Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar and Catholic priest who lived in the 13th century. He is regarded by many as the most comprehensive theological thinker of the late Middle Ages, possibly in the entire history of the church. The other day, someone tweeted this Aquinas quote:
“To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection. But to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection…and even of actual sin.”
I was immediately struck by two thoughts. First, truth is timeless. Second, this truth is about us. In fact, it’s about us on many levels. But there is one “level” that hit me first and hit me hardest. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile but have been afraid to say it publicly because I don’t like talking about race in ways that seem to categorize people into groups. Good and evil can be imbedded in systems, for sure. But individuals do right and wrong. All women, all men, all white folks, all Asians, all Latinos, all black folks, all old people, all young people, all suburbanites, all urbanites, all the educated, all the uneducated don’t do anything. As someone has said, “I can do right…or wrong…all by myself.”
But in the shadow of that truthful caveat, this is what I want to say. To white folks. Especially to white followers of Jesus Christ in America. Stop minimizing the pain of those who don’t look like you. Stop acting like it doesn’t hurt that bad or shouldn’t hurt that bad just because it doesn’t hurt you. Stop calling for black folks to calm down or listen to reason or to be nicer just because you don’t have enough empathy to feel someone else’s pain as if it were your own. Stop over-focusing on whether Michael Brown or Eric Garner were “doing something wrong” as if this gives you an excuse to not mourn the death of another human being or contemplate whether their deaths were the result of at least some kind of injustice. Stop telling African American parents to not worry about their children – as long as they “do right” – just because you never, ever have to worry about your sons or daughters being profiled simply due to the color of their skin. Stop minimizing the racism that is presently being exposed in our country as if it hasn’t been there, buried deep in many of our hearts, all along. Stop allowing yourself to “move on” from the pain of the last few months just because it isn’t presently impacting the flow of your personal Caucasian life.
In other words, please stop “bearing with patience wrongs done to someone else.” Because to be ok, to be chilled, to be indifferent, to be calloused, to be silent or to be all too patient when others – any others – in our world are victimized by injustice is “a mark of imperfection…a mark of actual sin.” And it is sin not just to Thomas Aquinas – but to our God Himself – a God who calls us to “weep with those who weep” and “to bear one another’s burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ.”