participants at a just-ended Rome-based conference “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration” at the Vatican on Thursday.

“We are living in times in which feelings that many thought had passed are taking new life and spreading” Pope Francis said to the over 200 participants of an international conference on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of World Migrations.”

In his message that marked the conclusion of the event promoted by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development, by the World Council of Churches and by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, the Pope reflected on how, in our globalized world, there appears to be an upsurge of  “feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards individuals or groups judged for their ethnic, national or religious identity and, as such – he said – considered not sufficiently worthy of being fully part of society’s life”.


Christians Must Find Constructive, Effective Ways to Oppose Xenophobia, Racism, and Populist Nationalism

via CNS:

Christians have the teachings and the responsibility to address growing fear of and discrimination against immigrants and refugees, said speakers opening a Vatican-sponsored conference.

“Welcoming migrants, especially those in danger, is a moral principle whose foundation and strength come from the Gospel and sacred Scripture, and it is part of being Christian, that is, of belonging to Christ,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The cardinal was one of three speakers giving opening remarks Sept. 18 at a conference in Rome on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration.” The gathering Sept. 18-20 was jointly hosted by the Vatican dicastery and the Geneva-based World Council of Churches in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity…

He asked whether – after 70 years of upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – humanity “has learned how to build a world in which race, sex, color, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, wealth or poverty would not be sufficient grounds to justify indifference, marginalization, hatred, exclusion or the rejection of a human being.”

“It pains us to note that when it comes to international migration, too often mistrust and fear prevail over trust and openness toward the other,” yet at the same time, there are many examples of solidarity and compassion being demonstrated as well, he said.

Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in his opening remarks that “the Christian message and the churches’ experience can contribute considerably to understanding more fully the challenges and opportunities arising from the current phenomenon of mass migrations.”

Christian communities, he said, have a “moral and prophetic mandate” to seek out “constructive and effective ways to oppose xenophobia, racism and populist nationalism.”

“All churches and their members have the responsibility and the mission to promote the objective understanding of human dignity, human rights, social cohesion and integration as an essential instrument for building an inclusive, just and peaceful society,” Farrell said.