Last weekend, the town of Charlottesville, Virginia (to which I have family ties) was besieged with demonstrations by a large number of self-identified white nationalists and “alt right” activists, largely from out of town. Attendees included such notorious peddlers of white supremacist ideology as Richard Spencer and David Duke. Violence erupted between these protesters and counter-protesters, including but not limited to the savage beating of 20-year-old African-American Charlottesville resident De’Andre Harris and a 20-year-old Ohioan driving a car into a group of anti-racist counter-protesters, which killed a young woman named Heather Heyer and wounded 19 others.
It is hard to do justice with words to how sickening and horrifying this evil is. This is not a matter of partisan politics but very basic right and wrong. White supremacist ideology, along with the actions it encourages, is evil, pure and simple. It is a fundamentally blasphemous attack on the God in Whose very image ALL people are equally created from the moment of conception (Genesis 1:26-27, Acts 17:26).
Yes, there are other current forms of totalitarian extremism and hateful violence, against which I have spoken out and will continue to speak out. But that is no reason for not being specific and clear about condemning the racism recently displayed in Charlottesville.
We must never ignore or forget the deep scars that white supremacy has left on the history of the United States. But we must also honor and celebrate the hard-fought history of American progress against racial bigotry, a legacy that includes the abolition of slavery, the fight against Nazism in World War II, and the civil rights movement. Key early leaders of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) were heavily involved in the civil rights movement, and we repeatedly condemned Apartheid back when that intrinsically evil system was imposed on South Africa.
With the present situation, nothing good will come out of irresponsible and factually baseless words or actions to exaggerate the extremely limited extent of Neo-Nazism’s appeal in this country.
On the other hand, while former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke only got a pathetic three percent of the state-wide vote in a single one of our fifty states, in his campaign for U.S. Senate last November, every one of his votes received was one too many, in my humble opinion.
To my fellow white Americans who may be inclined to dismiss all the current outcry over Charlottesville as an over-reaction, I would respectfully encourage you to do a few things. Please do click on the links in my first paragraph above to see the video and pictures of Harris and Heyer. Imagine how you would feel if that was done to your own brother, sister, son, or daughter.
It is really worthwhile to spend a little time reviewing the history of Klan marches and other forms of mass intimidation of African-Americans decades ago, and consider how the sudden episode last weekend of a night-time march by a torch-bearing mob of angry white racists would make African-American residents feel, particularly those who are old enough to have lived through some of the darker chapters of our history. Such demonstrations easily meet Merriam-Webster’s definition of terrorism. I do not want anyone to have their safety threatened in such a way.
Spend some time trying to listen with an open mind, and without any “yes, but what about…” interruptions, to fellow Americans who have a different skin color – whether public figures writing online articles or personal friends of yours – about how seeing the white nationalists march makes them feel.
For white Americans who call ourselves Christians, Scripture is very clear that, as radical as it may sound, we simply have no right to mentally dismiss this situation as not our problem or to ignore how last weekend has impacted our non-white brothers and sisters. Rather, we are told that within the body of Christ we MUST “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), that we MUST each “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), and that when one member of Christ’s body suffers, all the rest suffer with him or her (1 Corinthians 12:26). The fact of the matter is that throughout this land, a great many in the body of Christ are suffering and mourning from being victimized by past as well as present racism in all sorts of ways (usually not quite as extreme as neo-Nazism but still very damaging). And if we are to be truly biblically faithful Christians, whenever there is such suffering in any part of the body of Christ, the rest of His body has no choice but to mourn, embrace, and take on such suffering and problems as their own.
As IRD Director Mark Tooley reminds us, last weekend was a grim reminder of the fundamentally, inescapably fallen, sinful nature of the world in this present epoch.
There remains much work to do in advancing racial justice in the church as well as in society. As we continue to address such issues, Christians should take the lead in cautioning against fighting fire with fire, violence with violence, or hatred with hatred. As InterVarsity Christian Fellowship official Greg Jao recently put it: “A Christian response requires prophetic denunciation, pastoral grief, & evangelistic hope for the white supremacists who demonstrated.” All three are essential.
In denouncing the sin of the clearly troubled white nationalists, let we Christians never forget that we ourselves are in no less desperate need of God’s mercy for our own sin, and that even such sinful “others” are not beyond the possibility of miraculous redemption through the blood of Jesus.Google+