NEW YORK – A year after George Floyd’s death brought racial injustice to the forefront of American society, Bishop Shelton Fabre hopes it will continue to act as a watershed moment for race relations in America and serve as a catalyst for conversation.
Fabre, the bishop of Houma-Thibodaux who chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism – renewed for a second three-year term this past November – reflects on the past year hopeful because of the commitment he’s seen to combating issues of race, but acknowledges that there is much work to be done.
“This is a marathon not a sprint. It’s taken a long time for us to be in the position that we are with regards to racism and it’s going to take a while for us to root it out and convert hearts and to dismantle the evil and sin of racism,” Fabre said. “I see a lot of hope in what people are doing. I see a lot of hope in the conversations that are taking place.”
In a recent conversation, Crux spoke with Fabre about this past year and what comes next.
Crux: How would you encapsulate the past year since George Floyd’s death in the context of issues of race and racial injustice in America?
Fabre: My hope is that this can be another watershed moment where this might in the future be looked at as a time where significant attention was given to our struggles and challenges with regards to racism in American as something that happened in response to George Floyd’s death.
I think it’s been that and that has been happening. I think it’s engendered conversations. I think it has lifted it up in people’s minds, in the minds and heart of the church.
What more do you think needs to be done? And how much do you worry that the issue will slip out of the forefront of people’s minds as time goes on?
That’s of course always a danger with things of this nature, but my hope is that it will not. That we will be intentional in dealing with racism and responding to it and seeking to root it out and dismantle it all together as a church, as a people and as a nation. It calls us to authenticity. It calls us to intentionality.
What do you believe is the clergy’s role on issues of race and racial injustice?
I see the priests and clergy responsibility as threefold.
Number one, to preach against racism. Number two, to convey the church’s teaching with regard to racism that is an attack against the sanctity of life. That it is evil and it is a sin. And then thirdly, the church is in a unique position to be fostering those courageous conversations or encounters that will enable people to change their hearts and will propel us forward and that we will become the community that God calls and that God wants and that God challenges us to be.”
What about the laity? What should they do and continue to work on?
The laity and the clergy first need to examine our own hearts to find out what is there with regards to what I believe about the equal human dignity of each and every person, is there any racism in my own heart, and then to deal with that.
The laity are also called upon to have some courageous conversations with others to talk about racism. Those encounters and that learning can lead us to action to dismantle racism as it exists in our church, as it exists in our families, as it exists in our communities.
The church and our country are becoming more racially and culturally diverse. It’s one thing to say and acknowledge that. It’s something else to ask the question, how is it that this can enrich me as a person and how can it enrich our country and our church and what am I going to do so that I’m not only saying that the church and the country are becoming more racially diverse, but to see the good that can come from that and how can I help us to learn that there is union and unity in our diversity.
There are people that say they would like to see the church do more, and be more vocal about issues of race in America. How do you respond to those people?
The bishops have given our highest response to racism in the pastoral letter as well as establishing the ad hoc committee. I think it has been lifted up, it has been raised as a life issue and I think that there’s always more that can be done. I do not deny that. But I also invite people to be bold and to take it forward themselves.
I would invite them to consider taking it forward themselves to being a constructive voice on this issue. I think the bishops have responded in a very, very profound way and I would invite others to give voice to what we are doing.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg