A campus presentation regarding the Catholic response to racism by Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers on Monday night sparked a rigorous discussion about the cause and proper response to the issue.
Burke-Sivers, known as the “Dynamic Deacon,” is a popular Catholic speaker who has been featured at many Catholic conferences, radio and television shows and faith formation programs.
He was invited by Dr. Dean Wurtz, the dean of students at Benedictine College, to deliver a presentation last Monday titled Building a Civilization of Love: A Catholic Response to Racism. The event was sponsored by the Black Student Union and The Gregorian Fellows.
A Meaningful Discussion and a Tense Q&A
In his presentation, Burke-Sivers passionately spoke about racism and how Catholics should take action. He quoted several Bible passages throughout his talk, stating that we need to put God back in society and acknowledge the reality of sin.
“The solution to what we are seeing and experiencing in this country is not rioting, or looting, or vandalism,” Burke-Sivers said. “Racism is learned behavior, and Catholics can play a significant role in breaking down the walls of racism by taking a hands-on approach to creating pillars of mutual respect and understanding built on the firm foundation of covenant relationship.”
The solutions Burke-Sivers subsequently recommended include recognizing previous stereotypes, discontinuing support of media outlets that endorse racism or violence, going to cultural events, and making a serious effort to have meaningful conversations.
After the talk, the floor was open for questions. American history professor, Dr. Josh Wolf, was the first to speak and questioned Burke-Sivers’ approach to this issue, responding that rioting is an American ideal and fundamental to our country.
“So what I hear is a lot of posturing and a lot of straw man arguments that are easily blown down, but what I’m not hearing is what our obligations are as Catholics to address this in a collective manner and still adhere to the American ideals of equality, liberty and the separation of church and state,” Wolf said.
“Well maybe you didn’t hear my talk. I don’t know what you were listening to. My whole talk addressed a Catholic response to racism,” Burke-Sivers responded.
After a heated back-and-forth exchange, Burke-Sivers asked to move on to the next question.
“You are completely unwilling to engage in the dialogue that’s going on here,” Wolf concluded.
Burke-Sivers told The Circuit after his speech that racism is not a political issue. Instead, he thinks that Catholics should focus on viewing others through the lens of Jesus Christ.
“What I was trying to do is a Catholic response which is antithetical to the cultural response which is why I clashed with that guy ‘cause he’s trying to address it from a political, sociological [perspective]… I don’t care, I’m addressing from a faith perspective,” Burke-Sivers said.
The talk was also streamed live on Benedictine College’s Facebook page and can still be viewed in its entirety.
Responses to the Burke-Sivers Presentation and Debate
As of Wednesday, the video has 5.4K views and 160 comments. Viewers of the live stream had strong opinions regarding the interaction. Some commented that they appreciated how Wolf challenged the deacon while others disagreed.
“I’m going to report Dr. Wolf. He was rude, disrespectful and a terrible example of the college,” one viewer commented.
Jordan Malcolm, Benedictine College senior and president of the Black Student Union, thinks that it is important to have these serious conversations on campus in order to enact change.
“Dr. Wolf is probably my favorite professor on campus because he’s so vocal about what goes on in the world, and a lot of our administrators are extremely quiet on that part,” Malcom said. “I don’t know if they’re afraid of losing their jobs or it might tarnish their name on campus, but that’s a big part of the issue because people are more concerned of their image than what really matters.”
He added that although the confrontation between Wolf and Burke-Sivers sounded angry, it can be attributed to the passion they both have about the topic.