Racial Justice Doesn't Have to Divide Us as Americans. Here's How We Can Work Together.
Our faith traditions and spiritual paths call us to care for the other beyond our own self- and clan-interest as an expression of Love.
Originally published in USA Today June 15, 2023
The new Public Agenda/USA TODAY Hidden Common Ground poll offers important data about how Americans view racism and racial justice. On the surface, the numbers tell us that we are divided about how to achieve racial equality based on political affiliation, race, and religious or spiritual beliefs.
The poll found that an overwhelming majority--91%--of Americans believe that all people deserve an equal opportunity to succeed, no matter their race or ethnicity. It's a belief strongly shared across political parties, religious affiliations, and racial and ethnic groups.
Americans do have significant differences about the consequences of racism and efforts to combat it. A strong majority of Democrats (82%) believe that racism makes it more difficult for people of color to succeed. Fewer than half of Republicans (45%) hold that view.
And 61% of Republicans say efforts to fight racism make life more difficult for white Americans; 31% of Democrats hold that opinion.
We read these findings by going beneath the surface to make sense of them through the lens of our deepest spiritual values. This involves being honest about where we differ and where we can imagine a shared future in which we all flourish.
Reading the poll's findings in this way, we see that most Americans agree that racial equality is important, even while we have different ideas about how to address racism and inequality. But to make any real progress together, we need to go beyond power struggles and agreeing to disagree.
And as our nation prepares to celebrate Juneteenth on Monday, it's critical for us to find the courage to engage consistently in the hard, often difficult work to secure equality for all Americans.
Americans' faith traditions call us to love each other
Notwithstanding the real differences in our lived experiences and perspectives, our deepest values call us to act in service to what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as beloved community. Certainly, when we add faith and spirituality into the conversation, we know that all the faith traditions and spiritual paths call us into Love.
And by Love, with a capital L, we mean the most powerful force for our highest good, rather than merely a sentimental feeling or deep affection.
Our faith traditions and spiritual paths also invite us to care for the other beyond our own self- and clan-interest as an expression of Love. Indeed, this call and commitment to Love and beloved community go beyond categories of race and political affiliation.
From this stance, we can approach racial equality and justice from a much more loving, spiritually grounded and constructive perspective rather than from zero-sum identity politics.
Here, Love has teeth and makes demands. More specifically, Love calls us not only to express what we believe in theory about racial equality and shared flourishing--flourishing for all of us rather than some of us--but to do the often hard inner and relational work toward these values.
This involves leaning into different perspectives to understand another’s lived experience, even when we want to shut down or turn away.
Sometimes, as in any loving relationship, it involves healing and repair work when harm has happened either intentionally or unintentionally. Furthermore, if we value equality and shared flourishing, this invites us to regularly ask, "Who is not flourishing?"--whether for historic reasons or because of current circumstance, and then to do the individual and collective work needed to give them a brighter future.
This is not easy work, but it is necessary. And it’s the work that our faith and spirituality asks us to do, that Love asks us to do.
There's no simple solution to achieving racial equality
The truth is perhaps we can’t agree on methodology precisely because there is no one, simple solution to achieving racial equality and shared flourishing. It’s work that we all must live into through trial and error, and deep, ongoing personal and communal work--very much like living into our religious and spiritual paths.
One way that we are leaning into this and combining inner work with outer action at the Fetzer Institute is through our Racial Justice Praxis Project. This two-year project funds and brings together diverse faith and spiritual leaders of color to consider how racial justice, love and spiritual transformation can be braided together to support beloved community and shared flourishing.
It is a reminder and commitment to do the hard and sacred work of Love through racial justice. Through this project, we are exploring and learning how Love calls us to racial justice and how racial justice animates Love and is connected to shared flourishing.
The most powerful aspect of this project is the consideration of these often-separated ideas together--of love, racial justice and spiritual transformation. It has invited us into a depth and care around racial justice that gets to the heart of the matter.
We also find it powerful to acknowledge that we don’t fully know the answers to addressing such a longstanding and complex challenge as racial equality and justice.
However, through our commitment to our deepest values, especially Love and shared flourishing, we can do our inner work to deepen our understanding as well as the outer work in beloved community that is ours to do.