Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Racism in the church

Let's rid ourselves of the inherent racist trait from our hearts

One of the greatest problems that plagued mankind throughout the ages and continue to do so till today is racism. The Cambridge dictionary defines racism as the belief that people's qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races.

A racist is therefore someone who believes that other races are not as good as their own and therefore treats them unfairly. Basically all of us are racists to some extent as this feeling of superiority exists in the hearts all of us. As Christians we must strive to rid ourselves of the inherent racist trait from our hearts to regard all men as equal.

The Catholic Church has been a staunch critic of racism wherever and whenever it occurs, particularly in the administration of the country. Unfortunately the very evil that it condemned has now become one of the major problems confronting the church itself. This could be attributed to the education system that tends to segregate the races from a very young age which had created a generation of Malaysians who are highly conscious of their ethnic origin.

They prefer to regard themselves more as Malays, Chinese and Indians than Malaysians, interacting with those of their own race. They may appear to be living happily together side by side but the differences among them are dividing them more than the commonness that unites them. When we do not understand the cultures and traditions of our ‘friends’ from other races how can we be expected to respect each others differences?

This racially orientated culture has inevitably permeated into our church where it further aggravated the problem by creating the various language groups. In the fifties and sixties when English was the main means of communication there was greater unity among the various races in the church, namely Chinese, Indians and Eurasians. Today there is so much conflict of interest among the various communities that is threatening to split the church into the various language groups.

In fact today in most parishes the three language groups have become so polarized with each working in isolation. Their occasional encounters end up in misunderstanding and even quarrels. Multi-language masses to cater for all three groups have become a trend these days. This so called ‘rojak mass’ does not have any tangible benefits for any particular group. Instead it only unduly prolongs the service but benefits no one.

Whenever a new parish priest takes over there is so much lobbying by the Tamil and Mandarin speaking parishioners to have a priest from their own race. The situation is so serious that when an Indian priest comes the Chinese speaking members “migrate” out to other parishes leaving a largely Indian community in the parish. It is the same with Tamil speaking parishioners when a Chinese priest takes over. This unhealthy trend is becoming more entrenched and is creating so much hate and suspicion of each other instead of love and brotherhood that Christ promoted.

To make matters worse the new generation of priests themselves becomes racially inclined, being closely associated with members of their community. This creates suspicion and ill-feeling among the other community and all sorts of allegations and rumors surface, many of which may be unfounded and mischievous.

From the past we know that a common language will go a long way to integrate the various communities and it has to be either Bahasa Malaysia or English, the latter is preferable for obvious reasons. We have to realize that despite our differences we are all children of God and therefore share a common brotherhood in our Lord Jesus. Ill-feelings, hatred and suspicion for those of a different race are contrary to the very teachings of Christ who advocated love for all including our enemies.

The priests and church leaders too should conduct themselves in a manner that they are seen to be neutral and caring for all regardless of ethnicity. As parents we must show our kids an exemplary behavior that illustrates the right attitude towards our parishioners of different race. In short, what ethnic culture we belong to is not important, what is important is for us to adopt a Christian culture that is color blind which does not distinguish one by his ethnicity but by his comradeship as fellow humans. That is what Christ wants and that is exactly what we must do.

It is unfortunate that we have today a new generation of Malaysians, both priests, parents and the laity in general, who are so racially charged so much so they become very sensitive and intolerant to the comments and criticisms from members of other races. Under these circumstances forging racial goodwill and integration is a difficult task but if we do not start in our church how can we expect our politicians to do so at the national levels where it is far more complex and challenging?

Dr.Chris Anthony

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