Armenian and Pan African lessons on eliminating discrimination and racism

Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith at the Armenian Orthodox Church Martyrs' Memorial. Angelique Walker-Smith/Bread for the World.

By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith

“I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10

I recently attended a consultation in Antelias, Lebanon at the invitation of His Holiness Aram I of the Armenian Orthodox Church. Issues such as hunger and poverty were discussed in the context of creating a more responsive and inclusive church.

The venue was the church’s global headquarters, which includes a beautiful cathedral in the middle of the courtyard. Near the cathedral was the memorial to the 1.5 million Armenians who died in the 1915 genocide in Turkey.

The memorial includes a container of the actual skulls and bones of the victims of the genocide. For me, it was the not only the horror of 1915 that stood out but a reminder of the millions of my African ancestors who also died at the evil hands of humankind during the transatlantic slave trade.

Last year’s devotional guide from Bread for the World, “Lament and Hope,” highlighted that from 1501 to 1867, more than 12.5 million Africans were captured, sold, and transported to the Americas. Additionally, scholars point out there was another approximately 1.2 to 2.4 million Africans who died during their transport to the “New World.” More died soon after their arrival.   

Those unimaginable discriminatory evil attitudes and acts against humanity led to death then and its legacy lead to deaths today.

Thus, invokes an urgent call to eliminate discrimination and racism. Every year on March 21, the world observes the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which grew out of the 1960 massacre of South Africans who were peacefully demonstrating against the apartheid pass laws in Sharpeville, South Africa.

March 21 is an annual day to remember such atrocities and potential atrocities that can and have resulted in the death of precious interpersonal relationships, and equitable democratic systems and structures that destroy a vision of loving God and our neighbors.

To be sure, this is not an easy task. The diversities and social histories that have created marginalized and oppressed groups of peoples and systems are still with us and well entrenched. This is another reason why voting for the right leadership matters! Go here to learn more about Bread’s 2020 elections work.

People of faith are called to always imagine and choose life! Jesus said, “I came to give life more abundantly!”

The Armenian Orthodox Church, as well as African churches and churches of African descent, have and continue to proclaim this. May March 21 inspire us anew to call for life! You can go here to learn more about the Armenian Orthodox Church and the consultation statement.

Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World.

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