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What is an Augustinian Response to Systemic Racism?

by Jeremy Hiers, O.S.A.

While it was written over 1600 years ago, the Rule of Augustine governs the Augustinian way of life today. It also provides a lot of insights on how to foster dialogue and create unity across the plethora of viewpoints and perspectives we see and hear in our national dialogue on racism today. In this blog post, I propose seven key principles from the Rule that invite us to reflect on how we, as individuals and as a nation, can approach dialogue on the issue of systemic racism.

Principle #1: Seek Unity of Purpose

“Live together in harmony, being of one mind and one heart on the way to God” (The Rule of Augustine II, 3).

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In spite of differences, is there common ground that we can unite around (e.g., the desire for peace in the United States)? What concrete steps can we take to work towards that common ground inspite of that which still separates us?

Principle #2: Love of God and Neighbor

“Before all else dear brothers, love God and then your neighbor, because these are the chief commandments” (The Rule of Augustine I, 1).

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In what ways are we actively reaching out to and embracing those who hold opinions that are different from ours? Or are we inhibiting unity by avoiding discussion on the topic and encounters with those whom we disagreee?

Principle #3: Recognizing the Divinity in the Other

“Let all of you then live together in oneness of mind and heart, mutually honoring God in yourselves, whose temples you have become” (The Rule of Augustine I, 9).

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Can we transcend our own biases to adopt the perspective that every Christian, every Muslim, every Atheist, every rich person, every poor person, every black person, every white person (irrespective of their unique story) has something to contribute to the discussion on racism?

Principle #4: Primacy of the Common Good

“For charity, as it is written, is not self seeking (1 Cor. 13:5) meaning that it places the common good before its own, not its own before the common good” (The Rule of Augustine V, 31).

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Are we prepared to enter into a dialogue about racism with a true heart for what is good for all people, or is our perspective limited by our own motivations and fears?

Principle #5: Transcending Our Perceptions

“Finally, if the cause of a brother’s bodily pain is not apparent, you must take the word of God’s servant when he indicates what is giving him pain. But if it remains uncertain whether the remedy he likes is good for him, a doctor should be consulted” (The Rule of Augustine V, 35).

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Are we willing to give those with whom we disagree the benefit of the doubt that what they share may have something to teach us (perhaps challenge us) to think differently about the issue of racism and how we are responding to it?

Principle #6: Resolving Quarrels ASAP

“You should either avoid quarrels altogether or else put an end to them as quickly as possible; otherwise, anger may grow into hatred, making a plank out of a splinter, and turn the soul into a murderer. For so you read: Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 Jn. 3:15)” (The Rule of Augustine VI, 41).

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For those people whom we find ourselves in disagreement with, do we find ourselves stuck in quarrels or are we still working in the midst of the disagreements to find shared values/common ground from which we can still work together, opportunities for more encounters to learn from one another, etc?

Principle #7: Sorry

“Whoever has injured another by open insult, or by abusive or even incriminating language, must remember to repair the injury as quickly as possible by an apology, and he who suffered the injury must also forgive, without further wrangling” (The Rule of Augustine VI, 42).

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In what ways might our own unwillingness to say “sorry” (or to forgive those who have apologized to us) impact the dialogue on racism?

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