Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

‘Committed to work for racial justice and harmony’

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published August 4, 2016  | En Español

Many well-known gestures of public honor and reverence can be observed in both religious and secular societies. We Catholics kneel, genuflect and bow before the Blessed Sacrament. We incline our heads at the mention of the names of Jesus and Mary. We bless ourselves with holy water when we enter church. We have a host of ways to give physical expression to our reverence for God and for the things of God.

Likewise the secular world has its own signs of honor for people and events. In Western societies, men once formally tipped their hats when in the presence of a lady. Many sports figures continue to do the same when they are recognized or applauded. The military world employs many expressions of respect, which include salutes, precision marches and those disciplined, unwavering gazes of honor guards, which do not flinch at any potential distraction.

An almost universal expression of reverence has become the lowering of a nation’s flags to half staff at the death of a hero or an important public figure, or commonly used in the face of a great tragedy. We have had to employ this particular gesture far too often recently.

We now lower our country’s flag in honor of victims and communities who have endured catastrophic acts of unprovoked violence. During the past several weeks our nation’s flags have been lowered so frequently that we might lose track of the specific tragedy being recognized. From Orlando to Nice, from Dallas to Baton Rouge, we lowered our flags to recognize the dreadful events that recently have occurred there.

Many others might well suggest that the nation needs a way to show public grief for the deaths of men of color and the sorrow and frustration felt across communities in the wake of these tragedies.

Such violence lately has become so commonplace that we risk being desensitized to the brutal killings of persons of color, of police and first responders, of innocent bystanders, or members of the LGBTQ community in clubs, young students in schools, shoppers in malls, and folks just watching a movie at a cinema.

Lowering a flag, to be truly meaningful, ultimately must be accompanied by a determination to do more in response to such tragedies. Lowering a flag at the death of a famous person or government official is an expression of sorrow and respect at the loss. Lowering a flag in the face of brutality must be only the initial external expression of a people dedicated to rectifying the causes of these acts of violence and brutality. If our serious resolve to address the roots of violence is absent from this gesture, then we have done a disservice to both the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: “one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Violence such as that which we recently have seen so often is the result of unbridled hatred, either ideologically inspired or as the result of severe mental depravity, or perhaps a combination of the two. Such savagery has been made more frequent and horrible by the proliferation of guns because of our apparent inability to balance the right to bear arms with measures to ensure that unstable personalities do not have easy access to them.

We have witnessed the slaughter of people who were singled out because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or their profession. We’ve seen the loss of people whose hands may have been raised in surrender or who were fleeing and not posing any immediate threat, and others who have been targeted simply because of their profound professional commitment to serve and to protect and the uniform that they wore.

These acts of hatred and brutality are now an international phenomenon, and they flood social media so regularly that we might be tempted to despair at the horror. But despair, among so many other perverse motivations, is just what the perpetrators hope to accomplish.

Our Catholic faith and our love for our country must compel us to resolve to address the issues that lie beneath these acts of violence. We must be committed to work for racial harmony and justice for every person, to restore the proper dignity that must belong to those men and women who serve us as first responders, to renew our respect for all human life, to understand more fully the mercy of God that we have received and are called to extend to all others.

“… One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”