Augustinians Encouraged to Mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination March 21, 2014

Augustinians of the Midwest are encouraged to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21, 2014, with prayer, reflection, witness and action individually, in their communities and in their ministries. The Augustinians invite and encourage all who identify with Augustinian spirituality and traditions to do likewise.

In the United States, the National Holiday in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the third Monday in January (January 20 in 2014), is another opportune time for reflection, prayer and action to combat racism.

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted in 1963, states:

“Discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, color or ethnic origin is an offense to human dignity and shall be condemned as a denial of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and as a fact capable of disturbing peace and security among nations.”

Discrimination is contrary to the example and teaching of Jesus Christ, who frequently associated with those whom the society of his time rejected (--Matthew 8: 1ss; 9: 11ss; 11: 19; Mark 2: 15ss; Luke 5: 27ss; 7: 21ss; John 8: 3ss) and told us that we would be judged on our treatment of others (--Matthew 25: 31-46).

Theme for 2014

The theme for 2014 is “The Role of Leaders in Combating Racism and Racial Discrimination.”

This theme calls upon the world’s political leaders and political parties to combat racism, discrimination and intolerance, the UN Web site said.

“(P)romoting greater respect and trust among different groups within society must be a shared but differentiated responsibility of government institutions, political leaders, grassroots organization and citizens,” the UN said.  The 2014 theme highlights “the key role that leaders play in mobilizing political will to combat racism and racial discrimination.”

Challenge for 21st Century

In this 21st Century, we need to ask society and ourselves certain questions. Are we sufficiently inclusive? Are we non-discriminatory? Are our norms of behavior based on the principles taught by Jesus and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Human beings more than a half-century ago inflicted unprecedented torment upon one another by perverting education to feed intolerance; by twisting science to kill on an industrial scale; by debasing culture for the purpose of hatred and to the point of manipulating whole masses to murderous effects never seen before.

The horrors of racism - from slavery to apartheid to ethnic cleansing - have deeply wounded the victim and debased the perpetrator in the previous century.

These horrors are still with us in various forms. It is now time to confront them and to take comprehensive measures against them. Racism, racial discrimination and all kinds of related intolerance have not gone away. We recognize that - sometimes blatantly, sometimes subtly, sometimes in an institutionalized way - they persist in the new century. Their persistence is rooted in fear: fear of what is different, fear of the other, fear of the loss of personal security. While fear itself is ineradicable, its consequences need not be.We all constitute one human family. Instead of allowing diversity of race and culture to become a limiting factor in human exchange and development, now is the time to refocus our understanding and discern in diversity the potential for mutual enrichment.

For too long, diversity has been treated as threat rather than gift. And too often that threat has been expressed in racial contempt and conflict, in exclusion, discrimination and intolerance.

Can we not now pledge ourselves and encourage others as well to pledge themselves to seek conversion of mind and heart, and seek together a life where the exercise of individual gifts and personal rights is affirmed by the dynamic solidarity of our membership in the one human family?

No progress today, no sustainable development tomorrow, are conceivable without broad-based education for all, as an absolutely fundamental and universal human right, with no discrimination in regard to sex, creed or social origin.

St. Augustine on Discrimination

St. Augustine, in his famous book City of God and in his Rule of life, provides a model of non-discrimination. St. Augustine condemns all forms of discrimination, whether it is based on race, economic conditions, physical appearances, mannerisms, or something else.

  • Sinful human beings hate the equality of all peoples under God and, as though they themselves were God, love to impose their power on their fellow men and women. They hate the peace of God, which is just, and prefer their own peace, which is unjust. -City of God 19, 12
  • So long, then, as the heavenly City is journeying on Earth, she invites citizens from all nations and all tongues, and unites them into a single pilgrim band. She takes no issue with that diversity of laws and traditions, whereby human peace is sought and maintained. Instead of nulllifying or tearing down, she preserves and appropriates whatever in the diversities of different races is aimed at one and the same objective of human peace, provided only that they do not stand in the way of the faith and worship of the one supreme and true God. -City of God 19, 17
  • What is true for a Christian beyond the shadow of doubt is that every real human being, that is, every mortal animal that is rational, however unusual to us may be the shape of his/her body, or the color of his/her skin, or the way he/she walks, or the sound of his/her voice, and whatever the strength, portion or quality of his/her natural endowments, is descended from the single first-created human being. -City of God 16, 8
  • The rich, for their part, who seemed important in the world must not look down upon their brothers or sisters who have come into this holy brotherhood or sisterhood from a condition of poverty. They should seek to glory in the fellowship of poor brothers or sisters rather than in the high rank of rich parents and relatives. They should neither be elated if they have contributed a part of their wealth to the common life, not take more pride in sharing their riches with the monastery than if they were to enjoy them in the world. Indeed, every other kind of sin has do do with the commission of evil deeds, whereas pride lurks even in good works in order to destroy them. And what good is it to scatter one's wealth abroad by giving to the poor, even to become poor oneself, when the unhappy soul is thereby more given to pride in despising riches than it had been in possessing them? Let all of you them live together in oneness of mind and heart, mutually honoring in yourselves the God whose temples you have become. -Rule of St. Augustine, Chapter 1

What practical steps can we take as individuals and as a community to eradicate racism? Is there something we can do to help provide effective measures of prevention, education and protection? How can we encourage our political leaders to mobilize the political will to combat racial discrimination?

The Augustinians of the Midwest invite you to join us in prayer, reflection, witness and action on these questions.

-Adapted from a bulletin of the Augustinian International Secretariate for Justice and Peace, Rome

Take the Pledge Against Racism

One initial action you can do is to take the online United Nations Personal Pledge Against Racism.

Click here to read the Pledge Against Racism and add your commitment.

Pray for an End to Racism

Another powerful action is to pray that God will touch the hearts of all, heal the hurt that racism has brought, and cleanse whatever sinfulness may be found there.

Click here to download recommended Bible readings and Prayers to End Racism.

Additional Resources

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Information and resources from the United Nations

Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Message from UNESCO Director-General

Let’s Fight Racism:  What you can do to break down prejudice and intolerant attitudes

Discrimination Curriculum: Lesson Plans: Discrimination Based on Race (from CyberSchoolBus)

Fight Against Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia:  UNESCO strategy against racism and discrimination

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination:  Monitoring racial equality and non-discrimination

Message of U.N. Secretary-General for 2014:  Ban Ki-moon reflects Nelson Mandela’s journey from prisoner to President