A few years ago, a popular refrain asked, "what would Jesus do?" The
over-simplified question failed to suggest that before knowing what
Jesus would do, we first have to think as Jesus thought. How would Jesus
think about the problems of his individual life and the issues of our
day? How can black, Catholic, American citizens in the 21st century
think as Jesus thought, so that we may do as he would have us do?
Public discourse in the United States is profoundly limited by the
dominant liberal/conservative dichotomy. Liberal ideas might seem
attractive. Liberalism is home to those who champion civil rights and
equality, who fight racism, welcome diversity, defend the social safety
net, and oppose regressive taxes. Yet conservative values seem more
consistent with traditional morality and family life. Conservatism
defends unborn persons and is friendlier to religion. Neither school of
thought can encompass the ethical vision Jesus gave us.
Our Catholic faith offers us a coherent alternative. A rich body of work
-- from Pope Leo XIII's encyclical defending worker's rights during the
Industrial Revolution (Rerum Novarum, 1891) through the documents of
Vatican II, to the prolific pen of John Paul II and the pastoral letters
of our U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--gives us a powerful ethical
vision for living the Gospel in a complex, modern world.
Some have called this the "best kept secret in the Catholic Church."
Formally, it's known as Catholic Social Teaching. It is challenging
stuff. It calls us to see our faith not merely as an individual
relationship with God, but as a call to action.
For African-Americans, all too familiar with the struggle for dignity
and justice, Catholic Social Teaching resonates. By learning more about
the "secret" treasure of the faith, African American Catholics would
acquire a vocabulary and coherent worldview that facilitates analysis of
social justice issues in American society and guides our steps, as
individuals and as a community.