The election of Fred Luter, who is African American, as president of the Southern Baptist Convention got me thinking about race and the Catholic Church. The SBC was, in effect, racist in its foundation to the extent that it was created in 1845 in defense of slavery. For many Southern Baptists Luter's election represents a turning point in their history.
The Roman Catholic Church did not split into northern and southern branches over slavery as so many other U.S. churches did (the Episcopal Church being another exception), though the country's first Roman Catholic bishop owned a slave, and Catholic bishops in the United States were not on the forefront of the abolitionist movement. So it's safe to say the U.S. Roman Catholic Church is touched by our nation's history of race-based slavery as well.
But what about now? Is Sunday Mass the weekend's most segregated hour? Or are parish's really "Catholic" in that people of all races and cultures are not only welcome but fully share in the resources and leadership of the parish? Frankly, I rarely hear conversations or homilies about race and racism in Catholic churches.
To ask it another way: If the SBC's election of Luter marks a new moment in that denomination's history of race relations, what would it take to create a new racial moment in the Catholic Church?