Faith and racial healing


Deacon Bob Glaser
As a deacon, I try to look at life through the eyes of those who are different from me. Though I have felt uncomfortable at times, it has worked well for me in ministry to understand the issues that others face, and that things may appear to them in a very different light. So, when my wife, LuAnn, told me about a program called Faith and Racial Healing, I was immediately interested.

Dcn. Glaser

St. James Parish in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood offered the program via Zoom. It began this past February during Black History Month and ended during Holy Week. We decided to make this program our Lenten practice. Just Faith Ministries developed this program with several partners. I did not realize that one of the partners was the Sisters of Saint Francis of Dubuque, Iowa, until I began reading the materials. That was a pleasant surprise, since my two oldest sisters are members of that order.

I thought I was well informed on issues of race. Throughout my life, I’ve tried to be supportive of issues affecting minorities. A turning point for me came in 1969 during my service in the U.S. Army. I was assigned to the honor guard for the funeral of a Black soldier killed in Vietnam. I witnessed my Black sergeant, a decorated veteran of three wars, turned away from a restaurant in rural Louisiana.

The Faith and Healing program, with its three-prong approach, was another turning point for me. The first prong was history, going back to the arrival of the first slaves in 1619, especially in relationship to the Christian faith in its broadest sense. The second prong looked at the psychology of coming from a heritage of enslavement. The third prong was prayer, reflecting on the accounts of escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad, the records of slave patrols, as well as other accounts.


It is not easy to condense the program into a few paragraphs, so I will reflect on some of the highlights. One that struck me was the economics of slavery. During the 17th century, in the earliest days of American slavery, the average life span of a person brought from Africa to the colonies in bondage was five years. Many slave owners judged that it was better economically to buy new slaves than to keep slaves healthy. As the slave population grew, the value of the slave increased and it became common for slave owners to, for lack of a better word, “breed” their slaves to grow their population. Banks offered loans secured by liens on slaves. In the years immediately before the American Civil War, half of the assets of the southern economy were tied up in human bondage.

Returning to the practice of “breeding,” the slave owners participated in this practice themselves. In 1776, as Thomas Jefferson toiled over the words of the Declaration of Independence, a slave named Robert attended to him. Robert’s father was John Wayles, Jefferson’s father-in-law. Jefferson’s slave was his wife’s half-brother. Many slave states had laws that determined the condition of enslavement of an infant by the mother’s race. From the prayer reflections on the Underground Railroad, we learned of the story of Emanuel, an escaped slave, who was “of seven-eighths white blood,” meaning he was the result of three generations of slave women impregnated by white men. The thought of men fathering children knowing that they would be condemned to a life of slavery simply tears at my soul.

Just Faith Ministries offers a broad range of programs besides those on racial justice. Other areas include poverty, spirituality, eco-justice, civil dialogue, food insecurity and more. Their programs are rigorous, with reading assignments and multimedia resources. They are adaptable to in-person and online small groups. I invite you to explore Just Faith’s website at Presently, each program is designed to be eight weeks in length and begins with a short retreat session and an opportunity to acquaint yourself prayerfully with other participants.
(Deacon Bob Glaser formerly served at Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington/West Burlington.)

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