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Bridges for a Healthy Global Village
By Father Clarence Williams, C.P.P.S
One role of religious leaders is to declare who is a threat to the community’s well-being and likewise who is no longer a threat. In the story of the Exodus, we are reminded of the role Moses plays when serpents begin biting the sojourners in the desert (Numbers 21:6-9). God directs Moses to shape a bronze serpent and lift it up on a staff over the heads of the congregation. When Moses assembles the people, all who look upon the bronze serpent are healed. A religious leader’s role in ensuring the community’s health is a most important one.
Today many religious groups and leaders take positions on social issues that affect the health of the global village. Together they decry racism, casteism, ethnocentrism, and tribalism, because these are social illnesses that continue to destroy the mental, moral, and spiritual health of our communities throughout the world. These leaders challenge us Christians to lift our gaze from our everyday agendas and focus our vision on the “bronze serpents” of social evil. These serpents of social illness are literally eating up millions of people. Until we gaze upon these problems, we will not be healed.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians to be “imitators of Christ” in not giving offense to people because they are different from ourselves. In the early Church Paul is the forceful bridge-builder between ethnic groups.
He addresses the issues of difference, including cultural, ethnic, and master/slave issues. Paul is one to lift up the serpent from its unseen presence behind cultural norms and let all inspect it in the light of Christ.
Without Paul’s fearless bridge-building, the Christian faith would have been landlocked in a culturally parochial viewpoint. Religious leaders continue to have the role of leading us from where we are in our current understanding of racial, ethnic, and cultural difference, building bridges to shared futures as sojourners in God’s kingdom. Then we get to be bridge-walkers on that journey.
Bread for the World encourages its local grassroots advocacy groups to bridge the gaps that are present in our society, and especially to address and heal racial division. This can only happen when bridges are built. The Detroit Metro Council of Bread for the World gathered local Bread members one May to observe Racial Sobriety Month, a program of the Institute for Recovery from Racisms.
The group’s leadership embraced the idea that “we have to be the change that we want to see.” The goal of racial sobriety is making good people better by seeing each person as one’s brother or sister.
The vision of racial sobriety gives us the eyes of faith to see the kingdom of God unfolding as the unity of the human family, so damaged by racism, is restored to community. Enhancing the anti-hunger movement’s capacity to bring people from various racial backgrounds into the movement is only one benefit of building bridges.
Father Clarence Williams, C.P.P.S., is a member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and senior director of racial equality and diversity initiatives at Catholic Charities. This excerpt is taken from Hunger for the Word: Lectionary Reflections on Food and Justice, Year B (2005, Liturgical Press).