I remember those decades before I came to know that Jesus is real; during the 80’s, 90’s, and the first part of this century, long before I knew the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism – I would channel surf past the Catholic Evangelizing the Word Television Network (EWTN) and even sometimes stop for awhile to hear what they were saying. I figured they were Christians because I saw Christian symbols in the background, but I would stop and listen because they looked like peculiar people. The lady dressed as a nun, later I would find out was the founder of the network, Mother Mary Angelica. I’d listen for awhile and then move on to the next channel, because inasmuch as she and other show hosts looked and sounded interesting, I couldn’t identify with them on that most basic level of my maturity at that time.

Failure on the Part of Mainstream Catholic Media to be Only One Color?

According to a 2011 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, “The US Catholic population is currently 77.7 million.” According to other sources, 39% of those Catholics are Hispanic and 4% are Blacks. Yet, if you look at all of the major Catholic television outlets, read the major Catholic magazines and website blogs, Diocesan newspapers, peruse the catalogs of Catholic book publishers, listen to Catholic radio, and look at the two major outlets for Catholic speakers, you would come away with the impression that American Catholicism is as White as Catholicism in Ireland.

Sure, you have the usual suspects of racial diversity that we are all familiar with, such as Jesse Romero, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Immaculee Ilibagiza, Richard Lane, Damon Owens, and the occasional religious or priest we’d see host a special program or celebrate a Mass. We might also see and hear a lay Black or Hispanic being interviewed or serving as a guest on a Catholic television or radio program, but, overall, Black and Hispanic Catholics in the US are grossly underrepresented if not nearly absent from the New Evangelization as presented by popular Catholic Media in this country. That is, as Catholic radio show hosts, ‘regular/weekly’ television programs, books published through Catholic publishers, ‘regular’ and syndicated columns in magazines and newspapers, and speaker bureaus.

Evangelizing through Racial Identification

I posed this question on a Catholic message forum about the lack of racial diversity in popular Catholic media and on fellow said in response:

    “Why is it so important to you? I don’t need the person on TV or the radio to look like me or sound like me or eat the same foods I eat. I’m OK with me. I’m good — thank you. I don’t turn on EWTN or tune into Sacred Heart Radio (my local Catholic radio station) to have my race justified in some way. Quite frankly, I don’t care about race when I’m tuned in. I want and expect to hear good Catholics who love Christ and present a faith that is loyal to the Magisterium and our Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome.”

What if Jesus came as Asian and tried to minister to the Jews. What if He came eating food that the Jews were unfamiliar with? What if he spoke in a language that the Jews couldn’t understand? What if Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego looking like some lady from Sweden? I do appreciate why some people like to take the Christian objective high ground here and say skin color does not matter – all that matters is the Blood of Christ. I understand and agree with that, but it is also true that Christian evangelization is as much about as bringing people to that realization of spiritual maturity as it is with meeting people exactly where they are – just as the God who became Man did.

Like many of my peers in the 1980’s and 90’s I was being fed the suspicion that Christianity is a White man’s religion. We were told that the only reason why Blacks are Christians in America today is because they were forced to convert as slaves. In fact, this something that you will still hear today in Black community. To often we do hear and believe things without taking the time to research their validity, but because I didn’t, whenever I would see White Christians I would automatically distrust their motives. Although it never happened, I always wondered what would have transpired if a Black man, someone who I could have related with on that most basic level, would have evangelized the Good News to me in my youth.

The door to effective evangelization is healthy relationship. If you have healthy and trusting relationship with a person, God can most effectively use you to speak into their ear and to help win their heart to Him. On the most basic human level of relationship we draw nearer to people who we can identify with, and it begins with family bonds and descends down to hobbies/interests. For example, I identify with my siblings more than I do with my friends; I identify more with my friends more than I do with men who share my race; I identify more with men who share my race than I do women with who share my race; I identify more with women who share my race than I do with people who belong to my professional organizations, and etc.

Again, I’m not talking about racial equality here or who we are In Christ. All I’m talking about is how humans identify with each other. If you don’t believe me go to any high school at lunch time and you will see all the black kids eating together and all of the white kids eating together. If you look a little deeper into those groups you will see they are segmented even further by gender, sports, popularity, city geography, and etc. Wake up on any Sunday and you will generally see Whites go to this church and Blacks go to that Church. Look at your collection friends and you might find more who look like you (e.g. race) than those who do not. It is absolutely natural to surround ourselves with people who we can identify with for whatever reason, and on the most basic level that reason is oftentimes something as superficial as skin pigmentation or the absence thereof.

Another respondent to my question on that Catholic forum replied best when they said:

    “EWTN airs all around the world, in 127 countries. It does not air just in America. When you see people that look like you, you identify more, it is natural, I don’t think it is racist. It can help with outreach and evangelization to have more Black, Hispanic and Asian people as regulars on EWTN.”

It’s a Dual Responsibility

Another insightful comment I received from the Catholic forum was:

    “Good questions all. Have you ever applied for such positions, or would you consider doing so? EWTN and Catholic Radio should be interested in broadening their audience base.”

I responded that I never felt called to apply for any position at a Catholic media outlet. I said I would look into if that is even how the White Catholics obtained their positions there. The only television program I was ever asked to be a host on called me and pulled me into a pool of other candidates that they were interested in giving the position to. Years ago I sent a few of my articles to major Catholic magazines and they were never published. I submitted two of my books to three different Catholic publishers and they were turned down. Their lack of interest I don’t think it had anything to do with race though. The first manuscript I submitted just wasn’t good quality and once I improved it, I decided to just control my content and publish it myself. And it turns out that I had sent my articles to liberal Catholic magazines and that is why they were rejected.

Yet, this person’s question does raise a vital point. I believe that the popular Catholic Media outlets in this country have completely and utterly failed in the New Evangelization to reach anyone but Whites. Simultaneously, I believe that Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native American (& etc.) Catholics have ‘collectively’ failed to engage in the New Evangelization through popular Catholic media. Let us not expect people who are living in a vacuum to know anything outside of it unless we tell them. We have to expose people to the truth.

I’m not saying that we need to Occupy EWTN or Catholic Radio, but non-White Catholics do need to tell these outlets that we want all races evangelized and represented in their evangelization. We want more of our races to hear the good news of the True Church of Christ. But we can’t rely on them either. We have to continue to tell our story and witness to souls – whoever and wherever and however we can. From the home, to the street corner, to the sanctuary – tell the people of God what is good about our faith and they will hear.